Re: SUNY Fredonia College Lodge/Herbert J. Mackie Forest Cam

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Erik Danielsen
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SUNY Fredonia College Lodge/Herbert J. Mackie Forest Camp

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Aug 15, 2014 1:18 pm

The SUNY Fredonia College Lodge (formerly the Herbert J. Mackie College Camp) has had an exciting year. In late spring (shortly after the end of the semester) someone happened to notice that FSA, the corporation in charge of both dining and facilities services on campus as well as ownership of the lodge property, had quietly approved of a “management plan” to be applied to the lodge forest. Investigation revealed this plan to call for dramatic thinnings, extensive skid road networks, and selective use of herbicides to suppress beech sprouting and “undesirable” herbaceous plants in the understory. Conversion to profitable timber management was indicated as the chief priority, along with the usual lip service to improving biodiversity and improving “stagnant” growth.

Among faculty, students/alumni, and community members like myself, the college lodge has long been a place to enjoy a relatively wild-feeling, barely-managed forest setting. It's got a reputation with the region's biologists as one of our biodiversity hotspots, with its mosaic of different forest types and wetlands, and while various other sites may have even more elusive species few are as accessible as the lodge. With the region's RTPI heritage the lodge's status as a top-class birding site is even more widely recognized. Use by the public has been declining as FSA has become more expensive and difficult to work with in renting the place (I attended a summer camp there several years as a child; I'm not aware that any are still held there today), but the place remains dear to the community's heart.

As one might expect, there was an outpouring of opposition to the proposed management plan. Letters to the editor were published, meetings were held, old photos of signage establishing the site's historic status as a “preserve” were dug out, and in the end FSA handled the feedback gracefully. The existing management plan was shelved for the time being, and a yearlong biodiversity inventory was arranged to be conducted by the RTPI. Further they pointed out that they do lose a significant amount of money on maintaining the lodge property every year, and do so anyways out of service to the community. Use by the community had declined, hence the logging plan (which itself still would not fully offset that annual loss). So if the community opposed the plan, FSA challenged, what can the community do to increase usage once again so that FSA can feel that the loss they take is justified?

This has spurred a year of creative involvement by the broader community. Public art classes have been held there, open educational events during Earth Week, faculty have incorporated trips to the lodge into varying curricula, I personally participated in the installation of a few study plots and building the first deer exclosure, and recently a “bioblitz” was held there by the RTPI, bringing in a range of experts to identify as many individual species as possible in a 24-hour period. My rangefinder fresh in hand, I came along to provide height data for the study plots we had installed in the old-growth areas of the lodge forest as well as to begin compiling a height index. Hopefully all this activity is just the beginning; so much more can be done.

Here I must take a moment to discuss the old-growth in question. It's been a little controversial, from one professor reacting to a much gentler management plan discussed a few decades ago by insisting that is was all “virgin!” forest (obviously not the case) to questioning by some parties in the recent conversation as to whether there is old-growth present there at all (certainly the logging plan just called it “overmature”). Fortunately the WNY old-growth survey team gave it a look back in the '90s. To quote a 1996 article they contributed to “Wildflower,” “The camp has fifty to sixty acres of old-growth hemlock northern-hardwoods forest on a hillside overlooking a marsh. The hemlocks were consistently over 200 years old while the dominant hardwoods (red oak, american beech, black cherry) were about 100-115 years old indicating a disturbance, probably logging, in the late 19th century.”

That would seem authoritative, and there clearly are quite a lot of old-growth hemlocks present- but I'm curious as to how they collected this information on the hardwoods (are any members of the survey team present on the boards here?), as the oldest section of forest present (which fits the location they describe) contains many large beech and black cherry specimens, but no red oaks- a lot of impressive red maple is present, however. Further, I think there's reason to suspect that many of these hardwoods do exceed 150 years in age. As a basis for this statement, there's a large Beech near the edge of this section of forest that tipped up and fell across the trail sometime in the last few years. I can't wrap its lower trunk at this point but I'd estimate its CBH in the 8-10' range, not atypical for the beeches in that stand. Two thick sections were removed to open up the trail and these now site alongside the trail. One of these is a section where the trunk splits, and on the cut end of the large of the two resulting trunks the rings were legible enough to get a count of at least 112. This cut would have been at least 40 feet off the ground when the tree was standing. I imagine the base can be expected to be older than this. I'll be back with some sandpaper to see if I can date the lowest cut (about 20 feet up the trunk), but the good news is that there'll also be an opportunity to do some coring with the bio department this year. I do have hopes that we'll establish the hardwoods of this site as older than previously asserted.

On to measurements! First I'll link to the google spreadsheet I made for the two study plots. Each was 30x30m and I ended up measuring well over a hundred trees, most of them not so large, so that we can track changes in growth with changing climate and disease factors. Once I figure out the proper math these might provide some insight into forest structure as well, which I suppose justifies the tedium of measuring a zillion 30-foot hemlocks. These are of course in metric since they're for the department to use, but I intend to put together a similar spreadsheet with both metric and imperial figures for the final heigh/girth indexing. ... sp=sharing (click tab "sheet 1" at the bottom left. Species are abbreviated in the "tag" column, H for hemlock and so on. Will clarify these if needed)

Since then I've been more selectively measuring to find exemplary specimens. Here's what I've compiled so far (tag numbers are for trees in the study plots):

Eastern Hemlock- measured what I could see tops for. Dozens like these.
115.99' small second trunk exits at breast height. 126.37”c(30”), 99.99”c(67”)
109.27' 88.58”cbh
108.37' 111.81"cbh tag 704
106.88' 107.87”cbh
106.77' 101.18”cbh
105.89' 98.81”cbh
105.36' 90.55"cbh
103.74' 88.19”cbh
103.48' 89.76”cbh
101.57' 83.86”cbh

Red Maple:
104' 76.38”cbh
100.22' 66.93"cbh tag 761
96.1' 94.49"cbh tag 606
95.83' 111.81”cbh

American Beech: often measured to highest point in underside of crown, could not sight actual tops.
96.83' 86.22”cbh
91.8' tag 637
76.81' 99.21"cbh tag 623

Yellow Birch: no large specimens but one large snag is present
81.4' 59.45”cbh

Black Cherry: I've been neglecting these, more impressive specimens are present
107.39' 125.2”cbh
98.93' 88.98"cbh tag 769
95.86' 93.31"cbh tag 612

White Ash: also been neglecting these, ash doesn't excite me like hemlock does
100.2' 67.72”cbh

Outside the old-growth tract there are a variety of younger forest types, many subject to repeated logging and grazing. There are some mixed red pine-larch-norway spruce plantations in which the trees are almost all roughly 90 feet tall and 18” in diameter. I've met a couple mature cucumber magnolias in this section, which I'll have to seek out and measure. I think the black locust in some spots might crack 100', as might some of the vigorous younger beeches. I'll have to keep seeking the oaks referenced in the old article, and there's some basswood that might be tall. Walnut, shagbark, white pine, cottonwood, and other ashes are all listed in the species inventory as well. There's a lot of territory yet to cover at the lodge. Probably no champion trees, but certainly a forest worth appreciating. I'll continue working on this site to fill out the height index, and age data further on.

Finally, some pictures.
The 108' hemlock tagged 704, in a multiframe panorama.
The 108' hemlock tagged 704, in a multiframe panorama.
Black Cherry adjacent to the section of big hemlocks.
Black Cherry adjacent to the section of big hemlocks.
I didn't measure these beeches yet but they're very pleasant to see.
I didn't measure these beeches yet but they're very pleasant to see.
The hemlocks pictured here include some of those measured above.
The hemlocks pictured here include some of those measured above.

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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Lodge/Herbert J. Mackie Forest Cam

Post by dbhguru » Fri Aug 15, 2014 4:23 pm


Kudos to you for both your work and your very informative post. Loved it. Although, I'm really reaching, from what you've said and from the images you've presented, I would agree that the forest is somewhat older. I would guess that the trees are in the 120 to 160-year age range. A beech that is 112 years old at 40 feet up is likely to be at least 140 years old, but could easily be 150 or 160. Beech can be slow growers. The more red maple there is, the more I'd worry about past disturbances. Red maple is so opportunistic and can dominate for 100 years and then drop off in abundance until it barely makes a splash after two to three centuries. I see this pattern in New England and eastern New York all the time. Of course, if we are dealing with upland-based wetlands, red maple usually represents a sizable percentage of the species. In the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, red maple and black spruce often dominate.

In terms of saving pennies, we really hope you can join us in Durango next summer. I talked to Mountain Studies Institute(MSI) earlier today, and they are definitely interested in partnering with WNTS on being a repository for our data, plus using it for all kinds of analysis. My friend Don Bertolette, WNTS President, has some very good ideas about how to use the kind of data we'd collect. As you may know, Don was the research forester for the Grand Canyon NP and made regular use of complex computer modeling systems to analyze just about every aspect of the ecology of the Canyon's forests that fertile imaginations could conceive.

What is very exciting is that a multi-faceted partnership between NTS, AF, TCI, LTI, MSI, and others in the San Juan region is within our grasp. By the way, some explanation is in order for my carefree use of organizational names. NTS, WNTS, and ENTS are actually interchangeable. In the West, folks like to hear about WNTS, and in the East, probably ENTS, to tie into their regional interests. But we're all NTS, ENTS, and WNTS. And there is Europe which is also ENTS. We are free to associate ourselves with whatever works. So, if you join us in Durango next summer, you'll be WNTS, unless you wish to present yourself to others as ENTS or just NTS. Your call. Keep'um guessing.

Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Re: SUNY Fredonia College Lodge/Herbert J. Mackie Forest

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Aug 15, 2014 6:03 pm

Good point regarding the red maple. The old-growth section is certainly not undisturbed, but my hunch is that some of the hardwoods are older than previously reported. Indeed it would be odd for logging a little over a hundred years ago to take all the hardwoods but spare so many high-quality hemlocks, which are very popular for building around here. The timing would be right for salvage cutting of chestnut to create openings that red maple (and perhaps some of the cherry present) would capitalize on, but I suspect that the beech at least is probably older than that. The forest is as well very much what you would describe as upland wetlands, with wet zones between the slopes and ridges being abundant.

Speaking of chestnut, there is of course a lot of beech root-sprouting up on the ridge... and yet there's this single sprout that looks a lot like a beech sprout, except that its leaves are so oddly elongated compared to the rest of the beech sprouts (which are admittedly quite variable). At its current size the leaves aren't even toothed yet (neither are the ones that are clearly beech). So at this point it's hard to say. I looked up pictures of chestnut sprouts, and it seems like it could go either way. I might bring a little cage up to protect it. Fagus and Castanea being so close there's plenty of opportunity to be tantalized by funny-looking beech sprouts, but who knows...

Glad to hear about those database developments. I've been meaning to try out the Trees Database that's featured at the head of each forum, but at least using it as a reference source has been counterintuitive so far. I suspect it would be difficult to draw large amounts of data from for broader reviews and analyses, though for all I know it has features dedicated to that that I just haven't found yet. Don's work has always sounded very interesting and I imagine that the expanding capabilities of technology in smartphones, small drones, satellite imaging etc can only broaden the scope and depth of similar work going into the future.

What an alphabet soup you've got to deal with here. I usually go with ENTS for the familiar imagery of tolkien's ents.

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Jess Riddle
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Lodge/Herbert J. Mackie Forest Cam

Post by Jess Riddle » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:58 pm


Excellent site description. All of the context you provide helps the numbers go a lot further. Pretty shots of the cherries and beech too.


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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Re: SUNY Fredonia College Lodge/Herbert J. Mackie Forest

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:53 am

Thanks Jess, your own very informative posts have certainly been an influence on my efforts.

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