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Old Growth Discoveries in the Southern Catskills

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2018 12:12 pm
by JHarkness

Located on private property in the southern Catskills is a spruce bog/black gum swamp surrounded by a mix of second growth hemlock-northern hardwood forest and even a small patch of pristine old growth hemlock-white pine forest. I've been visiting this forest for almost a decade, but unfortunately the land was recently sold to a new owner, the new owner being a large corporation with no interest of protecting the land. Parts of the second growth hardwood-hemlock forest have been completely cleared this past year and while the old growth area is situated on hydric soils and is safe from construction, who knows how long until the corporation realize they can make money by harvesting timber from there. I've been disgusted by what they've done to the ecosystems there and don't intend to return in the future except perhaps to document the rest of the large trees there before they destroy something else, during a recent visit, I documented, photographed and measured as many of the trees as I could, and there are some interesting surprises.
Tallest measured white pine, single tree but multi-trunked as result of past storm damage.
Tallest measured white pine, single tree but multi-trunked as result of past storm damage.
First I'll give you a tree/shrub species list of the site:

Eastern White Pine
Eastern Hemlock
Black Spruce
Red Maple
Striped Maple
Sugar Maple
American Basswood
American Beech
American Chestnut
Black Birch
Gray Birch
Paper Birch (formerly)
Yellow Birch
White Ash
Black Cherry
Choke Cherry
Pin Cherry
Black Tupelo (Black Gum)
Bigtooth Aspen
Quaking Aspen
Eastern Cottonwood
Eared Willow (invasive)
Northern Red Oak (sapling)
White Oak (sapling)
Shagbark Hickory
Witch Hazel
Downy Serviceberry
Mountain Laurel

One aspect of the site that has always fascinated me is it's mix of southern and northern species, it's at fairly high elevation (1,200') so it's strictly a northern hardwood forest while the nearby valleys are oak-hickory forests, but there's a fairly large component of shagbark hickory and an abundance of black gum, and oddly enough they grow side by side with black spruce, red spruce and tamarack. Also interestingly, while there are more spruces at this site than in the Taconics, where we do have spruces in the Taconics, they're not suffering from warm summers like the trees at this site are.

The big surprises came with the sizes of trees, some were very tall, some were very short and wide, and some were very old. One incredible discovery that made me realize that this site is old growth, was finding a black birch in the 200-250 age range growing on top of a tip up mound.

There is a major white pine component here, and they do form a super canopy over the hardwoods, but the hardwoods (even in the old growth area) are suppressed in height due to the hydric soils, this resulted in some pines that I would guess to be over 140 feet in height, but were in reality only a little over 100 feet, it was very deceptive at times, but none the less, I did managed to find some very impressive trees. I located the tallest grove of white pines, but alas ran out of time and wasn't able to measure the tallest tree, I would speculate that it's in the 135-145' height range.

White Pine:
Height: 133.9'
Circumference: 10' 10"

White Pine (downed tree):
Height: 130.1'
Circumference: 8' 7"

White Pine:
Height: 117.6'
Circumference: 9' 8"

White Pine (double, circumference for tallest trunk):
Height: 115.9'
Circumference: 5' 4"

White Pine:
Height: 115.3'
Circumference: 10' 0"

White Pine:
Height: 110.2'
Circumference: 8' 8"

White Pine:
Height: 109.0'
Circumference: 7' 11"

White Pine:
Height: 104.1'
Circumference: 8' 1"

While these are fairly impressive trees, they're nothing to get excited over, the real surprises came with two other species; the black birch and the american chestnut.

Black Birch:
Height: 119.1' (currently the third tallest measured in New York)
Circumference: 9' 5"

Black Birch:
Height: 101.6'
Circumference: 6' 4"

The American chestnut is a small clump of root suckers (three), very isolated from others, I'd estimate the oldest to be between 15 and 20 years old, it's free of blight and if it can live as long as others in the area seem to be living (40-50 years), it has a lot of potential in it's lifetime, it grows out of a small cluster of hemlocks along the edge of the spruce bog and is growing very fast, it may be able to break out of the canopy within another two years.

American Chestnut:
Height: 36.1'
Circumference: 11"
The 9' 5" Birch
The 9' 5" Birch
Tallest measured white pine, lens cap between roots for scale.
Tallest measured white pine, lens cap between roots for scale.
Tall pines, 115.9-foot tree on right.
Tall pines, 115.9-foot tree on right.

Re: Old Growth Discoveries in the Southern Catskills

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2018 12:02 pm
by Lucas ... hilit=+fyi

You may want to show your chestnut discoveries to Allen Nichols, president of the NY chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. He is looking for info on NY chestnuts.

Re: Old Growth Discoveries in the Southern Catskills

Posted: Tue Jun 19, 2018 2:58 pm
by JHarkness

I'm intending to contact the American Chestnut Foundation once I've done more research on the chestnuts here, such as taking further ring counts, measuring both live and dead trees, measuring old dead root suckers, etc.. I think I may be on to something with these trees here, but I won't be able to prove my theory until I've collected more data.