The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drainage

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Erik Danielsen
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The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drainage

Post by Erik Danielsen » Tue Aug 21, 2018 2:03 pm

While I have a thread going already for generalized measurements within the main Canadaway Creek Gorge in Arkwright, NY, the surprising findings I've lucked into over the past month have led me to feel that a focused thread reporting on the several unique environments dominated by old-growth hemlocks would be appropriate.
Canadaway Flowing Under the Hemlocks
Canadaway Flowing Under the Hemlocks
The name "Canadaway" itself is known to derive from Seneca "Gana-da-wao," meaning "running under hemlocks." I have always found this pleasing in some romantic sense, but it becomes more appropriate nearly every time I explore a new tributary. The Canadaway splits upstream of the town of Laona- the headwaters of the west branch are Cassadaga Lake, on whose shores you can find Lilydale's Leolyn Grove. In that sense, then, NY's densest and most abundant grove of giant 400+ ft3 hemlocks already belongs to the Canadaway. Leolyn's hemlocks are unmatched by any stand in the state that I can find mention of. Some are taller, some are wider, but a whole collection of dozens of stems carrying diameters over 2' high into the canopy? That's Leolyn.
That said, what's this Leolyn-sized Hemlock doing on such a steep slope? Tree C003, see post below on stand C.
That said, what's this Leolyn-sized Hemlock doing on such a steep slope? Tree C003, see post below on stand C.
The public lands in the eastern gorge, however, have been heavily cut over, many of them formerly farmed, planted in conifer plantations, or at the least managed intensively for more desirable hardwood timber. I did not expect to find any ancient groves there, though many pleasant shaded parts are dense with hemlock regrowth. A 1939 aerial photograph did provide some suggestions that some of the tributaries radiating away from the main gorge might have been left in forest cover to a greater or lesser degree, so I figured they may at least be botanically interesting. They certainly are- but no less interesting are four (so far) communities of old-growth hemlocks in various states of intactness. Each of these, occurring at different elevations and cutting through different layers of the underlying geology, produces very different tree sizes and associations, even as their oldest trees seem to be roughly contemporary.
Map with stands designated by letters, to be referenced in following posts.
Map with stands designated by letters, to be referenced in following posts.
Individual stand descriptions, measurements, and notes to come.
Last edited by Erik Danielsen on Mon Sep 10, 2018 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by Erik Danielsen » Tue Aug 21, 2018 2:48 pm

The first stand I'd like to report on is the most familiar to me. This narrow, winding ravine (marked letter "D" on the map in the first post) cuts through a deep deposit of loose glacially deposited gravelly material before hitting the sedimentary bedrock, carving a smooth sluice through alternating layers of darker and lighter cool gray stone. Thicker caprock layers now and then result in beautiful little waterfalls, terminating in what is essentially a short slot canyon right before it intersects the main flow of the Canadaway. Protruding into this narrow ravine are a few moss-covered knife-edge ridges. I've been frequenting this magical spot since I was a teenager- but having learned so much in the last few years, when I returned this last week it was like seeing the place through a whole new set of eyes.
The scenic slot-waterfall at the end of this ravine.
The scenic slot-waterfall at the end of this ravine.
The scene at the end of the ridge a couple hundred feet above the previously pictured slot waterfall.
The scene at the end of the ridge a couple hundred feet above the previously pictured slot waterfall.
The trees on the narrow ridges are relatively small (and they have to be, to avoid toppling from the nearly-vertical slopes). Hemlock is dominant. Unusually for the area, white oak and white pine are also present, along with northern red oak and cucumber magnolia and a scattering of red and sugar maples, white ash, beech, yellow birch and black cherry. Along with the unusual white oak and pine, the mixture of mossy ridges and steep suspended openings on the upper slopes are home to a number of rare and uncommon plant species, including a number of new species records for Chautauqua County. American Bittersweet twines through Leatherwood over a carpet of Ivory Sedge in one spot, while Pussytoes and Canada Bluets cling to the upper reaches of a barren talus slope just below. Elsewhere Spikenard shares a shaded slope with Chestnut Sprouts and Pink Lady-Slipper Orchids.
On either side of this ridge, hemlock-covered slopes drop a couple hundred feet at angles mostly exceeding 70 degrees.
On either side of this ridge, hemlock-covered slopes drop a couple hundred feet at angles mostly exceeding 70 degrees.
The terrain and naturally small trees are key to the intactness of this environment. There would be no way to efficiently log it in the past, and certainly no reason to helicopter-log it now.
Some of these look older than the tree I sampled.
Some of these look older than the tree I sampled.
The modest hemlocks that I have used to ascend and descend these slopes summer after summer, I now notice have deep purple-red bark in blocky fissures, gnarled and reduced crowns, and their often sinuous trunks, while not large in the first place taper very little for much of their length. Branch scars are often lacking. Most are between 10-18"dbh and less than 80' tall- some much less. With this in mind I brought my hand saw to the gorge and selected a recently snapped tree to cut a sample from. Correlating the broken trunk with its standing stump, this tree would have been just 13"dbh, and the sample I cut out was at approximately breast height. The sample came out in sections due to rot pockets. I recorded the width of the gaps between the solid wood portions. Most of the trunk was solid enough to sand for good rings to read.

The collected series allows me to directly count 291 growth rings. The first set of 100 rings has a maximum radius of just 1.6cm! I had to go way down to the 320 grit sandpaper and count with a needle under magnification. Accounting for at least 2cm of wood lost to rot between the inner series and outer series, this tree was clearly a bit past 300 years in age. This one was not selected for having an especially aged appearance- it self-selected by falling. It was absolutely typical of the slopes trees in age characteristics. A few others look quite a bit older.
One of the older-looking hemlocks, about halfway down a slope. Well under 18"dbh
One of the older-looking hemlocks, about halfway down a slope. Well under 18"dbh
The hemlocks are not the only old trees on the slope. A couple red and white oaks are hunched, stunted, and gnarled, and one white pine of just modest size has extremely old-looking bark. This environment will not yield any notable big trees, but is just as ancient as any and more intact than most.
This white pine is only a little over a foot in diameter- look at that bark!
This white pine is only a little over a foot in diameter- look at that bark!

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Lucas
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by Lucas » Wed Aug 22, 2018 10:23 am

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2 ... 145205.htm

Sounds like a good place for these people to get data.

Your report is Cool info.
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Larry Tucei
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by Larry Tucei » Wed Aug 22, 2018 12:01 pm

Erik- A really nice post showing that size doesn't reflect age. The bark on the Pine really has old growth characteristics! 70 degrees wow it's like some of the angles I encountered in Colorado. Love the photos! I too look at things with a different eye since I became an NTS member. Larry

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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by dbhguru » Wed Aug 22, 2018 2:56 pm

Lucas, Erik, Larry, et al.,

I noticed that in the science digest article, yellow birch was referred to as swamp birch. This illustrates how a common species name is often misleading. Yes, we find yellow birch at the edge of wetlands, but it is common in cool moist rocky terrain. Maybe we should coin another common name - something like "rocky birch".

Bob
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ElijahW
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by ElijahW » Wed Aug 22, 2018 5:16 pm

Erik,

Looks like you found some seriously old trees. Congratulations. Great photos, too. I counted rings on a fallen hemlock recently at Green Lakes and got approximately 270, but the tree was significantly larger than these, about 10’ circumference at 1.5’ above ground level. Thanks for sharing this place,

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Aug 27, 2018 8:32 pm

I've been lucky to spend the month of august mostly working just up the road from the Canadaway Creek WMA (NYS DEC land), so I've carved out a bit of exploration nearly every day. Some of the land is too topographically rugged and erosion-prone to have bothered trying to farm, and these areas show up as forested in the old aerial photos- but are mostly occupied by regrowth. The least disturbed areas have more or less even-aged canopies of trees probably between 90-120 years old, with a lot of diversity and nice specimens. I believe these areas were cut hard early on but saw very little cutting since then, based on the general lack of stumps, low abundance of deadwood, etc. This has resulted in the most floristically rich, lush second-growth forests I've ever seen, starting to resemble temperate rainforest with its solid carpeting of native vegetation, including many species that are scarce elsewhere and some new records for Chautauqua County. Exploring to find as many of these pockets as possible, it's clear that more stable and less steep areas have not been so lucky, with disturbed young forest, timber plantations, and dryer ridges that have grown into monocultures of middling hemlocks after high-grading released the understory all at once. Some nice surprises are scattered throughout- a tall young American Elm in a sheltered ravine, a few large, gnarled aspens at the end of a ridge that shocked me by being not Bigtooth but Trembling Aspen (I have never seen the species attain such a form), etc. These will be reported in the main Canadaway Gorge topic. But overall, not enough interesting trees to keep up with the herbaceous plants.

Of course, in the middle of all this hides another ancient hemlock ravine community.
Slopeside old growth hemlock and hardwoods. From right to left are A001, A011, A010 and and unnamed hemlock and black cherry.
Slopeside old growth hemlock and hardwoods. From right to left are A001, A011, A010 and and unnamed hemlock and black cherry.
Two tributaries flowing southwest sandwich between them a narrow ridge. The substrate they carve through largely seems to be pure clay, from the nearly the top of the ridge to the bottom of the creek. A similar circumstance can be found in Zoar Valley's Alexander Preserve. All of the vegetation on the slopes (including the trees) subsists mainly in a mat of organic soil bound by the roots overlaying this clay, and as the slopes erode this mat sometimes cracks and slides downward. Most of the old trees show signs of growth in response to multiple repositionings over their long lives, and inevitably there is a relatively high rate of turnover. This environment produces larger trees than the ridge in the previous post, but is certainly not a maximum growth site.
Did somebody ask about disturbance regimes?
Did somebody ask about disturbance regimes?
The flattened ridgetop itself is a puzzling stand. I'll get into greater detail regarding it in a future post, and as it is not properly an “ancient hemlock ravine” that may go into the other canadaway gorge topic. So far about half of the trees on the ridgetop have been measured and mapped. The transition from the surrounding secondary forest to the older, more unusual ridgetop forest coincide with some barbed-wire tails hanging out of the centers of some younger trees.
A002, a very impressive black cherry.
A002, a very impressive black cherry.
The slopes are (or were, back when this area was subject to agriculture) unharvestable- due to both the variably steep grade and the unstable nature of the soils mentioned. The south-facing slope is the most impressive. Of the mature hardwood stems present, I'd suspect that less than one in five are in the 150+ year ages class. The oldest are sugar maples, and the species seems to grow very slowly at this site. There are nearly as many fallen stems as standing ones, some being tipups and others snags broken 10-20 feet up, and it appears that this is the natural order of things on this slope. It's just unstable. Sugar maple is the most common, with very nice red maple, black cherry, basswood, white ash, yellow birch, and occasional cucumber magnolia present. This community extends down onto part of a flatter terrace near the bottom of the ravine. There are suggestions (really just the species and distribution of large old trees left) that this terrace may have seen some selective hardwood timber removal, though it must have been very early.. The hemlock element has a higher proportion of very old trees in general. One snapped hemlock must have come down within the last decade. Similar in size and character to the other oldest-seeming living hemlocks in this stand, the exposed wood of its outer wall (it was hollow) reveals 53 narrow rings in just under 2 inches. The living tree would have had a radius of about 16” at that height. While there were no doubt sections of much wider rings in the wood that's missing, this was clearly no young tree. The fallen trunk is still quite intact, and I suspect I might be able to cut a wedge to get a more extended ring series further up the trunk.
The big fallen hemlock with 53 rings in its narrow 2" outer wall.
The big fallen hemlock with 53 rings in its narrow 2" outer wall.
A less impressive snapped hemlock further up the slope, pretty typical of the stand's hemlocks (wrapped 6.2'cbh), was possible to read rings on nearly all the way to the pith, leaving out a few punky spots. This tree was at least 220 years old at breast height.
Black Cherry A008 with scale model, on one of the somewhat more level spots available.
Black Cherry A008 with scale model, on one of the somewhat more level spots available.
A009, a gnarled and heavily balded sugar maple. Complete with bear scratches!
A009, a gnarled and heavily balded sugar maple. Complete with bear scratches!
Measurements are ongoing. Each tree measured has a serial number (starting with “A” for the stand designation) and measurements will be updated as time goes on. Most of these heights were quick-and-dirty to get a ballpark on trends, and can all be considered “not less than,” waiting for leaf-off for better views. Compiling not just the usual RHI for height maxima but also comprehensive girth and volume maximums for all canopy species is a goal for this and the other big-tree old growth areas (stand C, possibly stand B) to be able to draw comparisons with Lilydale, Zoar stands, etc. Not a tall site overall, though heights increase moving down the slope and in spots that show less wind breakage.

Eastern Hemlock
113' / 7.81'cbh A004
112.5' / 7.64'cbh A005
112.5' / 8.49'cbh A011 may be largest by volume in stand
107.5' / 8.33'cbh A001 oldest-looking standing tree
height not measured yet/8.26'cbh/~303 ft3 assuming 100' height A006
103' / 6.66'cbh A058 very old
99.5' / 7.49'cbh A057
90' / 7.22'cbh A063
White Ash
111.5' / 6.53'cbh A010
107.5' / 8.04'cbh A003
93' / 4.62'cbh A066
Black Cherry
107' / 9.11'cbh diameter at 48'h 2.24', expected volume ~400 ft3 A002 possibly stand's largest stem
106.5' / 8.5'cbh A060 very tall trunk with sections of negative taper, competitive with A002
104.3' / 7.95'cbh/~290 ft3 A008
Sugar Maple
98.5' / 5.22'cbh A061
96.5' / 6.4'cbh A009 not a large specimen, but extremely aged
93.5' / 5.77'cbh A065
Red Maple
106' / 6.49'cbh A059
Basswood
92.5' / 6.46'cbh A062 broken top

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Sep 10, 2018 1:57 pm

Referring to the map in the original post, the stand labeled "C" is by far the most impressive set of old-growth hemlocks in the gorge. Signs of past timber removal and management extend right up to the edges of the ravine, with the adjacent uplands variously occupied by an old sugarbush and a few successional hardwood stands that were probably pastured some time very early, based on a few scattered "wolf tree" red and sugar maples. More recent timber removal from those hardwood stands apparently also included girdling "undesirable" species among the older timber lining the rim of the ravine, mainly beech but also including one mature hemlock right at the edge, which has successfully healed and kept right on going. The largest and oldest hemlocks are sheltered by the central portion of this ravine, and are numerically dominant over the associate shade tolerant hardwoods, which are almost entirely sugar maple, basswood, and yellow birch. The Basswoods seem prone to breakage, with some very large specimens prostrate. Along the rim old trees are more intermingled with post-disturbance trees and red maple, white ash, black cherry, beech, cucumber magnolia, and just two red oaks are present. Where it meets the broader gorge there are also some very old hemlocks and hardwoods along the stepped slope, and a grove at the base of the slope seems a bit more disturbed with a stronger ash component, though still dominated by large hemlocks. Hobblebush, mountain maple, witch hazel and Canada Fly-Honeysuckle form a dense shrub layer in places accompanying a rich herb layer with many ferns and even a few rarities like Ginseng (well hidden!). The substrate here is looser and more diverse glacial till, producing much more vigorous growth than the clay-based stand A.
Very old-looking trees yet to be measured on the slope
Very old-looking trees yet to be measured on the slope
The corridor of old trees is really only about 1900' long and never more than 400' wide, lining the ravine. So far 58 trees have had at least preliminary measurements and been designated serial numbers, of which 34 exceed 30"dbh, 24 of which are eastern hemlock. Many hemlocks display very aged bark and extremely slow taper, 3 exceed 11'cbh, 6 exceed 110' in height, and two exceed 120'. The largest girth belongs to a massive sugar maple on the ravine slope that also has a very respectable height. I have not yet found any broken trunks that allow extended ring counts, but the outer sections visible here and there strongly suggest advanced age. In time I'll have a full spreadsheet of stand data available, but in the meantime I'll share some highlights and photos. Heights can be considered "not less than" for most, with only a selection of exceptional or convenient specimens having precise measurements so far.
C003 hanging over the ravine. This is the largest-girthed hemlock
C003 hanging over the ravine. This is the largest-girthed hemlock
C016, a very tall specimen
C016, a very tall specimen
An interesting note is that the two tallest hemlocks, both situated near the bottom of the ravine and nearly matching in height and girth, make an excellent illustration of the influence of taper on volume. One (C016) is ~120 ft3 larger than the other by virtue of its extremely slow taper, having a diameter of 2.12' at 71.5' high, whereas the other (C053) only matches that diameter to 31.2' high, though it was still a respectable 1.95' in diameter at its highest measured point 64.5' up.
Looking down at C016's extremely slow-tapering trunk
Looking down at C016's extremely slow-tapering trunk
I want to include a thank-you to Michael Taylor for his recent 200LR sale- using the unit I got alongside my 200B has really improved my confidence on volume measurements.

Eastern Hemlock
124.31' / 8.72'cbh / ~327 ft3 C053
122.3' / 8.74'cbh / ~453 ft3 C016 very slow taper
116.4' / 9.77'cbh C018
114.5' / 8.79'cbh C056
110.5' / 9.09'cbh / ~356 ft3 C015
106.9' / 11.87'cbh C003 probably the largest by volume, have not found a good viewpoint yet
105.5' / 8.3'cbh C030 good candidate for oldest based on bark development
100.9' / 11.55'cbh / ~519 ft3 C005 behemoth at the tip of a point where two feeder ravines intersect
92.5' / 9.13'cbh / ~311 ft3 C045 residual older tree on rim, thick crown reiterations and relatively swift taper resulting from release event
90.5' / 11.02'cbh C055
Sugar Maple
112' / 12.05'cbh C040 huge leaning tree on ravine slope
107' / 7.38'cbh C039
103.5' / 7.15'cbh C019 heavily balded, very old appearance
98.5' / 10.04'cbh C036
White Ash most ash entirely or partially dead
109' / 5.74'cbh C025
84.5' / 6.76'cbh C011 isolated from the main ash population downstream, very balded and gnarled
Basswood
109' / double C017a
104' C001 gorgeous, well-formed specimen
103.5' / 8.46'cbh C006
Yellow Birch
85' / 7.74'cbh C031 very impressive for its species at just a half inch short of 30"dbh

I've also put together an album on flickr for this stand, since I find so many of the trees so aesthetically pleasing. The photos are titled with the serial numbers given to the trees shown, and are in full size (as opposed to the reduced photos uploaded here). Link: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmphGE1F

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Don
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by Don » Mon Sep 10, 2018 2:19 pm

Great images, but did you mean 70 degrees, or 70 percent slopes?
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Erik Danielsen
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Re: The Ancient Hemlock Ravines of the Canadaway Creek Drain

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Sep 10, 2018 2:34 pm

Ah, 70 degree angle. Looks like a 70% slope is actually pretty mild. These are not far off vertical.

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