East Barkers Creek

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Jess Riddle
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East Barkers Creek

Post by Jess Riddle » Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:56 pm

Probably best known as a source of gemstones, the Cowee Mountains are small section of the crumpled mass of earth’s crust that makes up western North Carolina. They lie south and west of larger, higher mountain ranges, the Great Smokies and the Great Balsams. The higher peaks range between 4000 and 5000’ elevation with a degree of ruggedness typical of the southern Appalachians.

LiDAR indicates most cove forests of the Cowees are smaller in stature than those of the Smokies and some other nearby mountain ranges. Sites with canopies peaking above 150’ are unusual, and the aerial data identifies only three sites with hits exceeding 160’. However, one of those, a small, northeast facing cove in the East Barkers Creek watershed, has a continuous high canopy with one 176’ cell. The anomalously high LiDAR model suggests that, for the Cowees, the cove is some combination of unusually rich and unusually old. Those qualities made the site a high priority for groundtruthing.

After a call to the Forest Service dispelled their fears that recent timber sales in the watershed had included the target cove, Will Blozan, Michael Davie, Josh Kelly, and Jess Riddle set out on a cool, gray, New Year’s eve to visit the cove. We coaxed a compact car up a steep dirt road, saturated by melting snow, that wound through the recent housing development bordering Forest Service land. As we neared our destination, the forests lining the road appeared rich but young, less than 60 years old, and we were surprised by the steepness of the slopes. After asking permission to park, we ascended a cove that Forest Service records identified as originating in 1870 and laid adjacent to our target cove. Old logging roads criss-crossed the cove, and while obviously much younger than hoped for, the forest showed signs of high growth potential. We noted an abundance of sweet cicely, an herb typical of rich sites, and were further encouraged by several bitternut hickories, again typical of sites with good moisture and nutrient supply. At the cove’s upper end, several well formed northern red oaks already reached approximately 3’ in diameter and about 130’ tall.
The cove we ascended
The cove we ascended
An old road crossed a steep ridge into our target cove and put us in position to measure our way down through the high canopy area. Above the road, a mix of tuliptree, white ash, basswood, and black cherry, often draped with dutchmans pipe vine, grew out of the rocky upper cove. Below the road, the cove descended at a moderate slope, and steep side slopes nearly meet each other to make the cove ravine like. Tuliptrees dominated the cove to such an extent that few trees of other species had been able to survive, and those that had leaned, twisted, and contorted their way towards old canopy gaps. The understory and shrub layers also showed little variety, only yellow buckeye and wild hydrangea were common, but the herbaceous layer likely contributes substantial diversity. What we could see of the herb layer was a mix of widely distributed mesic site species like Christmas fern and intermediate wood fern, and rich site species like sweet cicely and large bellflower. Among those grows at least one uncommon species characteristic of very rich soils, goldies fern, which also occurs under the 180’ tuliptree on Bradley Fork in the Smokies and in the exceptional second growth tuliptree stand at Joyce Kilmer.
Jess and Josh standing at the base of the second tallest tuliptree (Will Blozan photograph)
Jess and Josh standing at the base of the second tallest tuliptree (Will Blozan photograph)
From the road bed in the upper cove, the tuliptrees did not strike us as looking especially tall. Their tops were just starting to gnarl, and the grove was not particularly dense. Given their somewhat exposed position and the relatively open stand, they seemed to suggest that more sheltered parts of the cove might support exceptional trees, but that the most productive parts of the cove were still below us. Starting to measure them, however, we quickly realized that the trees were taller than they appeared, and that we had already reached the upper end of the prime area. The first measurements came in at over 170’. Seeing a denser forest of tall tulips farther down the center of the cove, we divided up tasks: Will and Mike did most of the measuring, while Josh collected coordinates and Jess measured circumferences and provided targets on the bases. The goal quickly became to measure all the 170’ tuliptrees. By the time we reached the boundary of private land, which coincided with younger forest and the end of the tall trees, we had seen 16 tuliptrees over 170’, including three over 180’.
9'7" x 176.3' tuliptree with 11'3" x 130.8' northern red oak on the right (Jess Riddle photograph)
9'7" x 176.3' tuliptree with 11'3" x 130.8' northern red oak on the right (Jess Riddle photograph)
EastBarkersCrMeasurements.JPG
The tallest tuliptree.  Note the length of the trunk and strong apical dominance (Will Blozan photograph)
The tallest tuliptree. Note the length of the trunk and strong apical dominance (Will Blozan photograph)
The unprecedented density of tall tuliptrees left us all slightly stunned. The LiDAR data promised an impressive cove, but this stand exceeded our expectations. Of all known sites, this cove contains the second most tuliptrees over 170’ tall (Baxter Creek has 22) and as many 180’ trees as any known site in eastern North America. All of those trees grow in a narrow strip less than two acres in area. More accurate measurements of the Deep Creek tuliptrees will determine where the site’s tallest tree ranks among tuliptrees and among all eastern hardwoods. Second tallest seems likely, and the tree is certainly the tallest known second growth hardwood in eastern North America. We do not know what the stand’s eventual limits will be. Based on crown structure and bark, the even aged tuliptrees appear to be between 85 and 120 years old. Some of the trees have densely branched upper limbs and somewhat rounded crowns indicating they continue upward only slowly. However, the tallest tree does not fork until about 30’ below the top, and maintains strong apical dominance. This remarkable stand would have remained unknown to us without LiDAR data; adjacent private land discourages casually poking around in the area, and the more visible young forest that surround the stand only hint at the area’s potential. To better understand this grove’s productivity, we feel the trees, surrounding plants, and soils deserve further research.

Jess Riddle, Will Blozan, Michael Davie, and Josh Kelly

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James Parton
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Re: East Barkers Creek

Post by James Parton » Sat Jan 08, 2011 9:19 pm

Outstanding work, all of you. I wish I would have known about this well ahead of time. I might could have found a way to go. Trips like this are awesome!
James E Parton
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Steve Galehouse
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Re: East Barkers Creek

Post by Steve Galehouse » Sat Jan 08, 2011 10:30 pm

Jess, Will, Michael , Josh--

A fantastic site and a great report, very illuminating regarding LiDAR sampling and age of stand especially---makes me want to go look for slender trees that look tall, rather than fat trees that should be tall. I think Liriodendron tulipifera is the defining species for eastern North America, even more so than eastern white pine.

Steve
every plant is native somewhere

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dbhguru
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Re: East Barkers Creek

Post by dbhguru » Sun Jan 09, 2011 9:46 am

Steve,

Yes, kudos to Josh, Jess, Will, and Mike. And yes, I think the tuliptree holds a unique place among eastern species. It may not match the white pine in what has been recorded in the past for height, but I have little faith in those old accountings. The next barrier to break for the TT is 190. My belief is that pushes the limit presently and historically, but that is only a belief. It is up to the above foursome to establish the upper limit.

Bob
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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James Parton
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Re: East Barkers Creek

Post by James Parton » Sun Jan 09, 2011 10:58 am

Since I do not have my daughter this weekend and Joy went to work,It briefly entered my mind this morning to get up early and head into the Green River Gorge this morning to measure a stand of tall tulips I found in sept, one made it to just over 152 feet tall. But the 11 degree temperature outside discouraged me. I have the clothes for the cold but the problem would be my hands. I have a pair of mittens where the tips fold back to give me the dexterity to use the laser but even with that my hands would get cold very fast, plus the cold would probably make the laser malfunction. I have had that to happen before. Even now at 11am the temp is only 18 degrees.
James E Parton
Ovate Course Graduate - Druid Student
Bardic Mentor
New Order of Druids

http://www.druidcircle.org/nod/index.ph ... Itemid=145

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mdavie
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Re: East Barkers Creek

Post by mdavie » Sun Jan 09, 2011 3:37 pm

dbhguru wrote:The next barrier to break for the TT is 190. My belief is that pushes the limit presently and historically, but that is only a belief. It is up to the above foursome to establish the upper limit.

Bob
Well, there will always be more areas to explore, and thank goodness LiDAR can really help narrow down the places to look. The ground-truthing has been interesting; I was worried when we got to Barkers that the steepness of the terrain would have inflated the readings like it seemed to at Wesser Creek, but if anything, it underestimated. There's been a few years of growth since the data was collected, but not that much growth. Thinking back, I think most of the trees at Wesser that were shorter than Lidar indicated had offset crowns. These at Barkers were, overall, remarkably straight.
About breaking 190, as far as I know Josh, Jess, nor Ian have found more than a few hits higher than 180, but not every place has been checked yet, and it's possible that Lidar will read short sometimes. My fingers are crossed!
I will agree with Jess that we were pretty stunned when we realized what we were seeing. It was pretty incredible.

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James Parton
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Re: East Barkers Creek

Post by James Parton » Sun Jan 09, 2011 3:59 pm

All,

LiDar has proved almost a miracle tool. I have done searches online for liDAR images and I have not found much. I have found a couple of free online LiDAR viewers though. However LiDAR ( LAS ) files are hard to come by. With the availabilty of high-rez satillite and aerial images that sort of surprised me. If we all had access to LiDAR data in our areas it would give us a real heads-up on where to look for tall trees. But I know little about LiDAR technology or how to read the maps/images. I would have to learn.

Still, I am impresssed by the results of the LiDAR data and the efforts of Josh, Will, Jess and Michael. You guys are awesome!
James E Parton
Ovate Course Graduate - Druid Student
Bardic Mentor
New Order of Druids

http://www.druidcircle.org/nod/index.ph ... Itemid=145

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eliahd24
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Re: East Barkers Creek

Post by eliahd24 » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:37 pm

184.5! Holy sha-moley!! Great work guys. This is a great find. I sure wish there were LIDAR data for Georgia.

I just "found" a 164' TT in a great hidden cove in SW Atlanta, which kind of blew my mind. I felt the 160' barrier would not be broken in the city limits. Directly beside this tree is a 142' Carya glabra and a 137' Quercus rubra. A 108' lone Quercus stellata and a 75' Magnolia tripetala are also in the cove. I truly feel there are MANY more big/tall trees hiding all around us. Especially since 2nd growth can be so productive.

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