Adirondack Old Growth: My favorite forest

Discussions of the concept forest aesthetics.

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MikeK
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Adirondack Old Growth: My favorite forest

Post by MikeK » Mon Nov 28, 2022 4:59 pm

While I love a great deal of aspects about the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, I've been on a lifelong journey of exploration that seems to be constantly evolving. When I was a young boy it was swimming and playing in the sand; a teen, riding bikes and backpacking; a post graduate, canoe tripping and skiing; as a father, at 42, all, but I've finally slowed down enough to really understand what made this place so special. Was it the geology? Yeah, part of it. The topography? Sure. Lack of development? Yes, that always been a key. The specific ecosystems as well as abundance of water and mountains? Yeah, mostly that. And recently I think it really has been the abundance of old-growth forest. There are a number of places I've been to many times over the years, and I knew I really liked them, but I didn't have an exact reason why. In studying dendrology and forest ecology I finally understand exactly what it is. I can almost quantify it.

I knew I liked white pines - they are common and everyone can recognize them. In visiting some exceptional sites of such, I've come to find they are a major component, but not the only. But we have sites of large white pine in western NY.

Hemlocks? Again another tree I've always been familiar with, but the abundance, size and structure of the Adirondack hemlocks, particularly in the west are most impressive to me. But again, there are impressive, and/or old stands of hemlock in the western NY.

Yellow birch? YES! That's the one. Again, another tree I could always recognize, or so I thought. Only recently had I really come to understand what an old yellow birch looks like and how much character they add to a forest. Yellow birch are native in the west of the state, and they do grow, but they don't live long and get all that big like the Adirondack ones. To me, that, and abundance of balsam fir and red spruce really makes it a different world.

With my new eyes, I was very surprised to find so many old growth yellow birch in areas that were very easy access and places I've been to before. Based on study of APA maps and other records, I believe these areas are all first growth (primary) forest with an abundance of yellow birch and hemlock - I didn't find as many large sugar maples here and occasionally I'd see a large red spruce shooting straight up through the canopy mixed in with hardwoods. I never saw any large white ash.

A few spectacular yellow birches:
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Last edited by MikeK on Sun Dec 04, 2022 9:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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dbhguru
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Re: Adirondack Old Growth: My favorite forest

Post by dbhguru » Tue Nov 29, 2022 2:30 pm

Mike,

From my observations In the Dacks, white ash in abundance is more closely associated with past disturbance. It is intermediate in need for light. Where I see lots of ash, I tend to see other intermediate light species such as red maple in greater abundance. Mature second griwth forests are likely to have that mix. So, I’m not surprised that those heavy in yellow birch and hemlock did’t have much (if any) white ash.

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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MikeK
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Re: Adirondack Old Growth: My favorite forest

Post by MikeK » Tue Nov 29, 2022 2:46 pm

I thought that as well for a number of reasons, but I've also read some other reports of older growth forest having a significant white ash component i.e. western High Peaks. What I saw was very small - pole sized and very infrequent. Perhaps taking advantage of the loss of beech - I failed to find any healthy, mature beech in this particular area.

And don't get me wrong, there were definitely areas of dense, pole-sized red maples and wetter areas of balsams, but I don't know that those were the result of human disturbance. Humans certainly have been using these areas for quite some time, but from what I can tell most of this land was purchased by the state right before the 1894 "forever wild" constitutional amendment in the state.

The biggest surprise to me was lack of large sugar maple. I know this is not the case in most of the park and this particular area was not devoid of sugar maple, or beech. Quite the contrary, but none of it was all that large. Where I did find large ones they were tucked away in the flats with the yellow birch. I'm guessing massive past wind disturbance as well as perhaps some nutrient leaching from acid rain, has something to do with this. It prompted me to do some serious reading on acid rain research, which I don't regret.

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dbhguru
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Re: Adirondack Old Growth: My favorite forest

Post by dbhguru » Wed Nov 30, 2022 10:29 am

Mike,

Yes, I also know of places where ash is more abundant as a part of the natural disturbance patterns instead of past human activities.

In terms of yellow birch, the Adirondacks match the best I've seen from North Carolina to Maine. The late Dr. Barbara McMartin and I had an informal competition to measure the largest yellow birch in the Dacks. My best was a huge specimen near Piseco Lake. It was 14.8 feet in girth and 98 feet tall. It was a column of wood. No cheater. Barbara measured one to 15 feet 1 inch around, but she wasn't positive at the height above ground at which she took the measurement. Still, fair is fair. She won. BTW, I did measure a yellow birch in the GSMNP (Tennessee side) to 16 feet 1 inches DBH. It was in the low 90s for height. But overall, the Dack have more big yellows than the Smokies.

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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MikeK
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Re: Adirondack Old Growth: My favorite forest

Post by MikeK » Wed Nov 30, 2022 10:53 am

Those are some impressive numbers!

I've seen pictures of some in NH that were likely 4' dbh but I honestly I didn't think they would get over that. Most of what I have seen were likely 3'-3.5' dbh.

I'm going to start carrying a tape and a notebook - I don't think I'm ready to invest in a rangefinder and clinometer quite yet though...


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MikeK
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Re: Adirondack Old Growth: My favorite forest

Post by MikeK » Wed Nov 30, 2022 3:18 pm

Thanks Lucas - I just watched that about a month back. Great production.

I particularly like the tidbit about finding ash (and sometimes sugar maple) at the bottom of slopes due to calcium enrichment. I've heard old loggers from the Adirondacks tell this is typically where they would find large ash trees.

It's amazing to see those ancient beech survived. Some make it, some do not...

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