Welch Branch, GSMNP

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Josh Kelly
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Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Josh Kelly » Thu Apr 07, 2011 1:57 pm

Welch Branch is a small stream that feeds Forney Creek, one of several large watersheds on the north shore of Fontana Lake that lack road access. Originally, the National Park Service agreed to build a road on the north shore to provide families access to gravesites that was lost with the flooding of Fontana Lake. However, after building the first of many tunnels necessary to complete the task, the Park Service re-evaluated the expense of that action. A more recent effort to have the road built ended with a cash settlement to Swain County, NC that will maintain the North Shore as one of the largest roadless areas in eastern North America.

On March 20th, Will Blozan, Michael Davie and I visited Welch Branch with high anticipation and quickly hiked through the abandoned tunnel at the end of the North Shore Road and several miles of pine and oak forests to get to the site. The drainage had first been noted as an excellent growth site by Jess Riddle using NC LiDAR data. Mike made a trip there in early March, but forgot his clinometer. Shooting straight up into trees he had readings over 180 ft.

On reaching Welch Branch, we left the Bear Creek trail and continued on a maintained foot path that goes up to an old homesite and cemetary on Welch Branch. Forney Creek was not heavily settled, but was heavily logged by the Norwood Lumber Company between 1909 and 1920, and slash fires were particularly intense in the upper watershed. The human history of the area is such that I didn’t note any areas of old-growth on the trip.

Past the homesite, we climbed steeply into the uppermost of three coves with extremely tall tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). All of the tributaries of Welch Branch flow southeast. Jumpup Ridge forms a steep, high western ridge to the site. Predictably the best growing sites at Welch Branch have east and northeast aspects.

In the uppermost cove, we located and measured six tulip trees over 170’ tall and one over 180’. Two large red oaks, both passing the 11.5’ x 145’ threshold were measured. Many poplars in this and other coves were over 160’ tall and were not intensively measured. With the use of LiDAR 170’ is the new threshold for a “tall” tulip tree in the Smokies.

The central cove, as indicated by LiDAR, turned out to be the real treasure trove of tallness. We located, measured and waypointed 20 poplars over 170’ tall in this cove – all twenty of those poplars fit inside of an eight acre polygon, making this spot one of the highest canopies, if not the highest canopy, of its size discovered by ENTS. In this area Will located a new height record northern red oak (Quercus rubra), a pretty tree 156.3’ tall and around 12’ gbh. The cream on top of the pie was a poplar going at least 186’ tall and up to 187.4’ on one measurement that is currently the second tallest known tulip tree in eastern North America, though it will probably slip in the rankings fairly soon.

We finished up the day with a final cove and mopped up two more 170’s for a total of 28 trees over 170’ (51.8 M) in this one small watershed. ENTS has discovered no other site with some many trees over 170’ in such a small area. While an upcoming post by Mr. Blozan will overshadow this discovery, Welch Branch appears to be one of the top five second-growth tulip tree sites in North Carolina and is truly mind-blowing in its tree growth. Though the site has great productivity for tulip tree, it is so dominated by the species that a Rucker 10 or even a Rucker 5 is not warranted. Tracking this site as it matures will be very interesting. In 10 years it is possible that the tallest tulip tree will be located in Welch Branch.

Species DBH (inches) Height (ft) Tag
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.59 187.4 WB20
Liriondendron tulipifera 33.66 183.9 WB21
Liriondendron tulipifera 34.00 180.7 WB3
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 179.2 WB16
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.84 178.3 WB22
Liriondendron tulipifera 31.69 177.8 WB31
Liriondendron tulipifera 26.46 177.4 WB6
Liriondendron tulipifera 31.10 177.3 WB12
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 176.4 WB24
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.65 176.1 WB19
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.08 175.6 WB1
Liriondendron tulipifera 25.55 174 WB18
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.96 173.5 WB14
Liriondendron tulipifera 25.67 173.1 WB30
Liriondendron tulipifera 28.74 172.8 WB28
Liriondendron tulipifera 23.35 172.6 WB13
Liriondendron tulipifera 32.87 172.3 WB8
Liriondendron tulipifera 34.30 172.3 WB9
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.35 172.3 WB11
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.20 172.1 WB15
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.20 171.6 WB4
Liriondendron tulipifera 33.15 171.5 WB23
Liriondendron tulipifera 24.25 171.5 WB27
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 171.4 WB25
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 170.8 WB5
Liriondendron tulipifera 31.81 170.3 WB10
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.76 170.2 WB17
Liriondendron tulipifera 39.06 170.2 WB29
Liriondendron tulipifera 32.24 169.1 WB26
Quercus rubra 57.1" 156.3
Quercus rubra 47.40 146.8 WB2
Quercus rubra 44.50 145.7 WB7



Will Blozan, Michael Davie and Josh Kelly.
Welch_chm.jpg
The tunnel on the Road to Nowhere - Will Blozan
The tunnel on the Road to Nowhere - Will Blozan
***NOTE: Topo map removed due to NPS restrictions pertaining to a recently obtained collection permit***
Attachments
14.7' x 179.2 twin poplar - Will Blozan
14.7' x 179.2 twin poplar - Will Blozan
Height record Northern Red Oak 14'11" gbh x 156.3' tall - Will Blozan
Height record Northern Red Oak 14'11" gbh x 156.3' tall - Will Blozan
Tall tulip trees with human for scale - Will Blozan
Tall tulip trees with human for scale - Will Blozan
Dense grove of tulip trees in middle cove - Will Blozan
Dense grove of tulip trees in middle cove - Will Blozan
Amazing grove in middle cove - Will Blozan
Amazing grove in middle cove - Will Blozan

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Larry Tucei » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:06 pm

Josh, Wow! Those groves are unreal. 187' Tulip, Wow, what great heights on them all. 156.3' Northern Red, Wow, Congrats to you guys. Beautiful trees! What a great light at the end of the tunnel. Larry

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Will Blozan
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Will Blozan » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:43 pm

Josh,

Excellent post and images! BTW, the height record red oak was 57.1" DBH or 14'11" CBH.

We realy need to do a full tree volume sampling plot in the awesome second-growth stands; they will likely blow away the old-growth forests per given area.

Will

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Steve Galehouse
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Steve Galehouse » Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:18 pm

Josh, Michael, Will-

A great post, and what an exceptional stand of tuliptrees! I have to think 190'+ is possible from this area. I've found local LiDAR data to typically show hits about 1-4' higher than measured trees--would you concur with this?

Steve
every plant is native somewhere

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Josh Kelly
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Josh Kelly » Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:26 pm

Steve,

We have found a number of areas on steep slopes and trees with lean or broad crowns that measure high. On the other hand, our NC LiDAR data missed the tops of many of the tallest trees, especially trees with narrow crowns. At Welch Branch, the tallest trees are 8-10' taller than the tallest near LiDAR point. Our data in NC is on a 20ft grid, with many points inside of a 20x20 pixel, but still far from a sampling density that catches all the twigs in the canopy. What is the sampling density of the Ohio data?

It seems like in NC and Ohio there is definitely a post LiDAR renaissance of tall tree discovery going on. I'm sure great finds still await in both areas. In NC, it is clear that the tallest tulip trees are in steeper areas than we suspected in the pre-LiDAR days. Does the same hold true for Ohio?

Josh

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Steve Galehouse
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Steve Galehouse » Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:41 pm

Josh-

I think the sampling density is higher in the Ohio data, perhaps a 4' grid, but I'm not certain---I'll see if I can determine what the grid is. Certainly the steeper sites in NE Ohio produce the tallest tuliptrees, and other species as well. With LiDAR assistance, Rand Brown and I have found three sites in N Ohio with tulips over 160'.

Steve
every plant is native somewhere

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Rand
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Rand » Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:46 pm

Certainly the steeper sites in NE Ohio produce the tallest tuliptrees, and other species as well.
I wonder how much of this is due to terrain and how much is simply due to the fact that steep sites are more likely to go long periods of time without being disturbed, simply because it is so hard to work there.

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Josh Kelly
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Josh Kelly » Fri Apr 08, 2011 5:16 am

Rand,

I'm not sure how fully we will ever be able to answer this question because of the agricultural history of many gently sloping landforms and the resultant loss of forest productivity due to agriculture. It does seem like places that at least have adjacent steep slopes help push trees upward. The shading of steep slopes and the way concave landforms on steep slopes focus water seem to make a real difference in the height potential of a site. All of the sites with 170' + tulip trees that I have seen are either on or directly adjacent to steep slopes. I guess I will continue to wonder about the potential growth of alluvial flats and gentle coves unless I see a really outstanding example that hasn't been tilled.

Josh

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dbhguru
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by dbhguru » Fri Apr 08, 2011 6:14 am

Josh,

Our hats and caps are off to you, Will, Mike, etc. Not only are your discoveries ground-breaking and exciting, but they establish the value of an organization like ENTS that fills a gap not filled by either official government agencies or environmental groups. The tuliptree is not only at the top of the pecking order, but is significantly outdistancing its closest competitor, the great whites. Ten years ago, I'd never have imagined it.

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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bbeduhn
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by bbeduhn » Fri Apr 08, 2011 9:34 am

There are so many areas in the Smokies where tuliptrees dominate. Some are much younger but there will be many Kilmer-like areas in the future. It is amazing to see how some coves are 80 to 90% tuliptrees. It'll take a while for diversity to exert itself on these sites.

It's always a pleasure to read reports from the Smokies. It's encouraging to hear that there is still so much more out there to find, even in girth, but heightwise, the next twenty years will be telling as we will most certainly see some groves topping 200 before the individual trees get topped themselves. Steep slopes force the trees to fight for the sun. It'll be interesting to see just how high these trees can really grow.
Brian

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