The North Country Old Growth Program was started to protect and manage regarding local old-growth trees and forests. Started by students and staff, the program is intended on gathering field data about old-growth forests in the region in order to establish a viable forested landscape. The methodology includes stand evaluations and a scoring system that identifies high-quality old-growth stands, so they can be better preserved and managed. Stand evaluations aid in anti-fragmentation efforts by creating a network of interconnected forest blocks. Additionally, the program works closely with public agencies and private landowners on management tactics.
What is an old-growth forest?
The term "old-growth" has been around since the early days of logging. There are a lot of definitions for old-growth forests, one of the main used one being forests that are at least 150 years old that developed a complex structure characterized by large, live and dead trees; distinctive habitats; and a diverse group of plants, fungi, and animals. They have little to no human influence and are vital for many ecosystems of plants, fungi, animals including mammals and bird species. Large, old trees are immensely important for a variety of reasons, as protectors of species, carbon sequesters, and serve spiritual purposes for many indigenous communities.
Student extracts tree ring from old-growth tree.
Students hiking to forest block to complete an old-growth evaluation.
This project started as a way to assess old-growth remnants in St. Lawrence County. Before the program began, it was assumed that the only old-growth stands that existed in the North Country were located in the Adirondack Park. Since no previous information or studies had been done in St. Lawrence county, the program was set up with a methodology that allowed students to be consistent and that was appropriate for the land in the county.
The SLC Old-Growth Program was created in order to further and advance conservation efforts in the county. The program intends to establish connected old-growth preserves and to connect old-growth preserves through corridors of extended rotation forests in order to allow animal and species migration.
The methodology used for the program includes candidate stands that are chosen specifically and through the use of a rubric. Stands are identified through literature reviews and through anecdotal accounts. For private land, requests are needed in order to identify tree stands.
Process for Evaluating old-growth stands
Evaluating an old-growth stand is a fairly complex process that includes several steps. However, once seasoned in the process, it becomes much easier and quicker. First, the evaluator must find the GPS location at the center of the stand. This can be done using a satellite phone. Next, the evaluator must determine the directions to the stand and the stand cover type, along with the forest block, or how many acres the forest containing the stand belongs, generally ranging from 0-200 acres. To follow, the acreage of the stand must then be determined, along with the physiographic class, including the following classifications: Xeric, Xeromesic, Mesic, Hydromesic, and Hydric. Next, the evaluator must assess the amount of cut stumps within the stand: none, few, or many, and their relative, apparent age: recent, older, or well-decayed. Following, the evaluator asses the fire scars and significant disturbances.
After this, further data is entered into charts that record the information for each plot within the stand, including the crown class, diameter at breast height (DBH), and snag length.
The evaluation continues, gathering information about rings, tree diameter, stumps, and regeneration.
Four stands have been evaluated and deemed to have the minimum requirements for old-growth forests.
1) Elder Grove: Located near Paul Smith's College, Elder Grove contains species of balsam fir, white pine, white cedar, hemlock, sugar maple, striped maple, paper birch, yellow birch, and American beech. There is no evidence of invasive species.
2) Peavine Swamp: Located west of the town of Governeur. Largely made up of Red Oaks, with a surrounding forest that has been heavily logged.
3) Holzhausen: Located near Ogdensburg. Contains old, rare sugar maples, and a lot of regenerating and medium size trees.
As the North Country Old-Growth program has continued, we have searched and continue to search for further forests suitable for old-growth designation and protection.
Rock, J. (2019, July 15). To Find the Elder’s Grove. Paul Smith's College. https://www.paulsmiths.edu/vic/to-find-the-elders-grove/
Woodman, Tom. (2013, February 28). Exploring a venerable forest on Peavine Swamp Ski Trail. Adirondack Explorer. https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/skiing-the-quiet-groves
Rosales, J. et. al. (2007). An Old-Growth Program for St. Lawrence County. St. Lawrence University Environmental Studies Department. St. Lawrence University.
PNRS. (2003, June). New Findings About Old-Growth Forests. Pacific Northwest Research Station. PNW Science Update. https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/science-update-4.pdf
Llewelyn, Robert. (2020). Our Mission: Creating a national
network of protected old-growth forests. Old-Growth Forest Network. https://www.oldgrowthforest.net/
Breiter, M. (2015). Visit the World’s Most Amazing Old-Growth Forests. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/amazing-old-growth-forests-world-180956083/