PA Natural Area tall trees and site comparisons   Dale J. Luthringer
  Dec 05, 2002 13:28 PST 

Hi Folks,

Iíve finally got all my tall tree data organized for the state of
Pennsylvania. I no longer have data backlogged to the beginning of
October. After my recent whirlwind tour of the Smokies, PAís natural
areas, and getting paperwork finished for the park, I finally had time
to sit down at the computer and start poking in and rechecking my
results. Iíve attached an excel spreadsheet for those who are
interested in current tree height records for Pennsylvania and Rucker
Index comparisons for some of our natural areas.

First a short description of each PA natural area Iíve had a chance to
visit over the last 2 months.

I wonít delve on Cook Forest too long, because Iím sure everyone is
getting tired of hearing about it. But it ranks the top so far in the
state in terms of shear volume of tall trees, not just white pine, in
one area. I really donít think itíll be beat in the state. It is
obviously my most sampled site, but many of the sites to follow have a
much smaller acreage of old growth. The more I sample, the more I find
that Cook Forest truly stands alone as THE big tree site in the state.
Weíre probably looking at close to 1500 acres of various stages of old
growth at Cook. Many better than I have looked across the state for
big/old tree sites, but few, except a few prominent ENTS members, have
actually gone to the detail of evaluating these sites in terms of
accurate height measurements.

Tionesta Scenic Area...

The Alan Seeger Natural Area is a special place at only 118 acres.
There were a good number of very knarly black gums, probably the oldest
Iíve had the pleasure of observing to date, not to mention the ancient
E. hemlock. It had a very thick rhododendron understory. A small
stream carves its way through the site. Besides the path, it would
probably be the next easiest way through this site. Will and Bob could
rate it on a scale of 1-10 better than I, but the rhodes were thicker
than what I observed on my recent trip with Will in the Smokies. I
think Will rated the worst of what we went through at 4, which I thought
was pretty bad, maybe Iíd give Alan Seeger a modest 5 on the
rhodo-surfing scale. Iíd probably put it to 7 or 8 with my limited
experience in the sport of rhodo surfing. Bobís superb directions
enabled me to find his PA tuliptree height champion here at 137.7ft. I
wasnít able to squeeze my laser through the canopy to find his branch
though. My best shot was while balancing precariously on top of two
large rhodes. Will would have been proudÖ it was a great start for
Ďyoung grasshopperí. I donít think Iíll ever graduate to Willís
perfected bear hug tree scaling technique. Come to Cook Forest in the
spring for your next lesson as he scales the Seneca Pine at ~172ft!

Heartís Content was a treat. Bob and I have noted 2 pines in the 160ft
class. The old state champ white pine still lingers at 13.2ft CBH, but
its top is now busted off and splitting down from the top as if God had
taken a froe to it. Its white pine tally to date is as follows:

Height Class      # trees
130                                      12
140                                      10
150                                      14
160                                        2

It is definitely in a transitional phase, with the seral stage white
pine are on their way out, making way for the shade tolerant Am. beech
and E. hemlock. I even found another massive pine lurking off the
beaten path and downstream from the heart of the area that registered at
12.5ft CBH x 154.2ft high and 1927.5 ENTS points.

I was really surprised with the assortment of tall pines at Anderís Run
with such a small site, less than 20acres of old growth. I didnít
except to find a monster white pine at 12.9ft CBH x 163.8ft high! A
true monster with 2113 ENTS points which I believe is only 2nd in size
to the Seneca Pine of Cook Forest at 2132 ENTS points. Itís white pine
tally to date as follows:

Height Class      # trees
110                                      1
120                                      1
130                                      6
140                                      7
150                                      3
160                   1

The Bear Run Natural Area had no tree heights of any significance. This
area encompasses 32acres which houses about ~5 acres of old growth. It
lies along a rocky stream bed about half-way up a valley system
dominated by various oak species. I noted a number of old growth E.
hemlock and a couple very knarly tuliptrees. The highest registered at
8.5ft CBH x 111.9ft high.

The Joyce Kilmer Natural Area had no tree heights of any significance.
This area encompasses 77acres which is most likely entirely old growth.
It is located just below a ridgeline, ~2000-2300ft elevation, on a very
steep slope. The old growth runs parallel to the ridge about ľ mile
down from top. The trail through this area is straight uphill, unless
you want to come in from the top on a very rarely used and very rough
access road. The only thing here is that you have to walk back up to
get out. I still couldnít tell which was harder, coming down or going
up. Needless to say I started from the top and worked my way down. I
noted hemlock wooly adelgid egg sacs at the ridgetop. This area was
unique in that it reminded me of the knarly tops on the old growth E.
hemlock in the Smokies. My best way to describe this stunted old growth
site, would be to take the top 65ft of a Smokies old growth hemlock and
stick it in the ground. Thatís exactly what this site looked like. I
also noted stunted pitch pine and white pine in this area. Soil was a
very thin covering over a boulder field.

Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area is reported to cover 500 acres. Just
upstream and adjacent to this site is another natural area, Tall Timbers
~ 300-500 acres, which I wasnít able to get into. This site is heavily
dominated by old growth E. hemlock. It also houses the tallest hemlock
to be found in the state at 8.3ft CBH x 142.8ft high. It beats Cook
Forestís tallest hemlock by a mere 0.6ft. Who knows what other
treasures lie in this hollow. This site has very steep sides which rise
to about 300-500ft above the stream bottom. Bob found this hemlock a
few years ago and directed me right to it. A decent hiking trail starts
at the picnic area and works up and around this stream valley. It
definitely warrants a number of return trips. The hemlock wooly adelgid
is very heavy in this area. Bureau of Forestry has been busy with
predator beetle releases at this site for some time now. Hopefully, the
infestation is on the downturn. The beetles are starting to take hold.

There still is a lot of work to do. I would definitely like to hit the
Rickettís Glen Natural Area, but I believe Iíll have to wait until I
have training near that site before I can make it there. Itís just too
far away for me to get to during the winter and still have a fruitful
day of tree measuring. Cook Forest still has a lot of acreage to cover.
My present search so far at Cook Forest puts me in a gem of a spot where
Iíve recently found the state white ash height champ and a number of
tuliptrees in the 130ft class. The next bench up may hold more records
and 150ft white pines. Itíll have to wait a week or so until I can get
deer season under my belt.


Re: PA tall trees and site comparisons    Don Bertolette
   Dec 05, 2002 18:08 PST 
Your post is a good reminder why Bob started looking at old-growth definitions a decade or so ago..."natural areas", "old-growth", "original virgin forest", and "ancient" are all phrases we're familiar with, have positive connotations, but are not necessarily synonymous. Natural areas may experience natural disturbances on a cycle that prevents old-growth status (which vary regionally anyway), original virgin forests are more and more a myth, and ancient probably isn't appropriate for 300 year old trees. Now this fellow Packenham from the British Isles has some trees accurately described as ancient (both by appearance and accumulation of years), but are probably not old-growth...

I may be in the minority, but I am relinquishing the phrase old-growth as it applies to individual trees, they're just great old trees. However if you have 1500 acres of old-trees at Cook, I am comfortable with it being described as an 'old-growth ecosystem', particularly if your description of them includes understory species of some maturity and complexity, undisturbed epiphytic plant communities (particularly in the upper canopy), complex soil biota, and the resilience to respond to the bulk of natural disturbances that have presented themselves over history.

I just spent a satisfying fall under the canopy of several thousand acres of old-growth ponderosa pine forest ecosystem on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Forest...I, like you perhaps, kept an eye peeled for the tall ones. But despite 10-12,000 years of recovery from the last ice age, the ponderosa pine forest ecosystem is not producing champion trees (in the context of state and national champions). But man I tell ya, there's some grand trees there, and they're surely part of the old-growth ecosystem that we Park employees are mandated to "preserve and protect" for we the public.
RE: PA tall trees and site comparisons    Dale J. Luthringer
   Dec 06, 2002 06:46 PST 

Yes, Iím starting to find out how Ďetheralí the term Ďold growthí is.
One problem with our age classes here at Cook is that the high density
of white-tails have kept most trees from reaching the 20-60 year range.
It tends to be a little disturbing when you get into a certain old
growth area and there is no green from ankle to chest height. ĎBanzaií
trees designed by our elusive white-tail are particularly pleasant to my
eye. We are now in a public comment period where we are proposing to
open the entire park open for hunting. Most of our highly sensitive
areas have been closed to hunting for close to 60 years due to political
reasons. The result has been almost a complete loss of an entire age
class. Yes, Iím sure lack of sun has itís part to play also, but we
should still be seeing shade tolerant species that make it to waste
height. A trip along the Fire Tower Rd through rhodes and mountain
laurel is much more dramatic. It looks as if park staff has trimmed all
the plants from chest height down so that you can see 100+ yards through
the forest. The problem is that the John Q. Public now thinks that this
is actually part of a normal healthy and balanced ecosystem.

Iím not much of a Ďmolds, spores, and fungusí guy, but Iím told that we
have certain kinds of moss, lichens, and fungi that grow here in
abundance that are rarely found in other areas of the state. In respect
to the resilience question, our old growth has faired quite well over
the years, but it hasnít had the chance of experiencing beech bark
disease and the hemlock wooly adelgid. Both of these are very near to
the park and are probably only a matter of time before they get here.
The forest has always been able to bounce back after a disturbance.
Maybe the adelgid will take out the hemlock and let another crop of
white pine see the sun? Itís all part of the cycle, although I admit I
donít want to be the one to see it.

Sure would be nice to see the Grand Canyon someday. Iíve only flown
over it, so that doesnít really count. Iím afraid Iíd have to learn my
trees all over again if I came out there. I was greatly humbled in my
tree ID ability on my recent trip to the Smokies. So many different
trees in one place still the boggles the mind.