This is a draft of the concept of defining a forest
aesthetic. I need your
help in fleshing out the ideas and refining them.
I do expect an immediate acceptance of the concepts
presented, but it a beginning.
I have presented a complete plan and rating system.
I am sure that my ideas can be nit-picked to death.
What I would like to see, however are either
suggestions that improve upon the framework I have
presented, or provides a complete and comprehensive
If you don’t have a better idea, don’t sit back and
tear mine down.
If you have a better idea, let’s see it.
This proposal is not meant to stand completely on its
own when evaluating a forest.
It is to be used in conjunction with all of the other
evaluation criteria including the accepted definitions of
old-growth, the presence of endangered species, social and
economic considerations, historical considerations, and
The other project I have been working on, under the
title significant forest patches, should also be an
accompanying evaluation criterion that meshes with this
aesthetic criteria proposal.
I hope to have another draft of that significant
forest patch document completed soon.
At this point I need to expand upon the definitions
and terms used in the numerical rating portion of the
document. I also need to determine what is a good score and
what is a bad score for a forest.
To do this you all can help me by trying to rate a
forest in your area and see what score is achieved.
Bob Leverett for example could rate MTSF, Dale
Luthringer might rate Cook Forest, and so forth.
On Defining a Forest Aesthetic
How do you define a forest aesthetic?
Clearly there is beauty in the forest. What is it
about a particular tree, grove, or forest that tells you
that this is a special place? What is it that touches you in
some way on an emotional, spiritual, or aesthetic level? Is
it different for individual trees as opposed to a section of
a forest? If so what are the differences?
The goal of promoting and maintaining the aesthetics
of the forest should play a role in forest management
There are several factors that should be considered in
valuing a forest: 1) Economic value. This is in terms
of timber value versus recreational dollars related to the
forest. The health benefits of having a nearby forest can
also be added into this mix. This health aspect is
discussed in several articles by the Trust for Public Land;
2) Biological significance. There needs to be an accounting
of the rarity of a forest characteristic or type, and an
accounting of its biological significance both in terms of
its own value and of its value as part of a larger
biological system. There is a need to consider
endangered species, and presence of old growth, and amount
of old growth present.
But these should not be the only defining
characteristics that denote a particular forest or forest
patch as biologically significant. At this point when
making management decisions, often only old growth is given
That valuation is the goal of a thread I started on
the ENTS discussion entitled “Significant Forest Patches.”
Cultural values: This would include historical
importance, recreational value, archaeological, and for some
groups, religious importance; 4) Aesthetics. This
would include not only beauty but the emotional value of
escaping from civilization, and the chance to commune with
nature. Part of my new aesthetic discussion post will
address the need to promote a forest aesthetic that values
the degree of naturalness in the forested landscape; 5)
Ethical considerations. What do we owe in terms of
forest management and practices to the natural world, what
do we owe to other people who will be affected by the forest
management decisions, and what do we owe to future
generations who will live with the decisions we are making
now? Some of these categories may tend to interleave,
some way is needed to include all of them in the general
discussion of the value of a particular forest. What
is exemplary and what is not?
Management decisions are typically based upon type of a
numerical analysis of cost and benefits of a proposed
Sometimes some social or recreational values of a forest are
given weight, but more often these are undervalued in
relation to the more easily quantified timber value of trees
in a particular stand. If
something cannot be quantified, it is typically given short
thrift in decision making. If
the topic “forest aesthetics” is searched on the internet,
many hits are found.
These results generally do not deal with the concept
of aesthetics as a forest value, but on ways to better hide
various types of questionable timber operations so that they
will not generate as much public outrage at the destruction.
The problem faced by trying to define a forest
aesthetic is twofold.
The first aspect is to determine what qualities and
characteristics of a forest make it aesthetically pleasing
The second aspect of the problem is find a way to quantify
these values so that they can be better incorporated into
forest management plans.
What is the difference between a woodlot and a forest?
A simplistic description might define a forest is a
collection of trees and assorted flora and fauna on a piece
However a forest is more than that.
It consists not only of these simple parts, but of
the interrelationships between those parts.
In general the greater the age and scale of those
interrelationships, the more intertwined those relationships
are, and the more aesthetically pleasing is the combination.
What is Aesthetics?
The concept of aesthetics is itself hard to define.
It is an attempt to judge what is beautiful or what
carries emotional or sentimental values.
Some artists believe that a work of art is successful
if it engenders a strong emotional response.
For purposes here I will limit the discussion to
those things that cause a strong positive response.
Some aspects of beauty can be considered universal.
In the search for human attractiveness it was found
people with a greater degree of facial symmetry were rated
as more beautiful than others across all races and all
there such universal traits present in considering forest
The second component of aesthetics is learned or cultural
aspects of aesthetics.
Consider the diversity of music found in different
would find some of these musical traditions beautiful, while
others would seem to be a cacophonous jumble of noise
depending on their own cultural background.
Cultural backgrounds also plays a strong role I how
we view the forest.
The Puritans when they arrived in the new world
viewed the wilderness as a chaotic jumble that clearly was
the abode of demons.
The forest would only cease to be frightening when
through the hand of man, doing the work of God, it was
tamed, conquered, and brought order from the chaos. Some
reflection of this viewpoint can still be seen in the
immaculately maintained classic English Gardens.
Others found the wilderness to be an escape from the
chains, burdens, and structure of civilization.
A third category to be considered is a learned appreciation
for an aesthetic.
For example many people do not appreciate the
qualities of the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock.
Critics are still undecided about Pollock’s work.
Some have called his work extremely decorative wall
paper, while others characterize Pollock as the best painter
of his time. In
either case an informed knowledge is needed to truly
appreciate or even to adequately disparage Pollack’s work.
This same effect is present in considerations of a
Some people feel that knowing more about a particular
tree or phenomena detracts from the appreciation of it as an
entity. I think
that knowing more about a tree or phenomena allows a deeper
appreciation of it by letting a person consider
characteristics not apparent without that knowledge.
A otherwise non-descript tree might not get more than
a passing notice, but if I knew it was 350 years old, it
would catch my attention and I would search for those
qualities of age and form I otherwise would not have
What Makes A Forest Special?
The subject of forest aesthetics has been discussed
previously by Eastern Native Tree Society (ENTS) members:
In these discussions a number of characteristics that
members found to be aesthetically pleasing or important were
listed. All of
these ideas were valid.
Some were self evident and agreeable to everyone, and
some ideas presented were contradictory.
Many of these comments exhibit a profound thoughtful
analysis of the subject.
I encourage anyone interested in the subject to read
the entire sequences of the discussions. Here is a sampling
of a few of the comments.
Larry Tucei (December 08, 2006) writes:
“I myself when in a Forest am awed at the beauty, serenity
and simplicity. To me, it becomes a place that is for
relaxation and contemplation. Many times I've wondered about
the Forests and Land before Man had changed them. It must
have been breathtaking to see the Ancient Forests in North
America. We should help ensure that young people see what a
forest is supposed to look like before their all gone!
Passing on our knowledge to them so they can carry on our
dreams of Magnificent Forests.”
Robert Leverett (December 08, 2006) writes:
“Beauty, being in the eyes of the beholder, will allow
several very different forest forms to be equally
attractive/competitive. For instance, the look and feel of
antiquity is likely to be a criteria that ranks high with
everybody, irrespective of whether or not the trees at a
site are large. Similarly, a park-like appearance of a
forest has great appeal, regardless of whether or not the
trees are exceptionally old.
Forests with trees of overwhelming size obviously
have great aesthetic appeal. One need not know the numbers
to be bowled over by the presence of trees that dwarf what
one ordinarily sees. There is an interesting interplay of
symmetry with asymmetry that we need to investigate. Too
little symmetry can create an unattractive, cluttered look.
Too much symmetry can be boring. And the list goes on.”
Doug Bidlack (December 08, 2006) writes:
“When I was younger my idea of what made a forest beautiful
was different than today. The more I learned about forests,
from the trees to the streams that flow through them to the
individual insects that inhabit those forest streams, the
more my ideas about the forest and what made it beautiful
Bob Leverett (December 13, 2008) writes:
“One point to consider as we discuss aesthetics is that what
makes forests special to a lot of people is the element of
mystery they feel when in a forest. Some of us like
believing that the myriad of forest processes that we don't
understand, and which proceed on different spatial and
temporal scales that we cannot easily grasp, will keep us in
a state of unknowing for a very long time and protect the
great forest mystery. As we learn more about forest
processes, and one by one, the mysteries disappear, often so
does the magic and respect for nature. It doesn't have to
happen that way, but sometimes it does. One way to regain
respect and recover our sense of awe is through artistic
rendering of forests.”
Tim Sullivan (December 14, 2006) writes:
“I have done a tiny bit of hiking in the Adirondacks but
most of my experience is from Western Mass. Vermont and NH
as well as the ridgetops along the AT. In Vermont I worked
as a Ranger/Naturalist and discovered many magical pockets
of stunted, undisturbed forest. I find those stunted and
contorted trees to be every bit as inspiring as the majestic
redwoods in the west.”
Steve Galehouse (December 17, 2006) writes:
“For me, much of the aesthetic appeal is derived from the
associated flora of a woodland--in the woods of central
Ontario, where I'm most familiar anymore, not much can
compare with the ethereal scent of Twinflower in bloom in an
old stand of Red Pine, or the aroma of Sweetfern along a
portage trail, or when grabbing on to a branch of Sweet Gale
along a lakeshore. The trees are the main event, the "cake";
the other more subtle plants are the "icing".
Bob Leverett (Dec. 18, 2006) writes:
appeal in eastern woodlands is often a complex mix that
includes some symmetry, but not too much, differentiated
color schemes (beech, birch, pines, etc.). Large trees are
usually a plus, but if obscured by clutter from shrubs and
young trees, their impact is reduced. We humans do like that
park-like appearance. The Vermont woodlands with their
ground layer of herbs and ferns and abundance of hemlock and
sugar maple can often be very attractive with only modest
sized trees. If a body of water is present, the aesthetic
effect can be multiplied.
What pleases some of us most is the gestalt effect of
water, sky, mountain, and forest. There are so many
combinations that distilling the elements and analyzing them
individually can miss the point. It is the combination.”
Tim Sullivan (January 05, 2007) writes:
“I love the open look and species uniformity of large old
growth forests. But, also love the chaos of naturally
disturbed forest patches and the early successional species
that magically appear in them. Or, the small pockets of
unique species scattered in micro habitats among the more
pervasive forest types. Each kind of habitat makes me
appreciate the others even more… Biodiversity comes from
individuals evolving to unique habitats, unique climatic
conditions and competitive pressures. By doing this, they
themselves become unique. It is these unique individuals and
the way they all work together to create a sustainable and
evolving system that I find aesthetically pleasing.”
Steve Galehouse (February 01, 2007) writes:
I think the aesthetic effect of a forest depends to a great
extent on the vantage point of the observer--an expanse of
forest seen across a wide valley or on a distant mountain
side elicits a sense of grandeur and awe; the same forest
seen from within, looking "out" and up, elicits a sense of
wonder and intimacy--both sensations accurate and valid,
An Ecological Aesthetic
Consider, if part of a forest aesthetic is based upon
cultural or learned values, an aesthetic criteria should be
developed that emphasizes the value of biologically unique
or rare forest elements. This criterion, encompassed by the
broad umbrella of aesthetics, would emphasize the concepts
of species diversity, and beauty in what superficially ugly
stunted or unappealing forests based upon their ecological
qualities. The guidelines should be phrased so that the
unique qualities of these forests could be counted on a
scale comparable to that of the "prettier" forests. More
biologically important areas might be preserved if we could
give those people making the decisions something to point at
and say, “Using these criteria there is a reason to preserve
Similar ideas were presented by Tim Sullivan and Andrew
Joslin in the earlier discussions of the subject.
Tim Sullivan (December 13, 2006) writes:
“Many of the things you describe as aesthetically pleasing
are actually a factor of biodiversity. The reason why a
stunted mountain top forest can be as appealing to many as
the giant redwoods is due to the diversity of species
adapting to live in their unique habitats. I think
aesthetics already carry a significant weight in forest
management. It is the forests that are aesthetically
pleasing that tend to get the most protection. People are
far more likely to object to the logging of a majestic
redwood forest than a dry scrub oak forest. Protecting
forests that have unique, and often attractive,
characteristics is important but so is protecting forest
connectivity and diversity. I would like to see a system
that takes all these factors into account.”
Andrew Joslin (December 13, 2006) writes:
“I think a goal of the forest aesthetics project could be to
broaden the general public's idea of what makes a beautiful
forest. For instance many people might find their local
predominant forest type mundane because they are so used to
it. This devalues the forest in their mind and makes it
easier for developers and commercially oriented forest
managers to take advantage. It might take a fresh
perspective to demonstrate the aesthetic beauty of a given
forest type or location that is taken for granted.
Aesthetics appreciation has a great effect on perceived
value and therefore is very important to forest preservation
even if it is not based on biological data.”
These concepts have received support in the academic field
as well. In
Sheppard, Stephen R. J., Chapter eleven: Beyond Visual
Resource Management: Emerging Theories of an Ecological
Aesthetic and Visible Stewardship (2000), Sheppard writes:
The Ecological Aesthetic.
More in tune with the new forestry of ecosystem
management is the idea that aesthetic appreciation should be
informed by ecological knowledge, so that what is good
ecologically also looks good to us. This theory draws on
Leopold’s philosophy of the land ethic (Leopold, 1949) and
related arguments from Carlson (1979; 1984), Callicott
(1987), and Gobster (1995).
This new aesthetic paradigm seeks explicitly to reconcile
aesthetics and ecological sustainability. It advocates a
deeper beauty, informed by meaning: it is “as cerebral as it
is perceptual” (Flader and Callicott, 1991). Gobster sees
the ecological aesthetic as recognizing “the more subtle,
experiential, and dynamic qualities that often characterize
forest ecosystems of high biological integrity” (Gobster,
Many members of the public have never had an opportunity to
observe a relatively undisturbed forest and do not really
have a good appreciation for the complex ecologies involved.
Some are influenced by the neatness of open park-like
environments and may be uncomfortable with the messy systems
of a comparatively undisturbed ecosystem. A goal of the
project should be to define our aesthetic criteria as those
informed by ecologic knowledge of the systems. In effect
what is good ecologically is also described as aesthetically
appealing. This concept of an ecologic aesthetic is
discussed in the writings of many conservationists. The work
of Aldo Leopold, author of "A Sand County Almanac" among
others, champions this concept. It must be a keystone to any
guidelines we develop.
There were concerns expressed about the concept of defining
a forest aesthetic.
Doug Bidlack (December 08, 2006) wrote:
“If we just
protect those forests that we think are most beautiful I
fear that although we may protect most of the remaining
coastal redwood forests, we may also completely lose many
less spectacular forests. That bothers me.”
am not arguing that this aesthetic criteria is the only
reason to protect a forest. As Doug suggested, doing so
would imply that only beautiful forests would be preserved.
The goal here is to develop another tool to evaluate a
forest in a way that could help give a deserving piece of
woods a better chance of being preserved.
Another point I wanted to emphasize is that while I am
calling this Forest Aesthetics, I mean the term to be
broadly interpreted beyond just beauty so that it would
incorporate both aspects of a forest that could be easily
measured as well as those that are more difficult to
Looking at forests and trees based upon aesthetic criteria
is an exploration of the nature of human interaction with
forests. This interaction may take many forms ranging from a
resource to be harvested, as something to be admired and
explored, as something with an emotional impact, or even as
spiritual resource as we commune with nature. I believe this
exploration in and of itself is a worthwhile goal.
Another question posed concerned who would be defining the
criteria. I do
not intend the criteria be developed by members of the
general public, but by members of the Eastern Native Tree
Society. The ENTS
is a combination of scientists, naturalists, foresters and
forest lovers that makes it a unique and encompassing group
of people. This rating system takes advantage of the
organizations entire base of knowledge, understanding and
Tim Sullivan (December 18, 2006) wrote:
We should work to develop a set of categories that will help
the public better see the beauty of a healthy, functioning
forest. This system should also give land managers some
guidelines on how to manage forests to produce a healthy
forest aesthetic as well as provide conservation groups with
a way of better prioritizing their preservation efforts.
Here are a few of the categories I have thought of so far:
Unique habitat types
Old growth stands
Multi age class forests
Forest type representation
Each of these categories should have a broad definition of
how to evaluate it. Then perhaps a rating system could be
developed that would take into account several factors in
each category. These factors should include items that rate
the importance of a specific category to the location in
which the forest is found (i.e does this forest represent a
type that is under represented in the local area or rare in
the region?, etc.).
Not all the categories should be weighted equally. It
would be up to local land managers and conservation groups
to decide which categories are most important to the forests
they are looking at.
Many of the specific categories and concepts proposed by Tim
have been included in the aesthetic criteria below or were
included in the discussion on Significant Forest Patches
The concept of biodiversity needs to be addressed in this
question is do we want a more diverse environment of many
examples of common species, or do we want a less diverse
environment with more examples of uncommon species? A
setting that contains a larger number of different habitat
types, such as an old abandoned field adjacent to a second
growth forest may have a high diversity of species - those
from both the forest and field settings as well as those
inhabiting the habitat edge between the two. An old-growth
forest may have fewer numbers of birds and animals, or even
large plant species, but may have diverse communities of
moss mats, lycopodium, lichens, ferns, and other species
less commonly found in disturbed forests. In terms of total
species diversity the abandoned field/second growth forest
system may have overall higher species diversity, but may
lack representation of uncommon species types and
The point that needs emphasized is that forest diversity
needs to be considered on a broad landscape based scale.
Diversity does not need to be achieved within a single
forest. Often a
stated goal of enhancing species diversity has been falsely
used as an excuse to log older forests and to justify the
Old growth and late mature, minimally affected,
secondary forests are rare on a landscape scale; therefore
they need to be preserved intact to achieve greater
diversity in the broader landscape. These forests
should not be managed to achieve diversity within these
forest patches themselves.
Choosing the Rating Criteria
Choosing the rating criteria is a complex problem. While it
is difficult to even articulate many aspects of what makes a
particular forest feel special, it is even more difficult to
categorize these feelings.
There is a need to capture the feeling of beauty, the
sense of wonder, and the mystery of the forest.
There is a need to capture the feeling of serenity
and escape form civilization. There is a need to establish
an aesthetic taste based upon natural qualities and respect
for the environment.
There is a need to find some way to distinguish
between characteristics that can be found in any forest from
those found only in exemplary forests.
There also is a need to choose criteria that can be
fairly applied and cannot easily be manipulated to bias the
These criteria consist of both of aspects of the forest as a
whole and of individual features within the forest.
The forest itself can serve as framework for
vignettes of forest life.
There is a need to find criteria that will enable
individuals to differentiate between exemplary forests and
There is a need to incorporate an ecologic aesthetic
as opposed to a garden aesthetic.
Many people who have only seen heavily impacted
forests or managed parks may not be familiar with the
natural character of a more pristine forest.
There is a need to evaluate a particular forest
relative to other forests in the region as opposed to
forests hundreds of miles away which may have dramatically
different settings and histories.
Toward that end I have tried to incorporate not only
my original ideas and concepts, but those presented in the
classic writings of essayists and environmentalists like
Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, more
contemporary thinkers like Michael Perlman, and
comments made by members of the Eastern Native Tree
Society in response to discussions of the subject.
Numerical Rating System
How should these concepts be implemented?
I want to find a fair way to evaluate these forests.
I am not looking for one that will say every forest is
great. If, for example, I had the money to purchase 500
acres, which of these forests would be the best choice to
purchase? Much of the focus up to this point is on aspects
that would give a forest a high score, but there absence
might also give a particular one a poor score as well.
I am proposing a methodology to numerically evaluate
both the biological significance of a forest patch and of
the aesthetic values of the forest. This initial rating
system may be subject to debate, but it will present a
starting point for the discussion. Some of these
values will be based upon a compilation of relative ordering
of subjective values. The chosen criteria will be
subjectively rated by an observer on a numerical scale of
1 through 5 based upon a defined rating framework. In
effect, it will be a social survey, with a
framework designed to better order the responses. To
large degree some of the criteria should be based on how a
segment of forest compares to surrounding forests. In an
area with almost no old growth or intact stands of forest, a
particular grove may be important to preserve even though in
a different region it might only be a marginal example of
that type of a forest community. It certainly is a complex
problem, but I think it is worth attempting.
Various overviews of the different types of surveys and
there construction can be found at this websites:
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Resources
developed a numerical system for evaluating the various
forest sites for consideration for inclusion in their forest
One of the primary considerations was to find large tracts
that were greater in size than the openings formed by large
scale forest destruction events such as forest fires,
blow-downs, and the like
With regard to the Massachusetts Forest Reserve
Evaluation Criteria James DiMaio writes:
“We went through a
process of expert choices ranking each criteria against one
another. We had experts ecologists, biologist,
scientist, leaders in forestry (about 15-20 folks serve on
the panel.) We also used very sophisticated GIS information
for each candidate forest reserve after the weighting was
Acreage of Old Growth
Acreage of Valley Bottom
% Protected Land in Surrounding
% 1830s Forest
Number of Viable Rare Communities
% BioMap Ambystomid Habitat
% Riparian and Wetland Forest
Acreage of Largest Interior Forest
% Living Waters Critical Supporting Watershed
Patch reserves will typically be relatively small (tens or
hundreds of acres) and will be defined by the extent of the
unique resources (rare species, steep slopes, etc.) intended
for conservation. Matrix reserves size should be based on
the expected extent of natural disturbance events. EOEA
supports having a limited number of large reserves of 5,000±
acres that represent the diversity of forest ecosystems that
occur in Massachusetts. Potential matrix reserve sites would
represent the diversity of forest ecosystems occurring
within the relatively un-fragmented forest landscapes
remaining in Massachusetts.”
The categories and specific criteria for an aesthetic
consideration will be different, but the Massachusetts
effort provides a example of the type of analysis that can
Premise: Why do
people enjoy a walk in a forest?
Foremost, I think, is a sense of escape from civilization.
There is a chance to escape from the sounds of
industry, traffic, and urban living.
There is a chance to escape from the hardscapes and
sharp edges of developed landscape.
There is a chance to escape from the rigid
orderliness of painted white lines, exactly space lots,
There is a release from the pressures of these
trappings of civilization as the forest provides a buffer to
our senses. The
sounds of animals, birds, rustling leaves, and trickling
water dampen the echoes of civilization.
The upswept trunks of trees and cushions of bright
green moss and touches of color from a forest flower smooth
the remembrance of the edges of civilization.
The forest is not chaotic, but the subtle patterns of
spacing and size are variable, malleable, and flow freely
from one to another.
Both size and degree of naturalness of the forest
play a role in the escape.
The larger the area, the greater chance to avoid the
encroaching effects of civilization.
The more pristine and natural the area, the fewer
aspects are present to remind someone of from what they
trying to escape.
A second factor oft described as being in the presence of
something greater than one’s self.
This includes aspects of both size and age.
Large trees are massive in size compared to an
individual. The idea
that they are alive, just as a person is alive, gives a
person a sense of scale.
Old trees tap another facet of the same thought.
The old tree in the forest may have been here before
Europeans came to the new world.
It might have borne silent witness to great events of
history. It may
persist long into the future.
It demonstrates how ephemeral length of a human
lifespan when compared to that of some of these aged trees.
If the visitor is of a religious nature, he may see
the forest as someplace that has seen the touch of God,
untrammeled by the hand of man, and feel the presence of the
A third factor is the sense of mystery encountered when
exploring a forest.
In a natural setting someone does not know what he
will see around the next bend of the trail, or on top of the
People are curious by nature and have a drive to explore
In a forest there is a feeling that not everything is
known and planned.
A patch of ferns may pop up anywhere growing in a
pool of light.
There may be young tree seedling growing on a fallen log.
Not only is there a question of what you may find,
but a question of why it is there, and how does everything
It has been argued by a few that knowledge of forest
processes may detract from this sense of mystery, I believe
that knowledge of the forest simply changes the focus of the
Knowledge allows you to see relationships and processes a
casual observer might not have noted.
A fourth factor is the survivors in the forest.
These are trees, plants, and systems that have
survived harsh time and are still alive.
Dwarfed, twisted and gnarled trees fall into this
have been described as “aged with adversity.”
Perhaps seen in their twisted forms is a reflection
the struggles a viewer has gone through in their own lives.
Likewise the presence of rare or unusual creatures or plants
in an area testifies to their struggle to survive as a
are signs of the cycle of life in the forest.
Wherever a tree has fallen, new plants spring up in
the opening created.
Fungi grow on dead wood breaking it down to
Fallen trunks form the seedbed for the next generation of
forest as small trees grow amongst the moss and ferns
breaking down the fallen tree.
It is a sign not of survival of an individual, but of
the forest community as a whole.
It is a sign that there is something beyond death for
these fallen giants.
A fifth factor is one of simple beauty.
The trunks of the trees and outcrops of rocks form a
framework for small vignettes of forest life.
These scenes show the interplay play of light and
dark and the varied textures and colors of the life, the
soil, and stone of the forest.
Enhancing these visual elements are the background of
forest sounds, the smell of the air and soil, the feeling of
the wind and the rolling ground, and textures and patterns
of the forest itself. There are scenes of a single tree
demonstrating its size and power; demonstrating its
perfection of symmetry and form.
There are scenes of less flamboyant trees, each with
their own personality, and scenes of family groves of trees.
There are larger scenes of tree trunks fading into the
distance into the depths of the forest.
Old growth forests are often fairly open as the
canopy of old forest is nearly closed and less light reaches
the forest floor.
People tend to find this openness pleasing.
It is not manicured, but still open.
Occasional open patches in the canopy give rise to a
profusion of growth where light reaches the forest floor.
These light patches adds to the vitality of the
forest experience overall.
In contrast young forests, those regrowing after
timbering or cutting, are typically filled with brushy
growth and are messy.
What is appears to add vitality in small patches is
less inviting when it consumes the entire forest.
A sixth factor is an ecologic aesthetic.
This is an appreciation for the appearance and
functioning of a natural forest system. It values the
ecosystems that are more intact and less impacted by
It values forests that have fewer invasive plant and animal
species. It values the ideal of a pristine primal forest.
There is an appreciation for rare or unusual species
and species associations. This aesthetic value contains
aspects of both an innate and a learned appreciation for
The final major factor is the emotional connection people
seem to have with the forest.
It has been suggested that this relates to our
ancestors living in a forest as some time in our long
Others might say we are relating to human life before
we were tossed out of the Garden of Eden.
Our connection with the forest is reflected in each
of the factors already discussed.
While this may the most difficult of the factors to
describe, it is none the less a real and critical aspect of
how we as a people relate to a forest.
Some people see the forest as something menacing that
needs to be controlled, others see it as a welcoming entity
to be embrace. Few people are totally indifferent to the
emotional impact of a forest.
The vast majority of people have positive feelings
about the forest.
I am sure to some degree that a person’s emotional
perspective on a forest is related to cultural factors.
As such there is a need to promote a positive respect
for a healthy, natural forest.
I am also sure that some of the emotional connection
we feel to a forest is hardwired into our genetic makeup.
Proposed Rating System
Escape from civilization:
One of the great pleasures of visiting the forest is
a chance to escape from the everyday annoyances and
pressures of civilization.
There are two main aspects to consider: a) how well
the traces of civilization can be muted; and b) to what
degree can the sensory experience of being in nature be
absorbed. To a
degree the size of the forest parcel will impact the extent
to which a person can escape civilization, however size
cannot be the primary factor in this determination because
it would result in large poor quality forests receiving a
higher rating than small forests of greater quality.
How large is the contiguous forest under consideration?
Less than 10 acres (1 point)
Between 10 and 100 acres (2 points)
Between 100 to 500 acres (3 points)
Between 500 and 1000 acres (4 points)
Greater than 1000 acres (5 points)
Are there areas where, aside from the trail itself and
informational signs, places from which buildings and roads
are not apparent?
Always can see buildings and roads (0 point)
There are a few spots where these cannot be seen (1 point)
There are some areas where these cannot be seen (2 points)
There are many areas where these cannot be seen (3 points)
These things cannot be seen throughout most of the forest (5
Are there areas where the sounds of traffic, mechanical
equipment, and crowds of people cannot be heard?
Always can hear these sounds (0 point)
There are a few spots where these cannot be heard (1 point)
There are some areas where these cannot be heard (2 points)
There are many areas where these cannot be heard (3 points)
These things cannot be heard throughout most of the forest
Are there areas in the forest where the predominant sounds
are bird calls, insect and animal calls, wind in leaves, and
running stream waters or waterfalls?
These sounds are present but always below the sounds of
civilization (0 point)
There are a few spots where these sounds are predominant (1
There are some areas where these sounds are predominant (2
There are many areas where these sounds are predominant (3
These sounds are predominant throughout most of the forest
Something Greater Than Oneself:
Two aspects of this parameter are size and age.
Size is an aesthetic consideration that is amenable
People are impressed by trees of great height and by trees
of great girth.
The average person is not good at estimating tree heights.
Excluding the trees of phenomenal heights, such as
some of the great conifers of the west, people tend to just
see trees above a certain height as simply tall.
Their perspective on height is also based not upon
some specified footage measurement, but upon how tall a
particular tree appears relative to other trees in the
height perception scale changes from site to site as the
average canopy height of the forest changes.
A tree that would appear to be exceptionally tall in
one section of woods would not be noticed in another.
Since perception of height is subjective it is not an
ideal parameter for definition purposes.
The girth of trees is something more on the scale of
The difference in the girth of different trees is
easily discerned and fat trees are impressive.
Perhaps the girth value will need to be adjusted for
different sites, but in general trees with girths greater
than ten feet are impressive.
This means that based upon size as an aesthetic
consideration, those sites with trees that tend to grow
fatter will be favored over those sites with species that
tend to be smaller in girth.
Philosophically a tree that is large for its species
deserves some consideration, but as a practical matter a
hawthorn a foot in diameter and 45 feet tall, large as it
may be for its species, is not physically impressive.
It does not make a person feel dwarfed by its scale.
Trees that are large for their species are
important, but that is a category that fits better in a
biological characterization of a site, rather than as
Height (select the best answer)
For a northeastern forest, a site has many trees over 120
feet in height (3 points)
For a northeastern forest, a site has some trees over 120
feet in height (2 points)
For a northeastern forest,
a site has no trees over 120 feet in height (0
Girth (select the best answer)
For a northeastern forest, a site has many trees over ten
feet in girth and averages at least two per acre (7 points)
For a northeastern forest, a site has some trees over ten
feet in girth, but averages one or less per acre (3 points)
For a northern forest, a site has no trees or only an
occasional tree greater than ten feet in girth (0 points)
is clearly an important aesthetic consideration.
Unlike considerations of size, I believe that not
only is the appearance of characteristics of age drive the
appreciation of the aesthetics of the scene, but that it can
be driven as well by the intellectual knowledge that a
particular tree or aspect of the forest is old, even if the
actual age is belied by its appearance.
Just knowing that a small otherwise unimpressive tree
may be three hundred years old, gives the viewer pause and a
chance to consider all of the associations of what that age
might mean. Old
trees are the most prominent indicator of age.
Characteristics of old trees include among other
things: a) often of large size; b) thick, heavily ridged or
shaggy bark; c) large heavy branches: d) stag-head branching
trees also exhibit the gnarled, twisted, and sometimes
broken top effects of years of exposure to the weather.
Tree ages can be determined by ring counts from cut
logs or from core samples.
However it is impractical and not really advisable to
core every tree in the forest to determine its age.
A few core samples from a site that demonstrate a
great age for the trees sampled can be extrapolated to trees
on the site that have not been measured.
It is the concept as well as the appearance of age
Also to a degree the idea of a tree that is old for its
species does have an impact on the intellectual appreciation
of the age of the site.
Trees are not the only indicators of age of a forest.
Thick mats of moss and lichens growing on rocks and
branches give the feel of age to a site.
The presence of decaying fallen logs covered with new
growth is another indicator of age.
Many of these characteristics of age in terms of
aesthetics are also characteristics of what is called an old
However defining what is an old-growth forest is a more of a
regulatory and societal consideration, than an aesthetic
to just the aesthetic aspects in this discussion avoids that
Tree Age (select the best answer)
There are many trees with the appearance of great age or a
measured and extrapolated age of greater than 200 years of
age in the stand. (10 points)
There are many trees with the appearance of great age or a
measured and extrapolated age of greater than 150 years of
age in the stand. (8 points)
There are some trees with the appearance of great age or a
measured and extrapolated age of greater than 150 years of
age in the stand. (6 points)
There are many trees that are old for their species, within
the top 25 percentile for species age, in the region in the
stand. (6 points)
There are few if any trees greater than 100 years of age in
the stand. (0 points)
Forest Age (select all that apply)
There are thick layers of moss and lichens present on
various rock outcroppings, logs, branches, or the forest
floor (3 points)
There is an abundance of coarse woody debris on the forest
floor including fallen logs that are serving as nurse logs
for new growth. (2 points)
Sense of Mystery
There are a variety of tree sizes, ages, and species
including large or old trees (5 points)
There are areas that have a generally closed canopy with
occasional openings formed by fallen trees (5 points)
There is high
diversity of plant species in the herbaceous layer (5
There is wide variety of ecological niches present in the
forest (5 points)
There are standing dead trees and nurse logs present in the
forest (5 points)
Survivors in the Forest:
Aside from simple age many trees exhibit
characteristics of having survived a harsh life
(select all that
There are areas of trees that have been stunted by the
weather or soil to form a canopy much lower than normal for
the canopy species in the area, generally less than 25% of
their normal heights (10
There are unusual assemblages of species because of uncommon
soil chemistry, examples include things like serpentine
There are rock outcroppings, or large rock float blocks on
which are growing trees with exposed root masses trailing
across the rocks or down the sides of the rocks. (rate from
0 to 5 points)
There are large exposed rock faces upon which are growing a
high diversity of lichens and mosses.
(rate from 0 to 5 points)
Many of the characteristics that make a forest beautiful are
already categorized under other parameters.
Presence of grand vistas from bluffs or outlooks showing a
broad landscape. (5 points)
Presence of waterfalls, flowing streams or other water
Flowing stream, pond, or small waterfall
Large pond, small wetland, or series of riffles or small
waterfalls (6 points)
area, or large waterfall (10
A deciduous forest that exhibits a colorful fall foliage (5
Degree of naturalness (select
all that apply)
There are little or no indications of past logging or
farming in the forest (3 points)
There are few invasive or exotic species present that are
not native to the area (3 points)
There are standing dead trees and fallen logs indicating the
area have been left to develop by natural processes (4
There are rare, uncommon or unusual species of plants or
animals present on the site (10 points)
There are rare, uncommon, or unusual assemblages of species
or communities present on the site (10 points)
There are portions of the forest that can be considered
old-growth based upon the relevant management definitions of
old growth (10 points)
There are areas of the forest that are late mature in age
and could develop into old growth given time (5 points).
While an emotional connection with a forest is an
important aesthetic consideration, it is my opinion that
this aspect of the aesthetics is characteristic of the
individual rather than of the forest itself.
Therefore it is one
that cannot be applied to a rating system of a forest
A prevalent, but unspoken tenant of management decisions,
hidden carefully below the surface, is the idea that if
something is not explicitly defined, that it need not be
considered in any planning process.
Forest aesthetics falls into that category and is
rarely given much thought unless there is an outcry by the
to define the aesthetic characteristics of a forest is a
complex problem, but it serves to bring the matter under
This document proposes a way to numerically evaluate
representative aspects of what are essentially aesthetic
criteria for use in forest management decisions.