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Old 29-11-2002, 06:32 PM
Daniel B. Wheeler
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Default (LONG) Old-Growth found in oddest places

From The Oregonian, Nov. 27, 2002, p A25

Really old-growth trees found in the oddest places
Researchers study satellite maps to get a bead on forestsin the U.S.
that contain ancient specimens

By ROBERT S. BOYD, Knight Ridder News Service
Images from space satellites reveal hundreds of little-known primeval
forests and stands of ancient trees scattered all across the United
Scientists say these trees provide an unequaled record of droughts
and floods that can help them understand historic disasters and
predict environmental changes.
Besides California's famed redwoods and giant sequoias, researchers
have discovered that millions of very old trees remain in their
pristine state in dozens of states from New NElgnad to the Carolinas
and across Texas to Arizona and Nevada.
"We can still find unmolested virgin forests," said David Stahle, a
forest scientist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "There
are still trees that are thousands of years old, the last relics of
the great forest primeval that has been heavily disturbed or
completely destroyed by man."
To find unmolested trees, Stahle and his associates study images
taken by NASA's Landsat satellite, looking for remote areas where they
are likely to survive. After identifying a promising region, the
select rnadom samples and bore narrow ores about as thick as a pencil
into hte centers of the trunks. The cores are taken back to Stahle's
Tree Ring Laboratory, where they are polished and the tree rings are
The largest old-growth ofrest left in the United States consists of
ancient blue oaks covering more than 4,000 square miles of the
California foothills, Stahle said. But even in the htickly populated
eastern United States, more than 2,000 square miles of old-growth
woodlands survive to this day, he said.

Red oaks near Boston
"People used to think there were no ancient trees in the Eastern
United States. That is not the case," Stahle said. "The abundance of
ancient forest sites strongly controdicts the common misconception
that most ancient forests were destroyed by logging and agricultural
Robert Leverett, executive director of the Friends of theMohawk Trail
in Deerfield, Mass., has discovered a 626-year-old black gum tree in
New Hampshire. There are 400-year-old red oaks on a Massachusetts
mountain in view of the Bost skyline. Only 50 miles north of
Manhattan, 500-year-old pitch pines cling to a mountainside in the
Hudson River Valley.
Farther south, bald cypress trees, 1,500 to 2,000 years old, dwell
along North Carolina's Black River. Stands of 900-year-old junipers
survive in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. About 500 square miles of
post oaks up to 400 years old remains in eastern Oklahoma, some only
15 miles from downtown Bulsa.
Leverett and Stahle are reluctant to identify the precise locations
of old trees, for fear of endangering them.
"The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina still has many
areas of old chestnut oak along the windy ridgelines," Stahle said.
"Millions of visitors drive by them every year without realizing the
antiquity of these handsome, gnarled old oaks."
Most very old trees are found on rugged terrain, arid land or steep
slopes unsuitable for development or agriculture. THey are
slow-growing, stunted and twisted, and hence were never harvested for
"The ruggedness of the mountainous lands and individual landowner and
society preferences allowed for uncut forested spots to slip through
the t\cracks in almost originl condition," Leverett said. "As a
result, pockets of old-growth forestsin New ENgland survive today in
approximately the condition we might have witnessed before Europeans
came to the shores of New England in the 1600s."

Rings tell a tale
Tree rings tend to be wider in years of plentiful moisutre and
narrower in dry years. The patterns closely match human records of
rainfall and can be used to fill in the blanks before people began to
keep weather data.
The annual rings show the impact of climate on human history. For
example, the driest single year in records covering 800 years along
the eastern coast of North America was 1587. That was the year when
both Sir Walter Raleigh's "Lost Colony," on what is now Roanoke
Island, N.C., disappeared and Spanish colonists abandoned their Santa
Elena settlement on Parris Isaldn off South Carolina.
In the American Southwest, the decade-long Dust Bowl drought of the
1930s was the worst in the last 500 years of tree-ring records.
Years of more than normal rain created overly optimistic expectations
early in the 20th century, leading to excessive development in the
West, including assigning more water from the Colorado River for
cities and farms than could be sustained in dry times.
Scientists hope that understanding the cycle of wet and dry weather,
preserved in the tree rings of ancient forests, can help rpevent such
"In terms of science, the old forests provide living laboratories for
researchers to study," Leverett said.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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