Video Transcript: New Forestry Lessons from Old-Growth Forests

A primeval forest covered New England for thousand of years, untouched by ax or plow. Less than on percent of this old-growth remains.

We are really interested in learning from old-growth forests and gaining lessons that we can use to help inform the way we do sustainable forestry on the rest of the landscape.

The way we think of old-growth forests is really a combination of their age, so some old trees, but also their architecture, their structure. They have a lot of really interesting characteristics: like certainly lots of big trees but also really trees of all sizes and ages, this incredibly complex canopy structure, this sort of vertically continuous foliage. They have a lot of dead trees both, standing and downed, in fact huge accumulations of downed logs on the forest floor, some nice tip-up mounds. They have a lot of horizontal structural complexity — gaps and non-gaps. They just have a tremendous amount of ecological and biological richness. We've learned a lot from these ecosystems about different habitat characteristics that they have that we could do a better job of providing in the forests that we are actively managing for timber; the idea being that we can balance the ecological objectives with some of the economic objectives.

Six years ago, Bill Keeton began an experiment to mimic old-growth when logging a managed forest. His method can turn a profit for landowners, improve habitat for wildlife, and accelerate the restoration of old-growth forests.

Mt Mansfield, VT
Home to Keeton's Ecosystem Management Demonstration Project.

So this is the Stevensville Brook Research Area, an area set aside for research purposes. This is the main site of the Ecosystem Management Demonstration Project. The other site is at the University of Vermont Jericho Research Forest. The idea here is that we were looking for ways that would allow foresters and forest land owners to harvest timber sustainably while also promoting different ecosystem values. So, harvesting timber in an ecologically friendly way; that's what this was all about. Again the idea of trying to create more options and more flexibility for forest land owners. In this particular case, the idea was that if we could emulate natural processes a little more closely, emulate natural disturbance dynamics and promote these structurally complex, ecologically complex late-successional, old-growth conditions that that would do a better job of providing certain types of habitat characteristics that are currently underrepresented on the New England landscape, that we don't current have enough of. So, if we can find a way to harvest timber in a low-impact, low-intensity manner, while also promoting this type of habitat which is currently rare, then we would have a kind of win-win situation.

The natural process here is disturbances and stand development. So we were trying to accelerate the rate at which some of these stand development processes occur, leading towards the development of some of these old-growth characteristics. So there are a whole variety of things that we did. We started with an understanding of the kind of natural disturbances that would effect stand development which in this case could be fine-scale wind throw and ice storms. So for each of those structural characteristics that we were targeting, we had several different silvicultural techniques to promote them, recognizing that it is going to take fifty- to one-hundred-years to develop. We are just trying to expedite the rate at which they develop.

We do have the potential to restore old-growth on at least some portion of the landscape in New England — areas that are now mature forests and are kind of headed in this direction towards an old-growth condition. The idea now is allowing that to happen in some places in the landscape while in others continuing to manage those forests for other objectives.

Watch the video.