‘Out of balance’

ANF needs better age mix of trees

Times Observer file photo The trails at Tracy Ridge. WCSD and U.S. Forest Service officials are calling for a wider variety of young and old trees to balance out The Allegheny National Forest’s age demographic.

The Allegheny National Forest has an age demographic problem.

Thanks to what amounted to widespread clearcutting in the area through the 1920s, the majority of the forest is about the same age.

Warren County School District and the U.S. Forest Service would both like to see a better age mix of trees on the forest.

The school district receives funding based on receipts from timber sales on the forest.

During a discussion of bringing attention to the widespread death of ash trees, Board Member Arthur Stewart said he and Board Member Jeff Labesky also noticed a lot of old black cherry trees in jeopardy.

“The Allegheny is far out of balance,” Stewart said.

He cited 62 percent of the forest being in its old age.

“Our forest — and forests across the Allegheny Plateau — is largely an even-aged forest, resulting from widespread unregulated cutting that occurred in the 1880s through 1920s,” ANF Silviculturist Andrea Hille said. “This cutting removed nearly all of the mature, original forest, leaving a forest of young seedlings and saplings. Today, 62 percent of forest vegetation is between 81 and 110 years old.”

That’s not ideal.

The forest is “dying of old age,” Stewart said. That hurts the school district financially. But, it’s also bad for the forest.

“One of the goals of our Forest Plan is to better balance the age of forested areas — to provide young, middle-aged, and older forest — on the ANF by creating a percentage of young forest every decade,” Hille said. “Our forest plan has a forestwide objective to sustain 8 percent of our forest in an early structural class — less than 20 years old.”

“Currently, 3.8 percent of the ANF forest vegetation is less than 20 years old,” she said.

The ANF is aware of the problem and has been working on it.

“We have been planning and approving a number of forest management projects that include many acres of young forest creation,” Hille said. “This young forest will be created in the coming years through timber harvesting and reforestation treatments.”

“Secondly, we have also been fairly aggressively increasing our reforestation investments over the past decade to promote tree seedling establishment,” Hille said. “We have roughly doubled the amount of reforestation treatments applied on the ANF since 2008 in order to establish tree seedlings, to create more young forest vegetation.”

The district is hoping to hold — through partnerships with other school districts and agencies — public meetings at various points throughout the region in May to bring stakeholders, legislators, and others together to witness the problems with ash and forest age. The plan includes some initial meeting places and car-pool opportunities to locations in the field, with foresters describing the circumstances in the area.