First and second generations of timber on forest bring drastic changes

Photo from ebay.com A postcard showing white pine and hemlock, the two dominant virgin forest species in this region, on the ANF. The second generation forest we know now is much different.

When the forefathers of the Allegheny National Forest were planning for the future, they were looking primarily at what the forest COULD be.

Decades of excessive timber harvesting gave them, in some sense, a blank slate to work with.

So what did those early planners think they were going to get as the decades passed?

“In the original forest of the region, white pine and hemlock were the predominating species,” Loren Bishop, the ANF’s first Forest Supervisor wrote in 1925. “These reached very large size and produced material of the highest quality and value.

“Interspersed with the pine and hemlock were such hardwood species as beech, birch, maple, cherry, ash and cucumber, all of which grew to large size and have been extensively used for the production of high grade lumber.”

The white pines on the virgin forest reached five-feet across and 165 feet in height. Virgin maple would push four feet across and 100 feet tall.

That meant one thing Bishop seems sure of: “From the standpoint of forest growth, the productive capacity of the region is very high.”

But even by 1925 it was clear that the second generation of the forest of this region would be different. And enough research had been undertaken to understand why.

“Whereas the virgin stand was largely composed of evergreen trees, in the second growth forests, the stands are made up almost entirely of hardwood species, beech, birch, maple, cherry, ash, etc.,” he wrote. “It appears that the reasons why a pine and hemlock stand when cut off is followed by a hardwood stand are: There are present in any stand some hardwoods. Hardwoods sprout from stumps and roots, sending up a great number of sprouts just as soon as the mature timber is removed. Neither pine nor hemlock is capable of producing sprouts.

“Hardwood trees, and hemlock as well, produce seed each year. Pine trees bear seed only once in each three to five years. Hardwoods and hemlock seedling can survive when shaded by other growth, pine cannot.

One fire kills practically one hundred percent of pine and hemlock reproduction, hardwoods at once sprout and thus survive the fire.”

Disease – chestnut blight and white pine blister rust – were known to be in the region.

Bishop explained that chesnut wasn’t “one of the most important species” on the ANF and that efforts were underway to sell the remaining chestnut before it died (nearly all of it did) as quickly as possible.

He also outlined treatment for the pine condition and said that “white pine does not in this region make up a large part of the second growth timber and valuable forest could be produced if no pine at all was grown.”

There was one threat that Bishop couldn’t explain away – fire.

“While the chestnut blight and the white pine blister rust are serious enemies of the forest, and there may develop other fungus and insect pests, the one arch enemy of forests is fire,” he wrote. “If this region does not produce each year thousands of cords of wood and millions of board feet of timber upon which to base industrial progress, it will be because of forest fires.”

More on the fire issue next time.

Larry Stotz and William Curnutt, retired district ranger staff writing for the ANF’s 50th anniversary, were able to provide some context on how Bishop’s vision

Curnutt explained that an “extensive” planting survey was undertaken in 1931 and plantings commenced, accelerated greatly by the presence of the Civilian Conservation Corps on the ANF through the rest of the decade.

“Planting was carried out on a reduced scale in the late 30s because of excess numbers of deer,” Curnutt wrote. “When the deer herds were gradually reduced, three planting was resumed” and that effort continued until at least the 1940s.

“The beautiful hardwood stands that are now being harvested on the Allegheny National Forest did not grow ‘like topsy,'” he wrote. “They were chinned and nurtured to reach their present stature. Timber has to be treated as a crop, not a mine, to reach maximum productivity.”

Stotz detailed that the first sizable timber sale on the ANF occurred in 1928 and included 395,000 board feet of hemlock and various hardwoods. Trees were marked selectively by federal foresters.

“Through a series of selective cuts at 10 to 20 year intervals, these stands of timber could be expected to be whipped into shape for intensive management,” he wrote. “As the defective and mature trees were cut, young growth was expected to spring up through natural reseeding in the small openings created. From these thrifty trees were to come future sawtimber crops,” though the affinity deer have for saplings complicated that effort.

He detailed that by 1960 there was enough black cherry on the forest “to become established and thrive.”

“Selective cutting in this second-generation forest removed ‘poor risk’ trees of sawtimber size. It provided more living space for crop trees through removal of pulpwood trees in thinnings,” Stotz wrote. “The most valuable trees on these sale areas were black cherry of veneer log quality and white ash containing bat stock material.”

The selective cutting – “uneven-aged management” gave way to “even-aged management,” or clearcutting in 1960.

“This was no wholesale throwback to the system of slashings that had created the great ‘Allegheny brush heap,'” he cautioned. No single clear cut could exceed 50 acres.

“Under even-aged management, it would take 100 years to clearcut the forest,” he concluded. “By then, there would be even-aged blocks of timber from seedling size to mature timber distributed over the forest.”


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