I went to a really interesting event the other day about timber management in Western PA. “Loving the Land Through Working Forests Conference” in Titusville, PA. It was put on by the Foundation for Sustainable Forests and the Forest Guild This organization started by Troy and Lynn Firth in 2004 to manage and protect their timberlands and to gain awareness for local landowners on the importance of sustainable timber management.
This was the 2nd annual conference. It was free and open to the public coming out for the day. I met a variety of people from as far away as Baltimore. Some were people within the forestry industry, but the majority seemed to be people who just had an interest in what was going on in the forest.
I walked through the woods with some professors from Allegheny College, Clarion University, and Mercyhurst who presented: Pennsylvania’s Forests – Then & Now. It examined the 4 general eras of Pennsylvania’s forest – Pre-Columbian, Post-Columbian / Post Epidemic, The Liquidation and Current.
There was great conversation and questions throughout the walk. They started talked about the last stop of the Wisconsin Ice sheet stopped in northern PA about 15,000 years ago. After it receded the vegetation in the area would have been like a modern tundra. A barren landscape. They know people were around at about the same time the glaciers left. They were here with Mastodons and other grazing animals. Once the climate changed and began to warm the first trees that grew were boreal forests like you’d find in mountains today. Spruce & fir trees were here 7 – 8 thousand years ago along with the Iroquois Indians.
We know there has been a long history of human management with our forests. There is virtually no natural untouched forests in PA. There is history of corn dated back to 400 AD. Humans were clearing fields and messing with the forests since mankind has been living amongst forests.
By the 1400s when the Europeans first set foot in North America PA was full of forests. Pennsylvania is latin for “Penn’s Woods”. PA was full for hemlocks, white pine, chestnut, and beech trees. There were reports of local explores feeling “claustrophobic” while walking through PA forests.
Until 1885 all the timber harvesting was near rivers. That was the primary source of transportation of the logs. After 1885, when railroads were developed, logs could be transported without the use of rivers and forests could be harvested throughout the state. Unfortunately at this time there was no thought of timber management or sustainable harvesting. People cut them down thinking there was a never ending supply of trees. They kept cutting and moving west. By 1920 PA dropped to only 11 million acres of timberland, and of that 11 million they were all very young forests. Today we have over 16 million acres.
If you’re ever in the woods and curious as to how old you think the trees are. Chances are they are around 100 – 120 years old.
After PA was basically clear cut the forest floors no longer were in the dark. This allowed shade intolerant trees like black cherry and oaks to grow. Fortunately for us today these high quality hardwoods came as a result of the reckless harvests of past generations.
Our forests have changed and continue to change. Timber management is not a hard science. It is an art and takes time and years of being in the forest. Even with that it’s impossible to completely understand everything that will result from certain activity. Check out some of my other blogs in the timber management page to learn more about silviculture and Hickman’s Timber Management Plan.
In the 1970s the most common tree species in PA was the red oak. Today Red Maple is the most common. Red Oak is down to the 11th. There are a plethora of reasons this has happened. Insects, deer, humans all play a role. Today the top species of trees are ones that deer do not typically eat.