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Little old-growth forest left -- just 13 acres in Franklin

January 11, 2000

Old growth forestsBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Franklin County, once covered with virgin forests, has about 13 acres of old-growth forest left, a mix of yellow poplar, red oak and black gum trees that somehow missed the woodsman's ax, fire and the ravages of high winds, according to Michaux State Forest's Philip L. Wert.

Most of the rest of the remaining Pennsylvania woodlands, including much of the 85,000-acre Michaux, has been cut over four to five times in the centuries since the first white men came, said Wert, 60, who serves as assistant district forester.

Wert will lecture and give a video presentation on Pennsylvania's old-growth forests at the Renfrew Institute in Waynesboro Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

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The video, "Old Growth Forests, Pennsylvania's Forgotten Giants," was produced last year by the Pennsylvania Wild Resource Conservation Fund. Money to support the fund comes from the sale of wildlife automobile license plates and the voluntary check-off box on state income tax forms.

The old-growth stand in Franklin County is off Old Forge Road in an area called Dasher Hollow near Waynesboro. Old-growth forests have trees that are 150 years old or older. A 160-acre stand of hemlock in Perry County, Pa., has trees that go back 400 years, Wert said.

In all, Pennsylvania has about 27,000 acres of old-growth forests, according to the Conservation Fund.

Besides old trees, they are home to certain species of wildlife, including Blackburnian and magnolia warblers who live in the canopies of the tallest trees, Wert said.

"They are 40 times more abundant in old-growth forests," he said. The different layers of canopies meet different habitat needs. Some species of lichen, mosses and green plants can only be found in old-growth forests.

"When you cut down a forest, you change the climate and the habitat of what lived there," Wert said. "You change the whole structure of the forest. Experts say it takes more than 80 years to re-establish plants and animals that were there before a forest was cut."

In the meantime, other species of plants and animals move in, he said.

The state permits the cutting of about 750 acres of forest land in Michaux every year, Wert said. The harvest brings in about $1.5 million in revenue. Statewide, harvesting the state's forests brings in about $25 million in revenue from clear- and selective cutting, he said. "We get a lot of natural growth in Pennsylvania, so we do very little planting," he said.

Experts argue over whether there are enough old-growth forests left in the country. Most of the protected forests are in the West with its stands of redwoods and sequoias. Major sections of Eastern old-growth forests are in the Adirondacks in New York and in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Wert said.

New management policies going into place, including the establishment of plant sanctuaries, will protect more Eastern forests from human intrusion, including logging and roads. They will one day become old-growth forests, he said. There are four such sanctuaries totaling about 1,600 acres in Michaux State Forest, he said.

The forest runs for 40 miles in a generally northeast direction beginning at Pa. 16 in Franklin County and passing through Adams and Cumberland counties. It's about five miles wide and ends near Holly Springs, Pa.

The Appalachian Trail runs through it and has eight sets of shelters within, Wert said.

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