HERMOSA CREEK TRAILHEAD – On Monday, a stand of 1,100 acres of predominately ponderosa pine with some mixed conifer became the Old-Growth Forest Network’s first recognized old-growth forest in Colorado.
Joan Maloof, founder and director of the 2-year-old organization, signed a certificate attesting to the designation. The goal is one old-growth forest – protected from logging and open to the public – in every county in the country where trees will grow, she said.
If she succeeds, there will be 2,370 such forests. So far, the network has designated 25 forests in eight states, five of them west of the Mississippi River. The other Western forests are two each in California and Hawaii.
Maloof taught biology and environmental studies at Salisbury University in Maryland for 20 years and is the author of two books about trees.
Maloof defined old growth as timbered terrain that hasn’t been logged. The country had abundant, healthy forests when the first Europeans arrived, she said, but most have been logged or clear-cut.
In the East, only 1 percent of the nation’s original forests remain, she said. The West has 5 percent of its original timberland.
The disappearance of old-growth forest has been noted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Old growth, in 1850 accounted for 51 percent of the state’s timbered land; today, it’s 3.5 percent.
“In most counties there is hardly any old growth left,” Maloof said at a gathering here of tree lovers who capped the celebration with a hike along the Hermosa Creek Trail. “If people don’t experience old growth, how will they know what they’ve lost?”
Bob Leverett, a co-founder of the Native Tree Society and tree-measuring fanatic, was present Monday.
Leverett was in the Hermosa Creek drainage last summer with a high-quality laser range finder to pin down the height of a ponderosa pine, a Douglas fir and a blue spruce he considers the tallest of their species in the Rocky Mountain biome, which stretches from British Columbia to New Mexico.
The climate of Colorado and the availability of water in the Hermosa Creek drainage makes it the logical place to find champion trees, he said. The ponderosa, the fir and the spruce reached 160.6, 160.1 and 159 feet, respectively.
Eastern forests tend to be populated elm, pines, oaks and poplar.
Tall trees along with bio-diversity rich in flora and fauna are characteristic of old-growth forests. They tend to have thick ground cover of decayed organic material, and they retain moisture that sustains mosses, ferns and lichens.
Old-growth forests have lessons for today’s foresters and land managers, Old-Growth Forest Network literature says. They offer a glimpse of arboreal history, a microcosm of timberland 100 or 200 years old, and they offer comparison with younger forests of the effects of disturbances on soil, plants and wildlife.
Old-growth forests are found around the world, in Canada, Japan, Germany, Norway, Rumania and Russia as well as the United States. But the Old-Growth Forest Network is the first and probably only formal effort to identify and protect the trees, Maloof said.
Wilderness designation by U.S. congressional action has placed acres of old growth out of the reach of logging, if not fire or infestation.
Similar protection has occurred in Tasmania where a World Heritage Committee listing has protected some of the island nation’s old-growth forests from logging.
The Hermosa drainage old growth is in the 142,000-acre Hermosa Roadless Area, which is bisected by Hermosa Creek. The west side of the drainage, about half the territory, is being considered for Wilderness designation. The eastern side, which contains the Hermosa Creek Trail, will be open for biking, hiking, horseback riding and motorcycles.