Old-growth forest was once the predominant natural condition across southern New England before European settlement; however, it is now one of the rarest habitats in our region, constituting less than one-tenth of one percent (<0.1%) of our forests. While much of the attention around old-growth has been focused on protecting “true” old growth, of which there is very little in our region, little attention has been paid to creating old-growth characteristics in the woodlots and landscapes of New England .
Although new old-growth forests cannot be created, the opportunity exists to restore old-growth characteristics in our current forests. Although much of southern New England is forested, the woods you see today are much different from the vast expanses of old-growth that covered the landscape upon the arrival of the first European colonists. Characteristics that are generally more abundant in old-growth forests include:
- A diversity of tree ages and sizes, including very large trees (25-30 inches in diameter)
- Cavities - large standing dead trees
- Large downed logs
- Gaps in the forest canopy
Increasing old-growth characteristics means increasing the amount of these structures in our current forests. This can be done either passively or through active forest management. There are a range of opportunities to increase old-growth structure in your woods and important to consider increasing the amount of old-growth characteristics in your woods in a way that matches your forest objectives. Developing old-growth structure will take decades. It is therefore, critical to engage in long-term forest and estate planning to meet your goals.
Evaluating how developing old-growth structure fits with your other landowner objectives is a good start. Working with a private forester or state service forester to evaluate your land, its landscape context, and your options for developing old-growth structure is an excellent way to develop the appropriate management options and move forward. Contacting your local land trust to find out your land conservation options is another excellent way to begin. Find a forester or land trust working in your town.