While only 1% of old-growth forests remain in the Eastern United States, Pennsylvania has been a national leader in recognizing and protecting its old-growth forests.
Pennsylvania has 28 old-growth forests within the National Old-Growth Forest Network (OGFN), an organization that recognizes publicly accessible old-growth forests protected from logging. Pennsylvania’s state code prohibits removing old-growth trees from public lands, which is not the case in many states.
What makes old-growth forests so different from mature forests? The ancient trees within are their most visible elements, but they support a deep and rich ecosystem. Plants, wildlife, insects, and fungi within them are intricately connected. A wide diversity of species exists within old-growth forests and the whole community matters to its vitality.
Old-growth forests have received much recent attention because they offer a nature-based solution to the effects of climate change. The leaves, branches, trunks and roots of old-growth trees, as well as to the soil below, store significant amounts of carbon and sequester carbon to keep it out of the atmosphere. These forests have been doing this work for centuries!
Pennsylvania’s Division of Conservation and Natural Resources has included 15 of its forests in the national Network. Here, you can visit ancient white pines (Pinus strobus) at Cook State Forest Cathedral Natural Area, ancient Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga candensis) at Hemlocks Natural Area, and aged white and red oaks (Quercus sp.) at Boyd Big Tree Preserve. On May 15, a forest in Snyder County will be added to the Network at the Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area.
Old-growth forests provide places of history, ecology, and wonder. To walk within trees that have witnessed centuries of time is an unforgettable experience. A walk in an old-growth forest, one becomes aware that there is “something different” and something larger than one’s self in the universe.
Visit an old-growth forest near you to understand their hidden powers and to smell and to see the richness of life within. Of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, 28 contain a recognized protected old-growth forest. Pennsylvania will approach the halfway mark in protecting an old-growth forest in each of its counties. Send us a nomination of a forest near you, and the Old-Growth Forest Network will continue to expand the network of old-growth forests across this beautiful state.
Written by: Brian Kane, Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager, Old-Growth Forest Network