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Wright Creek - LiDAR Strikes Again!

On May 6th, 2010 Nathan Morrison and I made a trip to Wright Creek, a tributary of Santeetlah Creek in Graham County, NC. I have previously posted on a trip to Wright Creek back in February of 2009.

The headwaters of Wright Creek begin at 5400 ft. on the slopes of Huckleberry Knob and flow southwest to northeast before joining Santeetlah Creek at 2530 ft. in elevation. The geology of Wright Creek and Santeetlah Creek is of the metasedimentary rock of the Ocoee Supergroup with Copperhill Formation and Slate of Copperhill Formation being the most common groups of rock. The entire watershed is estimated to receive more than 70 inches of rain annually with the upper elevations averaging 94 inches (240 cm) according to Prism Explorer ( The protection afforded by surrounding high ridges, the abundant annual rainfall, soil conditions and other factors make Wright Creek one of the highest quality growth sites for hardwoods known to ENTS – at least after my latest trip there.

There is significant old-growth forest remaining in the Wright Creek drainage. Most of it is in the riparian zone of the creek because Forest Service regulations prevent logging in riparian zones. Many hundreds of acres of primary forest were logged at Wright Creek in the 1960’s and 1970’s and before that, many hundreds of acres were logged on the lower east side of the creek from 1935-1937.

In December 2008 the U.S. Forest Service began to plan a timber sale for the Upper Santeetlah Watershed and since that time I have focused a fair amount of work in identifying the important forests and natural areas of Santeetlah so that they might be protected ( Two of the stands proposed in the original scoping have abundant old-growth characteristics as well as some evidence of chestnut salvage and very limited red oak high-grading. Both stands and most of the 13,000 acre Gennet Lumber Company Tract are shown as “virgin” in a 1935 acquisition map of the area. One of these stands, Stand 51-6, is likely to be removed from the sale because of the attention given to it by the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, WildLaw and the Forest Service. Stand 53-9 has been given less attention by the Forest Service but is nearly as deserving of protection as 51-6, but that is another story.

On May 6th, Nathan Morrison and I walked up a 1960s logging road, forded Santeetlah Creek and proceeded up the Wright Creek drainage. My objectives for the day were to search for the Federally Endangered Rock Gnome Lichen, search for rare plants in a second growth rich cove stand, and verify three tall LiDAR points I had not yet visited. There is significant old-growth forest remaining in the Wright Creek drainage. Most of it is in the riparian zone of the creek because Forest Service regulations prevent logging in riparian zones. Many hundreds of acres of primary forest were logged at Wright Creek in the 1960’s and 1970’s and before that, many hundreds of acres were logged on the lower east side of the creek from 1935-1937.

We ended up visiting the uppermost LiDAR point first. On the way, we stopped to take a look at a 52” dbh cucumber magnolia. LiDAR had a 174’ point for that first poplar. It is a 54.3” dbh poplar in the old-growth riparian strip along Wright Creek, actually, all of the trees I am reporting on are in that strip. With most trees fully leafed out and a steep bluff upslope of the tree, measurement was difficult; my new Nikon Prostaff really helps though. I came up with a height of 170.4, which I think is pretty close to the actually height of the tree. The tree is growing right on a ledge in a situation where LiDAR routinely overestimates tree height.

We continued up to Wright Creek Falls and through a rich cove stand proposed for logging. I did not locate significantly rare plants along the way, but Wright Creek Falls certainly is good habitat for rare bryophytes, and beautiful to boot.

Returning down stream on our way back to my vehicle, I stopped to measure a poplar that corresponded to a 165’ point in my LiDAR canopy height model. This tree is growing in gentle area along Wright Creek and is accompanied by a large companion tree. With Nathan’s help, I measured this tree to 170.1 ft. tall and 46.5” dbh.

The final tree we measured was the one I was most excited about. My LiDAR canopy height model showed a 182’ tall poplar across the creek from the large twins, and we forded the creek and scrambled through Rhododendron to search for it. Finding the tree was not difficult because it was so emergent. The Rhododendron at its base was tall and dense enough that I had to measure the tree in two parts: the crown first, then the bole. On my first shot into the crown I hit 74 yards and I started to get excited. After over an hour of measuring to do as well as I could in the dense vegetation I came up with 179.7’ in height and 59.8” dbh. This tree is truly exceptional! It is 89.5’ to the first branch in the tree and there is a handsome and straight column up to 109’ at the second series of branches. Not only is the tree tall and relatively large, it is obviously quite old. Deep furrows on the compression side of the tree and scalloped balding on the tension side attest to that. I think this tree so well captures the growing potential and exceptional character of Santeetlah Creek that I have chosen to name it the “Santeetlah Poplar”.

So, the Santeetlah Poplar is the second tallest accurately measured Eastern hardwood, and I’m not sure that I have gotten every inch out of it. Will has already offered to climb this amazing tree. The fact that this tree is so tall, so old and without adjacent competitors really expands my thinking on the growth habits and capabilities of tulip tree. I hope we find other trees like the Santeetlah tree and I’m also rooting for this tree to exceed 180’ in height and to keep adding bulk to its gorgeous frame and full, unbroken crown.

Josh Kelly

by Josh Kelly
Sun May 09, 2010 10:29 am
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Re: Wright Creek - LiDAR Strikes Again!


Sorry it has taken me so long to reply - crazy week!

There was plenty of hemlock in the Wright Creek drainage and yes, that impressive Wright Cove overlook on the Cherahala with the ancient hemlock is just above Wright Creek Falls.

You can find the timber sale info on the National Forests in NC website. I linked it to my trip report.

There a many tall tree points in the Santeetlah Drainage that no one has yet checked. I think I have been to all the 170's shown by LiDAR. There are many white pine points in Kilmer and Lower Santeetlah that need to be checked. There are plenty of big trees left to be found on the Santeetlah Bluffs. I saw a 54" dbh cherry there this spring. It was raining to hard to measure the height, but LiDAR puts it at 140'. Just an example of what's out there.

Info on cut/not cut areas is variable. The Forest Service has good info on stands that have been clear-cut under their tenure. Many high-graded stands require visiting to determine site history. Brent Martin from the Wilderness Society did much work finding the acquisition map for Santeetlah/Kilmer which shows 98% of a 13,000 acre tract as "virgin" in 1935.

I suspect Snowbird Creek could have been pretty similar to Santeetlah in growth potential. Ditto for Slickrock, North River TN, Sycamore Creek TN and Citico Creek TN.

by Josh Kelly
Sat May 15, 2010 7:39 pm
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Tallest Known Native Hardwood in US - Deep Creek Watershed

There is a new tallest-known native hardwood in the United States, and it is on Deep Creek.

This weekend I visited the cove Ian Breckheimer reported on that has extremely tall tulip trees - one measuring 201 ft. by tape drag/tangent method. Like Ian, I was on a backpacking trip with my dad and his god-son and took some time off from fishing, bow drilling and eating good food to search for the trees Ian found. I took my Nikon 440 and Suunto clinometer up the Fork Ridge Trail and decended into the cove that had three LiDAR points over 180'.

The east facing cove that holds the trees reminds me a bit of a steep version of the cove where the Sag Branch Poplar resides. There is abundant seepage in the convex portion of the cove that comes to the surface just a few feet from a cluster of tall poplars. Three of these appeared to be over 170' in height and all three could be over 180'; the summer growth, my limited time and the interlacing and superimposed crowns of the trees made it difficult to determine which tree I was actually measuring. I think, like Ian, that the 18' cbh tree is likely the tallest and chose it's base as the target. My best efforts yielded a height of 187.5'! I wasn't sure if that kind of height was possible for a hardwood north of the 30th parallel, but now I know. If, by some chance, I measured the wrong top, the tree could be shorter by 1 foot if the tree measured was actually the up-slope member of the trio or over 190' if it is the down-slope member of the trio. All I can say is that I am confident that among this trio is the tallest known hardwood in the United States, unless a taller black cottonwood has been found that I do not know about. I'd say this spot moves up to top of the list for more measurements after leaf-drop. It and another cove on the Left Fork with 180'+ LiDAR points are tempting destinations for tree hunters searching for trophy trees.

by Josh Kelly
Wed Jul 21, 2010 4:02 pm
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Welch Branch, GSMNP

Welch Branch is a small stream that feeds Forney Creek, one of several large watersheds on the north shore of Fontana Lake that lack road access. Originally, the National Park Service agreed to build a road on the north shore to provide families access to gravesites that was lost with the flooding of Fontana Lake. However, after building the first of many tunnels necessary to complete the task, the Park Service re-evaluated the expense of that action. A more recent effort to have the road built ended with a cash settlement to Swain County, NC that will maintain the North Shore as one of the largest roadless areas in eastern North America.

On March 20th, Will Blozan, Michael Davie and I visited Welch Branch with high anticipation and quickly hiked through the abandoned tunnel at the end of the North Shore Road and several miles of pine and oak forests to get to the site. The drainage had first been noted as an excellent growth site by Jess Riddle using NC LiDAR data. Mike made a trip there in early March, but forgot his clinometer. Shooting straight up into trees he had readings over 180 ft.

On reaching Welch Branch, we left the Bear Creek trail and continued on a maintained foot path that goes up to an old homesite and cemetary on Welch Branch. Forney Creek was not heavily settled, but was heavily logged by the Norwood Lumber Company between 1909 and 1920, and slash fires were particularly intense in the upper watershed. The human history of the area is such that I didn’t note any areas of old-growth on the trip.

Past the homesite, we climbed steeply into the uppermost of three coves with extremely tall tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). All of the tributaries of Welch Branch flow southeast. Jumpup Ridge forms a steep, high western ridge to the site. Predictably the best growing sites at Welch Branch have east and northeast aspects.

In the uppermost cove, we located and measured six tulip trees over 170’ tall and one over 180’. Two large red oaks, both passing the 11.5’ x 145’ threshold were measured. Many poplars in this and other coves were over 160’ tall and were not intensively measured. With the use of LiDAR 170’ is the new threshold for a “tall” tulip tree in the Smokies.

The central cove, as indicated by LiDAR, turned out to be the real treasure trove of tallness. We located, measured and waypointed 20 poplars over 170’ tall in this cove – all twenty of those poplars fit inside of an eight acre polygon, making this spot one of the highest canopies, if not the highest canopy, of its size discovered by ENTS. In this area Will located a new height record northern red oak (Quercus rubra), a pretty tree 156.3’ tall and around 12’ gbh. The cream on top of the pie was a poplar going at least 186’ tall and up to 187.4’ on one measurement that is currently the second tallest known tulip tree in eastern North America, though it will probably slip in the rankings fairly soon.

We finished up the day with a final cove and mopped up two more 170’s for a total of 28 trees over 170’ (51.8 M) in this one small watershed. ENTS has discovered no other site with some many trees over 170’ in such a small area. While an upcoming post by Mr. Blozan will overshadow this discovery, Welch Branch appears to be one of the top five second-growth tulip tree sites in North Carolina and is truly mind-blowing in its tree growth. Though the site has great productivity for tulip tree, it is so dominated by the species that a Rucker 10 or even a Rucker 5 is not warranted. Tracking this site as it matures will be very interesting. In 10 years it is possible that the tallest tulip tree will be located in Welch Branch.

Species DBH (inches) Height (ft) Tag
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.59 187.4 WB20
Liriondendron tulipifera 33.66 183.9 WB21
Liriondendron tulipifera 34.00 180.7 WB3
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 179.2 WB16
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.84 178.3 WB22
Liriondendron tulipifera 31.69 177.8 WB31
Liriondendron tulipifera 26.46 177.4 WB6
Liriondendron tulipifera 31.10 177.3 WB12
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 176.4 WB24
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.65 176.1 WB19
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.08 175.6 WB1
Liriondendron tulipifera 25.55 174 WB18
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.96 173.5 WB14
Liriondendron tulipifera 25.67 173.1 WB30
Liriondendron tulipifera 28.74 172.8 WB28
Liriondendron tulipifera 23.35 172.6 WB13
Liriondendron tulipifera 32.87 172.3 WB8
Liriondendron tulipifera 34.30 172.3 WB9
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.35 172.3 WB11
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.20 172.1 WB15
Liriondendron tulipifera 35.20 171.6 WB4
Liriondendron tulipifera 33.15 171.5 WB23
Liriondendron tulipifera 24.25 171.5 WB27
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 171.4 WB25
Liriondendron tulipifera Twin 170.8 WB5
Liriondendron tulipifera 31.81 170.3 WB10
Liriondendron tulipifera 29.76 170.2 WB17
Liriondendron tulipifera 39.06 170.2 WB29
Liriondendron tulipifera 32.24 169.1 WB26
Quercus rubra 57.1" 156.3
Quercus rubra 47.40 146.8 WB2
Quercus rubra 44.50 145.7 WB7

Will Blozan, Michael Davie and Josh Kelly. Welch_chm.jpg IMG_6276.JPG

***NOTE: Topo map removed due to NPS restrictions pertaining to a recently obtained collection permit***
by Josh Kelly
Thu Apr 07, 2011 2:57 pm
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Re: Ms Rattlesnakes


I may be in the minority here: It makes me sad to see snakes of any kind killed out of fear or for sport. I know that snakes, like trees, play important roles and that the good Lord wouldn't have made them if they weren't important (I think they evolved from the same life source we all did, and yes they are important, no more or less than any of us). I have been within inches of timber rattlesnake without them becoming aggressive, and if they are not intentionally provoked or stumbled upon clumsily, I think they are relatively harmless.

by Josh Kelly
Sun Sep 11, 2011 9:16 pm
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Re: "virgin forest", a useful and pleasing term


Thanks for the thoughtful response about virgin forest. I occasionally use the term myself, mostly in communicating to lay people that understand "virgin" means ain't-never-been-logged.

I, also, like bringing discussions of nature into the realms of aesthetics, emotions, and values. I find these areas to be less abstract than the utilitarian view of forest as board feet, biomass, and the false presumption of human control of nature. Huge influence - yes; control - never. If we had any measure of control, the clearcuts I regularly tour would be full of red oaks instead of red maple and poplar. It is our quest for control of nature and each other that leads to so many of the unintended tragedies we see around us, but that is best left to another thread.

It's sad that so few of the employees of Cherokee, Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests recognize the amazing old-growth stands they are responsible for. Many of these stands do not live up to the stereotype of having huge trees, but some do. The fact is that these three national forests collectively have nearly 100,000 acres of old-growth, and each forest has sites that should be famous, even without the already famous Joyce Kilmer. I encourage any NTS that encounter the ignorance of employees of those forests about old-growth to politely inform them that there are excellent examples of old-growth on their forest. Evidence of those stands can be found in the Forest Service's land acquisition records, in their own FS Veg data base, in the Region 8 Guidance on Protecting and Restoring Old Growth Forest, Mary Byrd Davis' "Old Growth in the East", and in scientific literature.

Thanks for your perspective!
by Josh Kelly
Sun Apr 15, 2012 12:02 pm
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Re: Bushwhacking in Big Ivy

Robert, Bob,

Having done tons of hiking in that section of the Craggies, I think the mystery conifer is a spruce. The needles are badly shaded, blurring their texture, but the color and shape of the tree looks right to me. That heinous "grass road", AKA Laurel Gap road, has lots of spruce along it, curiously, a lot of it seems to have been released from competition by logging of the old-growth Northern Hardwoods that lined that road up until the 1950's and 60's.

Robert, you really should be emailing me for directions anytime you head out this way. It sounds like you missed the extremely accessible Walker Cove Research Natural Area - 40 acres of very nice old-growth.

by Josh Kelly
Tue Jan 08, 2013 10:36 am
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Chile Trip Part 1: Rio Puelo and Parque Tagua Tagua

Dear NTS,

I recently took an unusual four week vacation to Chile with my wife to visit my sister and Chilean brother-in-law who became sweethearts when my sister visited as a high school exchange student over 15 years ago . Taking so much time off of work is unusual in the nose-to-the-grindstone work culture of the U.S. - a trend I think it would be healthy to change. We were joined for two weeks by mutual friends from Asheville. All told, we saw a fairly wide swath of the country, mostly in Santiago and just north in Pichidangui, and also in the Auracaria and Lakes Districts.

I have long had an interest in Chile and its mountains, rivers, and forests. My sister lives in the semi-arid north of the country, where what trees do occur are non-natives like Eucalyptus and Ailanthus. I made sure to schedule about 20 days of travel in the south of Chile, where a climate ideal for temperate rainforest occurs south of the 35th parallel and in isolated areas further north.

Because I was travelling in a group, and because my own interests are diverse, I did not spend as much time measuring trees and exploring primary forests to satisfy my own desires, though I still feel fortunate to have the opportunity to travel. I hope that the members of this forum find what I share to be interesting, despite the limited amount of empirical data gathered on my journey. Given that Chile uses the metric system, I will report what measurements I did take in metric and English units.

On March 25, our party of six arrived in the small community of Puelo (elevation 70 m), on the banks of the mighty Rio Puelo, and surrounded by coastal montans, including Volcan Yates (~2187 m; 7175’)– whose glaciated volcanic cone made for good scenery if you could ignore a recently erected communications tower on its slope. Treeline in the area is above 1500 meters and most of the forest below 1200 meters is evergreen, Valdivian Rainforest. Chile 224.JPG

Valdivian Rainforest is the name given to a large band of evergreen, temperate rainforests in southern Chile and Argentina. While these forests are evergreen, they are dominated by angiosperms, not gymnosperms.
Some great links for learning more about valdivian rainforest are:

Some of the common trees I learned to recognize were Nothafagus dombeyi (common coihue), Eucryphia cordifolia (Ulmo), Weinmannia trichsperma (Tineo), Podocarpus nubigina (manio), and several shrubs, including Luma appiculata (Arrayan). There were a great many more shrubs that I failed to put a name on, as well as many woody vines. Epiphytes, especially filmy ferns, mosses, and liverworts are abundant – Valdivian Rainforest is a paradise for bryologists.

I spent the 26th fishing a fantastic tributary of Rio Puelo, landing several trout between 16 and 22”, and hooking a two that were even larger. I thought that the fishing in Chile was going to be as good as I saw on YouTube, but this was to be my glory day angling. I had other days with many fish, but not huge fish. The stream I spent my time on was absolutely gorgeous, surrounded by native forest and agricultural fields. My eye became accustomed to the different forms of the Nothofagus dominated forest around me, and I did my best to drink in the beauty with every breath. Despite the non-wilderness character of the area, I was absolutely entranced by this landscape and its broad swaths of forest. The fact that the area really is still a frontier in some ways was something that I could feel. Chile 245.JPG

On the 27th, we had arranged to visit Parque Tagua Tagua, a private park consisting of a 4,000 ha watershed on Tagu Tagua Lake, the lowest elevation glacial lake in the Rio Puelo Watershed. Arranging the visit was difficult, requiring a bank transfer from a Chilean bank, and somewhat expensive; about 30 USD per person for a 6 hour tour. To get to the park, you can take public transportation to Tagua Tagua Lake, a public ferry across the lake, and then you are picked up by the staff of Mitico Puelo Lodge and taken across Tagua Tagua Lake on a smaller boat to the park.

On our way across the lake we saw what became a common sight: thousands of hectares of forest killed by human ignited fires. Clearing land with fires has had a long and disastrous history during the Spanish Colonization of Chile. From colonial times up until the 1940’s, title to land was granted by clearing it, and fire was the preferred method. I saw lots of different figures for the loss of forest, but during the 1900’s alone, a minimum of 4,000,000 ha of primary forest was cleared through burning, and much more was damaged and is reforesting. Even more than industrial forestry, this tradition of burning has damaged and continues to damage forests in Patagonia. The situation is different in Chile’s Cordillera Costal and Central Valley, where industrial forestry really is the devil following on the heels of colonial burning, as far as I can tell. Chile 256.JPG

The scenery at Parque Tagua Tagua is incredible. From the 80’ waterfall where the main stream enters the lake, to the granite peaks ringing the park, it is a beautiful place. Except for a small, abandoned homestead at the bottom of the valley, the entire forest is primary Valdivian Rainforest. I was attracted to the park because of reports of high-qaulity alerce (Fitzroyia cupressicoides) forest there. To my surprise we were provided with a guide – more like a baby sitter – that demanded that we stay within sight and on the trail at all times. Our guide was a nice college kid – a total novice naturalist – and just following orders, so I tried not to hold the restrictive policies of the park against him. Given the difficulties of going there, I probably wouldn’t return. Chile 278.JPG

Our guide urged us to hike quickly if we wanted to see the alerce forest, which we did, so most of our day was spent on a militant trek to a supposed alerce stand. We were quite disappointed when we got to the alerces hundidos (flooded alerces) and found them all dead, killed by a lake caused by a landslide in these geologically active mountains. There are living alerces further up the valley that we did not have time to see. Fortnately, the forest on the way to the “alerces” is fantastic. Nothofagus dombeyi rules here, and in most settings of Valdivian Rainforest I visited. I was surprised that even the most towering trees I measured (only four in all, given the time restrictions) maxed out at 40.45 m (132.7’) in height. Chile 655.JPG Chile 635.JPG Chile 638.JPG Chile 658.JPG

I learned here that the largest individuals of Nothofagus dombeyi are uniformly buttressed, and that measuring the diameter above the buttress is a major chore, one that I never undertook. I got excited when I measured a tree with a swollen base at 184 cm dbh (72.4”). I soon found trees this size to be common along the trail. One buttressed individual, the 40.45 M tall tree was over 260 cm dbh (>102.4” dbh, see photo). Other common trees at the site included Ulmo (Euchrypia cordifolia), Manio (Podocarpus nubigena), and Tepa (Laureliopsis philipiana).

It was at Tagua Tagua that I first perceived that Valdivian Rainforests reminded me much more of tropical cloud forest than of the temperate hardwood forests of the Southern Appalachians I know so well, or the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. The Valdivian Rainforest is dominated by angiosperms, like the Appalachian moist forests, but the trees are evergreen, and herbaceous diversity in the deep forest was quite low. By contrast, the forests of the Pacific Northwest are dominated by gymnosperms. Much like tropical cloud forest, there is high botanical diversity of epiphytic ferns, woody vines, mosses, and liverworts. Diversity of woody plants in general is quite high. The overall impression is interesting ecologically and gorgeous aesthetically. Because of the great beauty of the forest, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Parque Tagua Tague, despite what I would describe as administrative shortcomings there. Stay tuned for several more postings on my trip to Chile. Chile 625.JPG Chile 627.JPG Chile 629.JPG Chile 657.JPG Chile 651.JPG
by Josh Kelly
Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:39 pm
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Chile Trip Part 2: Parque National Vicente Perez Rosales

Trip to Chile Part 2: Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales

Chile 437.JPG
On March 1st, two friends, my wife and I, embarked on a 3 day backpacking trip to Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales. Vicente Rosales was a mining magnate in Southern Chile who used his great wealth to purchase and protect what is today’s national park. The 253,000 hectare park (977 sq. miles) includes volcanoes, Lago Todos los Santos, and lush Valdivian Rainforest. Annual precipitation at the lake is reported to range from 3,000-4,000 mm (up to 157 inches) and may reach five meters (197 inches) in the mountains.
Chile 434.JPG
Getting to the trailhead for our hike was half of the fun. We started in Puerto Varas at around 11 a.m., taking a bus to Petrohue, at the outlet of Lago Todo los Santos. The public transportation infrastructure in Chile allows travelers to take buses just about anywhere, including national parks. At Petrohue, there are many tour bout operators waiting to take tourists on half-hour site seeing tours. Our destination was much further away – over an hour and half to the trail head. After chatting and bartering with some of the boat operators, we agreed upon a price and were underway within 20 minutes and with very little hassle. The fact that Becky spent two years in the Peace Corp in a Spanish speaking country came in handy at time such as these.
Chile 326.JPG
Lago Todos los Santos surrounded by mountains, including two volcanoes, Osorno (2,652 meters; 8,701’) and Puntiagudo, and the highest peak in the Chilean Lakes District, Monte Tronador (3,491 meters; 11,453 ft). The lake has the characteristic aquamarine clarity of many of southern Chile’s water ways and is ultra scenic, and we enjoyed the ride both to and from the hike.
Chile 428.JPG
Upon being left off at the trail head at around 3 p.m., we proceeded up a cattle trail through mostly private land. Chile allows private in-holdings in its national parks so long as they pre-date the park. The valley we were hiking up had three working farms, two of which ran guest houses (hospedajes). Had it not been for the farms, there may have been no trail present, because the trail was basically unmaintained and without grading, water bars and other features. The trail, and most others in Chile, was not up to North American standards. It was fairly muddy and included lots of up and down. Some particularly eroded sections were like small canyons through the deep volcanic soil. Looking at these eroded banks we could see dark layers of volcanic ash deposited many times over the centuries, which built deep and apparently very productive soils.
Chile 671.JPG
After hiking 11 kilometers, we arrived at Hospedaje Dos Condors where we elected to set up our tents and enjoy a wood fired hot shower. We ate a nice backpacker’s meal around a camp fire and were bedazzled by zillions of stars before we called it a night. The next day we hiked to a scenic double water fall and I spent some time measuring trees and fishing – competing interests of mine throughout the trip.
Chile 380.JPG
The farm we were camping at had been founded in 1935, carved out of primary Valdivian Rainforest. On the hike in I noted that the trees looked a bit taller than elsewhere in Chile, and when I broke out the laser range finder and clinometer I found out that my eyes did not deceive me. The tallest Nothofagus dombeyi I found at Parque Tagua Tagua had been 40.45 meters. Here I could find Nothofagus over 40 meters with ease. The large trees on the edge of pastures were particularly easy to measure, and I did a thorough job on a few and gave a rough measurement to many.
Chile 382.JPG
On the edge of the homestead where we were camping I found the tallest coihue (Nothofagus dombeyi) I saw on the trip. It measured 49.2 meters tall (161.9’). The largest tree I saw, however, was another huge coihue with a large buttressed base and a thick-limbed crown. It had the look of a respectably old tree. On the note of age, I counted several trail cut coihues at over 300 years, for what it’s worth. This large coihue had a diameter of 3.32 (10.9’) meters at breast height and appeared to be approximately two meters in diameter above the buttress. It measured 47.6 meters (156.2’) tall.
Chile 401.JPG
Ironically, every primary forest I visited in Chile was reputed to have trees over 50 meters tall. The fact that I found no angiosperms over 50 meters in height reinforces one of the core observations of NTS members: tree heights are almost always exaggerated. Now, I am sure there are many coihues out there over 50 meters, but I am also sure that these occur on a tiny fraction of growing sites.
Chile 400.JPG
The forests of P.N. Vicente Perez Rosales left me in awe of coihues (Nothofagus dombeyi). So,let me try to convey some of its characteristics. First, it is the most common canopy tree in the mountains of southern Chile. Its dominance is comparable to tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) in the Southern Appalachians, but it occurs over a broader range of landforms, from ridges, to slopes of various grades and aspects, to nearly level benches and gentle coves, where I saw the largest individuals. It reaches diameters of over 1.5 meters (~60”) before buttressing, and trees of this size are as common as .9 meter (3’) dbh trees in the Southern Apps. Larger and older trees are buttressed up to 2.5 - 4 meters (~8-12’) above ground level and many are over 1.5 meters diameter (15’ gbh) above the buttress. Many specimens taper quickly but some do not, and instead maintain large boles over 25 meters up, and support massive, thick-limbed crowns. Coihues can also have very large crown-spreads of over 100 ft. To make an analogue to a North American tree, they reminded be a bit of a longer lived, larger, slower tapering, much thicker limbed cherry bark oak (Quercus pagoda).

Given how few sites I saw and how large some of the trees were (I don’t see 34.6’ gbh x 156’ tall angiosperms too often – yeah, I know, the girth includes buttress, but still!), I wonder if Nothofagus dombeyi might be in the running for the largest member of the Fagacea Family. I would be interested to hear folk’s thoughts on that. Some of the photos of Quercus castanifolia that were posted from Iran a couple of years ago looked off the charts, though. In any case, Nothofagus dombeyi is an abundant, mighty, and ecologically important tree in Chile of which. “El Rey del bosque”, as one of the locals told me. I have seen just a small portion of its range, so I think I only have an inkling of its maximum potential.
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Also of note in the area were the ulmo trees (Eucryphia cordifolia). These were perhaps the second most abundant, and definitely the second largest canopy trees I saw in the area. They have beautiful white blossoms that make a delicious honey that is famous throughout Chile. From a distance, you can see whole slopes dominated by their white-flowered crowns. Ulmos regularly exceed one meter in diameter at Rio Sin Nombre and may reach two meters. It’s height is not as impressive, the tallest individual I measured was 37.5 meters (123.1’). I suspect this is nowhere near the maximum for this species.
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I also measured a straight tepa (Laureliopsis philliana), a member of the sassafras (Lauracea) family. The leaves of this tree are pleasantly fragrant. While the form of this tree was nice it topped out at 30.6 meters (100.4’). I’m sure taller ones can be found.
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For me, three days was far too short a time to spend along the ironically named “Rio Sin Nombre”. Tantalizingly, our hosts told us that alerces larger than any of the coihues I measured were to be found about 10 kilometers from our camp site. Exagerated big tree stories are just as common in Chile as anywhere else, but from what I saw of the stature of other species growing on the amazing volcanic soils at P.N. Vicente Perez Rosales, this could be a great place to look for truly huge alerces, and I am positive there are larger specimens to be found of every species I measured, basking in the sun and rain in the lush valley of Rio Sin Nombre.
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by Josh Kelly
Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:13 am
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Chile Trip Part 3: Parque Nacional Alerce Andino

Chile Trip: Part 3 Parque Nacional Alerce Andino

After returning from Lago Todos Los Santos on March 3rd, I checked the weather. The prognosis was for one more day of sun, followed by a week of rain. Our plan had been to spend March 5-9 in the spectacular scenery of the Cochamo Valley. Becky and I made the decision to alter our plans, since backpacking for five days in heavy rain didn’t seem that appealing, though I regret this because it really does look like a beautiful area, and there are two Alerce stands to check out ( I also fear that Cochamo will become an absolute tourist zoo in the next few years because of all the publicity its getting and the already heavy traffic of tourists. Chile 742.JPG

Our alternate plan included renting a car for two days so that we could more easily visit Parque Nacional Alerce Andino, Chile’s first park dedicated to the preservation of alerce (Fitzroya cuppressoides), the largest and longest lived tree in the Valdivian Rainforest. After the two day trip to Alerce Andino, we planned to take a bus north to Parque Nacional Huerquehue to experience auracaria forests first hand.
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Alerce is a member of the cypress family and resembles bald cypress to some extent, though alerces are evergreen and grow on upland as well as wetland sites. Alerces are rumored to have once reached heights of 80 meters and diameters of five meters or more. These claims are hard to evaluate because alerce forests have been so decimated by logging of its valuable, rot resistant wood and even more so by repeated fires in the colonial era. Many older buildings in Southern Chile, some impressively large, are shingled and roofed with alerce wood.

After exploring southern Chile, I believe that the best Alerce sites were long ago logged and burned, and most of them were converted to agriculture. Most of the remaining Alerce stands are above 600 meters, but there is historical evidence for large trees at much lower elevation. I saw young trees as low as 80 meters in elevation, which leads me to believe that there were once lowland alerce forests and that these may have grown larger specimens than the sites where old-growth alerce still exist today. Alerce is probably most famous for being the second oldest documented tree species, with one cross-dated individual confirmed at over 3,600 years old.
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Parque Nacional Andino Alerce was created in 1975 out of the larger Reserva Nacional Llanquihue. National Reserves in Chile are analogous to National Forests in the U.S. and do not afford full protection to forests, and because it was acknowledged in the 1970s that alerces were already quite rare, Andino Alerce National Park was formed. Today, Andino Alerce is one of the best known places to see old-growth forest and alerces in Chile. The area receives more than 2,000 mm of rain annually and is witin 30 km of the Pacific Ocean. Elevations range from 600-1600 meters. Tree line occurs above 1400 meters.
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The hike to the most impressive grove of Alerces is 9 km, one way, and we had planned to backpack in 4 km to a campsite to lessen the roundtrip the next day. We found out at the park entrance that camping was no longer allowed in the park due to fears of wildfire. In 2010, thousands of hectares of forest had burned Torres del Paine National Park due to an untended campfire. The ecosystems and rainfall in the two parks are totally different, but I can understand the concern and protective feelings for Chile’s best public preserve of alerce. Luckily, there is an affordable, rustic cabin that runs 5,000 pesos/person at the park entrance that is a reasonable option for visitors the park.
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We didn’t have too much daylight on our first day so we went for a short walk to the Alerce Rodal trail, which exhibits a pure stand of straight, young looking, by alerce standards, trees. The CONAF (National Forestry Corporation) officials I had spoken with, and many sources on the internet, boast of Alerces over 60 meters. An otherwise quite knowledgeable CONAF forester told me that “nearly all” of the alerces at Andino Alerce were over 60 meters tall. I began to seriously doubt this when we entered the forest an every species there was much shorter than at Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales. Nothofagus dombeyi didn’t even exceed 40 meters. Sure enough, upon reaching the Alerce Rodal and measuring the tallest and largest trees I could find the biggest individual measured 1.53 meters (5’) dbh and 36.9 (121’) meters tall. The tallest tree was 39.3 meters (128.9’) tall.
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I wasn’t that surprised by the small stature of these trees. First, the soils at Andino Alerce were noticeably less productive than other areas I had visited in Chile. The bedrock is granite with evidence of recent glacial activity, and the soil was very rocky – not deep volcanic soil. Other species were quite short, and the shrub layer was dense and ubiquitously covered by native bamboo. This led me to consider whether the dense shrub layer was an indicator of more acidic and nutrient poor soil, as it is in the Southern Appalachians. I don’t know the answer to that, but I suspect a correlation.
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The composition of the forest was distinctive. Manio (Podocarpus nubigena) was abundant. Alerce occurred in pure stands in places, but was more often part of a mixture including Nothofagus dombeyi, P. nubigena, Weinmania trichosperma, Laureliopsis philipiana, and Eucryphia cordifolia. As I mentioned, bamboo dominated the shrub layer, making off-trail exploration quite intimidating.

After an early night we woke at dawn to hike to the Alerce Catedral, the grove in Andino Alerce with the largest trees. Unfortunately, shortly after breakfast Becky’s boot came apart and we spent valuable minutes on an impromptu glue job to put the boot back together. The weather was overcast and the forecast called for rain starting in the afternoon. Luckily the glue job worked, and we were off on the 18 km (11.25 mile) round trip to the Alerce Catedral.
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About 3 km in, we crossed a ridge with scattered, very impressive Alerce. These were old beasts, for sure, with signs by the park service boasting of their age. I measured the largest of these trees, which had a sign claiming more than 3,000 years of age. The size stats on this tree are as follows: dbh - 2.45 meters (8.04’); height to first branch – 22.7 m (73.5’); height 34.1 meters (111.8’). The taper of the trunk was slow, and the diameter may actually have been larger at 22 meters than at breast height. The height was rather unremarkable and reinforced my notions of exaggeration of alerce heights in folk lore.
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On the subject of age, it is a common theme in literature about alerce that it has a constant, slow growth rate and that age can be extrapolated by size. I’m sure most of you reading this post are skeptical of that notion, and you should be. The trail cut alerces that I saw had slow, but highly variable growth rates. Notably, trail cut Podocarpus also had very tight rings and slow growth, and I believe Podocarpus nubigena could also reach great ages. It’s co-occurrence with longer lived Fitzroya probably makes it obsolete for dendrochronology purposes, though.
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After hiking through some beautiful scenery and seeing some interesting wildlife, we arrived at the Alerce Catedral. It is a very special place. A sense of quite pervades the place. Like many rainforests, all sounds seem muted. I found myself talking in hushed tones and feeling quite humble in the presence of larger and more ancient beings.
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The Catedral consists of a grove of several dozen alerces over 1.5 meters in diameter, many over 2 meters in diameter. The grove extends from the terrace above a stream, up a gentle slope for more than 100 meters in elevation. I began prospecting for heights, and was disappointed not to find any trees exceeding 37 meters. I then focused on diameters. The largest diameter I found was 2.71 (8.8’) meters, but this tree tapered quickly. What appeared to be the largest volume tree I found was 2.49 meters dbh and around 37 meters tall. Getting an accurate height measurement on trees in evergreen forests is pretty difficult, so I proceeded up slope to attempt a better measurement, but was quickly distracted by a quartet of tallish looking trees.
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I began measuring this quartet and immediately the laser indicated that the nearest tree was significantly taller than any I had measured in Chile. It had both the longest distance and the highest angle of the three trees, and its base was well below my vantage point. After working diligently on this tree from two different locations in order to have a view of the top and the base, which was obscured from most locations by bamboo, I came up with a height of 54.1 meters (177.4’) tall. I declined to fight through the undergrowth and measure the diameter, which I estimate to be between 1.5 and 1.8 meters. Shortly after I measured this tree, the rain started, and we began our long, wet hike back to the trailhead.
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Alerce Andino National Park was the only location, out of three on my itinerary, where I was able to see alerces. While this location is highly regarded in Chile, I doubt this is where remnant alerce trees reach their maximum size. My guess is that, like Nothofagus dombeyi, they reach their largest size on deep volcanic soils with high precipitation. Some areas that seem promising to me are Vicente Rosales National Park, Pumalin Park (, Doug Tompkins’ 600,000 ha private park), and Hornopirien National Park, near where there is what appears to be a legitimate four meter in diameter tree (see “alerce cathedral”), though I doubt it is very tall.

I think there is still very much to be learned about Alerce. One thing that is certain is that any tangent measured height or estimated height for alerce is in serious doubt. If any NTS or other tree lovers visit southern Chile, bring a laser range finder and clinometer!
by Josh Kelly
Fri Mar 22, 2013 12:39 am
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Re: Blue Ridge Parkway Tuliptree Search, VA


I like the big one! it's always fun to find an old, large-sized poplar. As far as growth of Poplar goes, I agree with Jess. I think that the Blue Ridge does not have the best growing conditions in Virginia for them. The Blue Ridge escarpment in Virginia is considerably drier than other parts of the range of poplar. From what I've seen, the area around the Grayson Highlands, and especially limestone derived soils in the Holston & Clinch River drainages have the best growth for poplar and red oak in Virginia. Interestingly, rainfall on High Knob is SW Virginia averages over 60 inches a year to go along with some super rich soil. I think that and the limestone areas of Pine Mountain could have some tall forest.

by Josh Kelly
Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:36 am
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Videos of Old-Growth Oak Forest on Holston Mountain, TN


On April 15 & 16 I visited the Stoney Creek timber sale on Holston Mountain, TN. I was concerned that the scoping for the project listed three stands between the age of 132 and 164 as being proposed for logging. The Forest Service folks I talked to indicated that the stand ages were incorrect, as is often the case with Forest Service stand data. I remained concerned, however, because I know that the land on that part of Holston Mountain had been purchased by the early 1920's. By comparison, much of Smoky Mountain National Park, which has the most extensive old-growth in the Southern Applalachians, was not purchased until the early 1930's. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest was purchased by the Forest Service in 1937. The take home message is, the early a tract was purchased, the more likely it is to contain original forest.

I found an extensive area of relatively stunted, semi-xeric, old-growth oak forest. Tree diameters on these south facing slopes are not large, the trees are not tall, but they have loads of character. As is common, most of the scarlet oaks, red oaks, and black oaks in the stands I visited dated to the time of American chestnut blight. The white oaks, chestnut oaks, and black gums in the stand are much, much older. Check out these videos, if you are interested in the scene.

I'm confident with the age data I collect form these stands and the procedures for dealing with old-growth required by the Cherokee National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan that I will be able to protect these stands from logging. It is kind of depressing that sites like this come up for cutting at all, but let's face it, most people, foresters included, don't recognize old-growth when they see it. I hope the urls work, if not, I'll try again.


by Josh Kelly
Wed Apr 17, 2013 7:13 pm
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Re: Videos of Old-Growth Oak Forest on Holston Mountain, TN

As an update on Holston Mountain, I recently spoke with the lead silviculturalist from the North Zone of Cherokee National Forest. He was not the designer of the project and after hearing from me, he went to visit it. He agreed with me about the old-growth character and lack of economic viability of three stands, so it seems that 119 acres of ancient forest will not be logged, after all. It's great when professionals can get together and agree on improvements in public land management!

So, in the future, if you are ever on Holston Mountain and want to see the ancient dry oak forest at the upper end of the Furnace Branch Trail, it will be there for your enjoyment.

by Josh Kelly
Mon May 06, 2013 12:03 pm
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Re: Big Butt Mountain trees...what gives?

JRS et al.

Great question! Why isn't there more spruce in the "western Blacks", a.k.a., the Craggies? Why isn't there spruce west of Siler's Bald in the Smokies? These are intereseting biogeography questions.

In many parts of the range of red spruce, logging and burning in the historic period have decreased spruce dominance at high elevations. That is not the case in the Craggies. With the exception of the spruce around Point Misery, the Craggies are and have been dominated by hardwoods up to their highest elevations throughout the historic period. There are big differences between the geology in the Craggies and the Blacks. The Craggies are gneiss, and a fairly base-rich (mostly magnesium) variety at that. The summit of the Blacks and east are composed of acidic Metagreywacke, a metasedimentary rock of totally different composition and origin than the gneiss of the Craggies.

That's about all I have to share. Interesting to contemplate.

by Josh Kelly
Tue Jun 18, 2013 9:42 am
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Re: Oh crap!

Relax! The damage is 3.5 miles up from the campground and the super trees are 10 miles up from the campground. Several friends stayed at Poke Patch last weekend and I heard no stories of damage. Those trees are so tall in part because they are in such protected locations. It's possible that a they lost a limb or two, but I'm sure the Poke Patch tree is still standing and I bet the Unagudaguda tree (or whatever Ian named it) is too. It's good to keep an eye on things. It's also good to temper concern with a bit of calm. Anyway, that's my perspective. Otherwise, every time a powerful thunderstorm goes through the NC section of the park, big tree lovers will be ringing their hands. Wasn't there a similar post last year?

by Josh Kelly
Fri Jun 21, 2013 9:38 am
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Re: Videos of Old-Growth Oak Forest on Holston Mountain, TN


I didn't end up doing much age work there, but finding trees in the 250 age range is easy in that area. If looking for a dendro site for oaks or mesophytic species like birch, maple, ash, or poplar, Holston Mountain is an incredible site. About 400 acres of old-growth has been documented on Holston Mountain to date, and I'm positive that is just the beginning of a significant area of primary forest. The work done by the early Forest Service to acquire these last vestiges of primary forest in the Appalachians is truly incredible. Equally incredible is that society at large is basically unaware of the amazing legacy we have been given in our public lands.

by Josh Kelly
Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:52 am
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Re: Tree Maximums - Genus of the Week: Carya (Hickory)

Species (Scientific): Carya ovata
Species (Common): Shagbark Hickory
Height (ft): 146.6
CBH (ft): 10.6
Maximum Spread (ft): N/A
Average Spread (ft): N/A
Volume (ft3):
Site Name: Beaverdam Creek, Shady Valley TN
Subsite Name: Tributary of Fagal Branch
Country: USA
State or Province: TN
Property Owner: Cherokee National Forest
Date of Measurement: April, 2008
Measurer(s): Josh Kelly
Method of Height Measurement: Laser and Sine
Tree Name:
Habitat: Mixed Mesophytic Forest (Southern Blue Ridge Rich Cove & Slope Forest)
Notes: Localities around Holston and Iron Mountain have been explored very little by big tree hunters. There is good potential for other large specimens in the area.
by Josh Kelly
Tue Jul 09, 2013 10:29 am
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Re: Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Hey Brian,

Thanks for the clarification. I had forgotten that the MST had decided on a fairly ridiculous route through Cherokee and the Tuckasegee River valley rather than the more realistic route along the Parkway in Jackson County.

You could add the Mingus Creek numbers Jess has put up, but I guarantee that most of those trees would be far outside the 100 yard threshold you propose.

Looking at the map, there is one tree I know you should add, the huge 21' cbh x 179' tall poplar at Poke Patch on the Fork Ridge trail.

You could probably find some tall stuff on Deep Creek trail and the tallest spruce on the MST is definitely on the Fork Ridge Trail - somewhere in the 140's, I think?

by Josh Kelly
Tue Jul 30, 2013 10:33 am
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Re: Smith Falls State Park


Fantastic report. I think you could put together a number of your site reports into an impressive, useful, and popular (among naturalists) document/book.


Speculating about a pre-human time in the prairies of North America is interesting. Knowing that humans have been on those prairies for at least 12,000 years and very likely over 16,000 years puts human arrival firmly in the Pleistocene when the climate was much colder and likely drier than it is today. Nebraska would likely have been a boreal grassland populated by mega-herbivores - mastodons for example - and meg carnivores - cave bear, saber-toothed cat, and dire wolf to go along with all of our extant carnivores. It takes some effort just to imagine the scene.

Because people arrived in the Pleistocene, I doubt there is an analog to what is going on in today's prairies and pyro-genic forests of North America. 100 year, fire-free periods have probably been extremely rare in any one patch of prairie in the Holocene. There may have been some analogs in glacial minimums during the Pleistocene, and yet, most of the prairie grasses benefit from fire, so fire ecology has been in place on Earth since before humans were even dragging their knuckles. Understanding the evolution of plant adaptations to fire is an area of interest of mine in the field of paleo-botany. Anyone have any good reading on the subject to suggest?

by Josh Kelly
Sun Sep 15, 2013 11:02 am
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Re: Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve, SC

Hey Brian,

Nice photos and account of our trip. One small (of course, pertaining to filmy ferns) correction is that the filmy fern we were viewing was either Trichomanes boschianum or T. petersii, both have the bulk of their range in North America. Jess and I were also discussing the nearby occurrence of the Tunbridge fern (Hymenophyllum tunbridgense) whose nearest populations are in England and the Carribean.

by Josh Kelly
Fri Jan 03, 2014 1:53 am
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Re: Visit to Fork Ridge Tulip Poplar and nearby LIDAR hits


I'm looking forward to seeing your route. I doubt the tree in your photo is the same tree. The 17' x 185 individual has a major branch at 57' up the bole and as I mentioned is not particularly well formed. It may be just perspective, but the crown on your 19' x 170' tree seems much more impressive, and I think it is probably a newly documented individual. This photo shows what the Ursa Cage 185 footer looks like in June.

by Josh Kelly
Mon Apr 21, 2014 8:58 am
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Re: Visit to Fork Ridge Tulip Poplar and nearby LIDAR hits


Great trip report! One correction: That photo is of Will at the bottom of the Poke Patch Giant; I took the photo. When last measured, the Poke Patch Tree was 179' tall, I wonder if it lost a leader?

The 19' gbh x 170' poplar is a very significant tree, as Jess commented. I would be curious if the tree is on "Anti-Social Branch" (name obscured intentionally) because that is a spot I've wanted to get to. I did a trip a few years ago to "Ursa Cage Ridge" to check on the 185' hit there and found a 17' x 185', amazingly ill-formed poplar.

Again, awesome post!

by Josh Kelly
Fri Apr 18, 2014 10:38 pm
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Re: Big Laurel Creek, Hot Springs, NC

Hey Brian,

Unless you saw paint or tags, none of those hemlocks have been treated. You can see other hemlocks that are still alive along 25-70 where it crosses the Ivey. I'm not sure if it's the low elevation, some random biogeography, or something to do with the conditions in those gorges, but they have some of the healthiest untreated hemlocks left in North Carolina.

by Josh Kelly
Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:02 pm
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Re: Fracking to be permitted in George Washington National F

Hey Folks,

I agree that it's a shame that any fracking occurs on Eastern National Forests. The Allegheny NF being the poster child for how bad that can be. The outcome on the George Washington was hard won and much better than it could have been. Check out the press release from the Southern Enviromental Law Center:

"The U.S. Forest Service Forest Plan was released this morning. We feel the agency made a good decision to make the GW unavailable for all types of oil and gas drilling (not just horizontal drilling as originally proposed) except for a small portion that was already under gas lease or subject to private mineral rights."

See our press release below.

Local Conservation Groups Support U.S. Forest Service Decision to Keep GW National Forest Lands Off Limits to Gas Drilling and Fracking

Charlottesville, VA – Local conservation and community groups expressed support for today’s decision from the U.S. Forest Service to make the George Washington National Forest (GW) unavailable for oil and gas drilling, except for a small portion of the forest already under gas lease or subject to private mineral rights.

The long-term forest management plan, released today, makes clear that no additional GW lands will be opened up to leasing and drilling, while existing gas development rights remain unaddressed by the plan. On this 1.1-million acre forest, only around 10,000 acres are currently under gas lease and 167,000 acres are subject to private mineral rights. There is no gas drilling on the GW currently.

“This decision protects the existing uses and values of the special George Washington National Forest,” said Sarah Francisco, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “As a native Virginian who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, I’m pleased that the U.S. Forest Service has done the right thing and recognized that the George Washington National Forest—a beloved place for our entire region—deserves protection.”

As the largest national forest in the East, over a million people per year visit the GW and its headwaters ultimately provide drinking water supplies for more than 4.5 million people. The threat of it being opened to large-scale gas drilling had caused widespread concerns about converting popular national forest lands to industrial sites.

Three years ago the Forest Service released a draft GW plan which would have prohibited horizontal gas drilling but made most of the forest available for vertical drilling. Since then, dozens of public interest organizations, eleven local governments surrounding the forest, Governor McAuliffe, several public water suppliers, and over 75,000 public comments weighed in to support the Forest Service’s proposal, as did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Park Service. U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine also urged the Forest Service to heed Virginians' clear wishes. The final forest plan takes a different protective approach, preventing any form of oil or gas drilling on the majority of the GW lands.

“The federal government has rightly heeded local wishes and chosen to protect the unspoiled lands of the GW,” said Megan Gallagher, interim director of the Shenandoah Valley Network. “There is no history of major oil and gas development in the Shenandoah Valley and not one county has embraced industrial gas development as a priority for public or private lands. This decision preserves the Valley’s recreation and agriculture-driven economy.”

As the home to popular destinations such as Shenandoah Mountain and the Great Eastern Trail, the GW provides abundant recreational opportunities to the approximately 10 million people who live within a couple hours’ drive, and it is a major economic contributor to the region. Visitors to the GW contribute substantially to the $13.6 billion in consumer spending, $923 million in tax revenue, and 138,000 jobs generated annually by outdoor recreation in Virginia.

Local and regional governments and businesses have expressed widespread concern that opening the lands to gas drilling and fracking would negatively affect local economies, particularly adjacent farms, which provide the economic backbone of the area. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, and the GW region provides more than two-thirds of the value of the Commonwealth’s agricultural production.

Because fracking uses huge quantities of water and often undisclosed chemicals to break up shale formations deep underground to release natural gas, this decision will ensure that high-quality drinking water continues to flow from the GW. The GW is a direct source of local drinking water to more than 329,000 people living in and around the Shenandoah Valley , and it lies in the watersheds of the James, Shenandoah, and Potomac Rivers—which ultimately provide water to over 4.5 million people downstream in cities such as Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA. Map of local drinking water supplies:

“Communities in the GW region recognize the risks fracking poses to our water, our economy, and our quality of life,” said Kim Sandum, Executive Director of Community Alliance for Preservation in Rockingham County. “This decision protects and preserves the forest itself and also the communities that value and depend on it.”
by Josh Kelly
Wed Nov 19, 2014 1:46 pm
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Re: Walker Cove Big Ivy/Coleman Boundary NC

Hey Brian,

I love that area. Big Ivy is one of the jewels of Pisgah National Forest, both for big trees/old-growth and rare plant and animal species.

If you haven't seen it, check out this report from Jess and I:

Waterfall Creek/Carter Creek, NC Jess Riddle
Sep 27, 2006 18:58 PDT


The Craggy Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to Asheville, North
Carolina rising to over 6000' elevation. The rugged peaks appear to
gradually blend into the rugged peaks of the Black Mountains, which
contain the highest peak east of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell,
6684'), but they contrast strongly in geology. The gneiss and
metagreywacke of the Black Mountains weather to produce acidic soils
that support extensive stands of red spruce with dense tangles of
rhododendron underneath. Contrasting, the richer soils of Craggy
Mountains give spruce only limited range and thick herbs layers fill
more of the understory than rhododendron. Since spruce does not
dominate all of the high elevations, stunted, gnarled forests of
beech, yellow birch, and mountain ash cover the range's high,
windswept ridges and peaks helping to give the mountains their name.

IMG_0724_1_1.jpg (194542 bytes)
Uncut forest heavily dominated by eastern hemlock above
Douglas Falls in the Waterfall Creek watershed.

A survey of the Craggies for old-growth conducted by Alan Smith in
1998 determined the Waterfall Creek/Fork Ridge/Upper Mineral Creek
stand to be the largest remaining tract of uncut forest in the range.
The stand's 1577 acres of reported old-growth span half a vertical
mile to the top of Craggy Dome (6080'). Stunted northern hardwood
forests and extensive beech gaps persist in the harsh climate of
higher parts of the stand. Below them, the yellow birch become
increasingly large until a broad band of hemlocks is encountered at
about 4600'. Within the swath of hemlocks, patches of hardwood forest
with large sugar maples and diverse herb layers occupy the gentler
topography. Diverse hardwood forests with more southern species like
tuliptree grow along the streams at the lower edge of the stand.

To reach the stand, we drove up an idyllic mountain valley with broad
fields and stone buildings. At the end of the valley, a Forest
Service road winds for miles across the slopes and past the better
known old-growth of Walker Cove Research Natural Area before ending at
the Douglas Falls Trailhead. The trail immediately plunges into
old-growth, and traverses a slope covered with old mixed oak forest.
The herbaceous layer along the trail includes the uncommon Coreopsis
latifolia, woodland sunflowers, and several other species. As the
trail approaches the Douglas Falls, large hemlocks and sugar maples
form the canopy over witch-hobble, wood fern, and partridge berry.
Above the falls, the trail continues winding through successive groves
of sugar maple, hemlock, yellow birch, and beech, and eventually ends
on the Blue Ridge parkway.

Our path diverged from the trail at the falls. We crossed a
rhododendron covered slope and descended an open cove to the boulder
strewn Waterfall Creek. On the far side of the stream, 4600' high
Sprucepine Ridge rises up sharply, covered with large hemlocks and
rhododendron except for a few expanses of bare rock. Josh pointed out
that in the Craggies, rhododendron tends to only grow in areas with
thin soils. We weaved our way between the outcrops, and grabbed onto
rhododendron and dog-hobble to haul ourselves up to the more gentle
upper slopes of the ridge. Those slopes were a pleasant change with
deeper soils, few rhododendron, and sugar maples, basswoods, northern
red oaks and cherries mixing in amongst the hemlocks, and the rare
orchid, Goodyera repens, was flowering in several locations. The
hemlocks themselves were a welcome change from most of the southern
Appalachians; while a few areas had undergone noticeable decline from
the adelgid, most of the hemlocks remain a thick, lush green; however,
adelgid populations are heavy, so the real damage is about to begin.

On the far side of the ridge, we descended an open slope only about
100' to reach the headwaters of Carter Creek. Buckeye, basswood, and
clumps of Beech rose out of thick, rocky beds of stinging nettle.
Farther down the stream, yellow birch, white ash, black cherry sugar
maple and bitternut hickory also mixed into the canopy. None of those
species reached especially large sizes, so we veered up to the low
ridge separating Carter Creek from Bearwallow Branch. Bearwallow
Branch has more gentle topography than Carter Creek, and was
apparently more productive. Hence, loggers focused more on the
smaller stream. We saw clear evidence of logging on the edge of the
watershed in the general lack of old trees and the cut American
chestnut stumps.

STA_0736_1_1.jpg (296875 bytes)
Large hemlock on Carter Creek. 15'4.5" cbh and 143.0' tall.

Since the ridge appeared to hold little promise, we steered back down
towards Carter Creek, and on the way passed a small rock outcrop with
the rare climbing fumitory, an herbaceous vine with flowers and
foliage resembling squirrel-corn. Back at the stream, by far the
largest hemlock we had seen all day immediately greeted us. The tree
stood on a steep slope about 25' above where the stream sheeted across
bedrock. No shrubs obscured the view of the tree's massive trunk that
rose above surrounding smaller hemlocks, basswoods, and beech to a
height of 143.0'. However, more than the height, the slow taper above
the 15'4.5" cbh made the tree impressive. The total volume is
certainly over 1000 cubic feet and probably exceeds 1100 cubic feet;
greater than any other hemlock ENTS has found in limited searching
east of the Smokies.

Hoping to find other equally impressive trees since we were still at
approximately 3800' elevation, we continued down Carter Creek, but
quickly encountered badly eroded remnants of an old logging road. The
road probably explained the lack of large individuals of commercially
valuable species farther upstream. We also started seeing tuliptrees,
all of them young, further indication of high-grading along the
stream. The tuliptrees also indicated a slightly milder climate that
was mirrored by the herbaceous layer with more hepatica, yellow
mandarin, blue cohosh, black cohosh, and other rich site species
mixing in with the nettles. Fungal diversity also increased as we
proceeded downstream, and we stopped to collect a few oyster mushrooms
and chicken mushrooms for later consumption.

IMG_0749b_1_1.jpg (221652 bytes)
The large hemlock on Carter Creek near the confluence with
Waterfall Creek. 17'4" circumference, 147.4' tall.

Near the confluence of Carter Creek with Waterfall Creek, we again
stopped to look at a hemlock that stood out from the rest. This tree
stood on an extremely steep bank between a small stream-side flat and
a level bench, all covered by much younger and smaller trees. The
dog-hobble around the tree's base posed less of a challenge to
measuring than the 9.4' elevation difference between the high and low
sides of the tree. That grade put the lowest measurable circumference
5.1' above midslope, which came out to a whopping 17'4". Above the
influence of root flair, at 9.1' above midslope, the circumference was
a still impressive 14'10". The trunk gradually tapers as it ascends
to a shrub-like top 147.4' above the base. The larger base but faster
taper made the tree appear only slightly smaller than the hemlock that
had stopped us farther upstream.

Leaving that hemlock, we crossed the bench to Waterfall Creek, and
quickly encountered more old trees. However, again the remnants of a
road paralleled the stream and suggested selective cutting. The steep
slopes along the stream supported more rhododendron than Carter Creek,
but strips of rich forest with open understories and diverse herbs
still permitted us easy passage. Rock stonecrop and plantain-leaved
sedge were more common in these woods, but the more acidic slopes
still held the largest hemlocks, including a third giant 15'0" cbh x

Shortly upstream of that hemlock and downstream of a boulderfield, the
old roadbed ended. Above that point, we saw no evidence of past
logging, and started encountering larger hardwoods. Among those,
tuliptree reached 14' 2" cbh and northern red oaks reached 16'0" cbh,
the red oak the second largest reported from the mountain range.
However, the rich forest with those large trees again gave way to
smaller birches and rhododendron thickets as the soils thinned and the
stream approached its large namesake cascade. Eventually, the
rhododendron thickets gave way to expanses of bare rock, and we picked
our way upstream at the base of the cliffs. Not wanting to have to
negotiate the cascades and having completed almost a full loop, we
hiked up the slopes skirting a couple more rock outcrops and climbed
over one small rock ledge to get out of the Waterfall Creek gorge.

Upon scrambling over the ledge, we immediately met a 15'7" cbh
tuliptree that bested the mountain range girth record just set down in
the gorge. Making the tree even more surprising, it grew at about
4200' elevation, above the normal range for tuliptree, and obviously
had limited soil. However, the slope above did appear to have deeper
soil with striped maples and witch-hobble replacing rhododendron and
large hemlocks forming most of the canopy. We stopped briefly to
collect more oyster mushrooms and admire a relatively healthy American
chestnut, but quickly covered the short distance back to the trail and
the car pleased with our day in the woods.

Jess Riddle & Josh Kelly
by Josh Kelly
Tue Dec 16, 2014 1:22 pm
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