BROCTON, N.Y. — Old growth forests across the planet are becoming increasingly rare. It's estimated that less than 10 percent of forests worldwide can be considered old growth. In North America, it's even less, says Joan Maloof, founder and executive director of the Old Growth Forest Network.
"So that is only 1 percent left in the east, and 5 percent left in the west," Maloof said.
Old growth is defined as forests that have been left unlogged and undisturbed over a long period of time. College Lodge Forest in Brocton is considered to be one of the finest examples of old growth in New York. Some of the trees there have lived for centuries.
"The oldest hemlock that we've sampled is 442 years old, the oldest beeches are over 250 years old, some of the black ash down in the swamp are over 200 years old. There are some pretty old trees here," said Erik Danielson, stewardship coordinator of the WNY Land Conservancy.
The WNY Land Conservancy purchased much of College Lodge in 2020, and the ancient forest will be protected into the future. But the forest recently gained another ally.
This year the Old Growth Forest Network, a national organization dedicated to helping protect old growth, added College Lodge to their growing list of protected forests. Maloof says that the network's mission is to identify and help protect one forest in each of the over 2,000 counties in the U.S. that these ancient woodlands grow.
This year, 2022, we're celebrating our 10th anniversary, and we now have 163 forests in the Network in 28 different states," Maloof said.
"This designation adds the forest to a network of forests that people can read about who are interested in finding out more about Old Growth Forests," Danielson said.
Preserving these age old sanctuaries is critical during these times of environmental challenge. They are havens for biodiversity, and crucial to battling climate change.
"The oldest forests store the most carbon in them, and they store a lot of carbon in the soil," Maloof said. "So these older forests with the big trees are important for our atmosphere."
These green cathedrals are also important to the human spirit as well. They can fill our souls with peace and tranquility, and hopefully lead us to an even larger truth, one which Maloof says may in turn help these old giants live even longer.
"I also think that they're important for humans to witness what the Earth does when it's left alone," Maloof said.
To learn more about the WNY Land Conservancy, click here.
For more information on the Old Growth Forest Network, click here.