June 2003- A Glimpse of the Precolonial Forest in Ashfield, Massachusetts
When our family land trust, Hull Forestlands, purchased the Sears Meadow Forest in Ashfield, Massachusetts in 2000, we realized there was a very old stand of eastern hemlock and white pine on the property. Tall and stately with deeply furrowed bark, these trees stand straight and solemn, their long trunks free of low branches and their canopy darkening the forest floor.
Intrigued by the possibility that this could be old growth, we invited eastern old growth forest expert Bob Leverett and Harvard University Forest Ecologist David Orwig to measure the trees in the stand. Leverett found pines with circumferences ranging from 7.6 to 11.7 feet and heights ranging from 117-131.9 feet, with an average of 260 square foot/acre basal area. One of the biggest pines was estimated to have 3,500 board feet of volume. After conducting ring counts, David Orwig estimated one of the hemlocks could be as old as 250, while the white pines ranged between 183-217 years in age. Orwig also found the pines had very good growth early on, averaging 5-8 rings per inch. His estimates are conservative, and he feels the trees could be much older, but since many were rotten at the core, it was difficult to get an accurate core sample.
According to Leverett, these trees offer a glimpse of the forests of North America prior to settlement by European colonists. And their longevity is remarkable as they are as convenient to access as any old growth in New England.
Hull Forestlands has pledged to protect this stand of old growth and we placed the property under conservation restriction with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in 2003.