What is an Old-Growth Forest & Why do they Need More Love?

We rise and fall, day in and day out, relying on the abundance of our environment around us – clean water, clean air, fresh food, energy – yet we rarely stop to think as a species what else our environment is providing that we seem to take for granted.

Our life spent living in a 29-foot-long motorhome helps us gain a better understanding of the preciousness of our resources. While the mobility provides us with the freedom to travel anywhere the roads will allow, it also puts constraints on use of water, heat and electricity.

The void of these luxuries from our everyday life allows us to long for and appreciate them, then learn how to better understand them so we aren’t mindlessly abusing them in our future. We are always asking ourselves how we can find oneness with nature and become better stewards of the land.

Our favorite way to become stewards of the land, short of action itself, is by learning about and experiencing the land, and arboretums are the museums of trees. Our experience at George Landis Arboretum in Esperance, New York was the inspiration behind the question: ‘What is an old-growth forest?’ and our trek through the trails spawned the follow-up question: ‘Why do they need more love?’.

We hopped out of our home-on-wheels and crunched our way down a woodland path that led us into the part of the forest that looks like the spot where Alice meets the Cheshire Cat. Dark, creepy, very little growth on the forest floor, with green-footed trunks shooting up into the sky all around us. We felt the shift in our environment immediately. The caretakers of the arboretum must’ve understood the shift, and conveniently placed signs at the beginning of the pathway explaining what we just walked into.

Old-Growth forests are as the name suggests – old. Undisturbed blankets of massive trees with rough bark hugging moss-covered trunks speckle the landscape. These giants have thick, multilayered canopies, with carpets of dented and mounded earth naturally caused by falling trees over time. These old-growth forests create unique environments for many generations of species to live and evolve in and are supported by a larger biodiversity not found in disrupted forests; including many birds, amphibians, mammals, and insects that are threatened or endangered.

Only 7% of the forest cover in the United States is old-growth. The other 93% has been slowly chopped down by humans who used the strong timber forests for profits. This number is particularly alarming because of all the reasons old-growth forests set themselves apart from ‘primary growth’ or younger forests.

The biggest and most impressive reason old-growth forests set themselves apart and deserve our love is because the largest 1% of trees absorb and quarantine over 50% of the world’s carbon, a climate change-inducing greenhouse gas. The increase of carbon-sequestering by these ancient forests are due to the growth in leaf density and size – the bigger the tree, the more leaves, the more carbon the forests draw from the atmosphere. The moment these massive beauties become the victims of the logging industry, the carbon is release back into the atmosphere to aid in the downfall of our climate.  

These forests also have the ability to help manage flooding and purify water. Rainwater flows through the forest floor’s dense organic matter and trees roots, which then rid the water of impurities including fertilizers and animal waste. The trees use the impurities as nutrients during growth and the rest of the runoff slowly travels to the nearest stream, river, or lake. The speed in which runoff flows towards its closest watershed must be noted – runoff from lawns, parking lots, and roads has been unfiltered, carries many unknown substances, and fills our streams, rivers, and lakes at a much more rapid pace. It is estimated that a one-acre paved parking lot released 36 times more water than one acre of forest land.

In a time where we don’t respect our land and resources on a national level, understanding that these places exist and are here for a greater purpose other than capital gain is truly important. It appears as though educating ourselves on these topics is now solely up to us, and is even becoming misconstrued by our own ruling nation.

The U.S. Government has shown their lack of love for our beloved Mother Earth and has recently taken it one step further and proposed to remove protections and begin logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, on 165,000 acres of unspoiled old-growth forests, because the inability to do so is “stifling the local economy”.

Today and every day we wake up and are grateful for our tiny home on wheels and the world in which we travel in. We have fully opened our eyes to see the importance of protecting places like these old-growth forests (and all forests!). They are so vulnerable to the greed of humankind and deserve our protection. Show a little bit more love to the world around us because it is so abundant and will provide but we must show the same kindness in return.

Take it one step further, visit your local old-growth forest by finding it here!

Or

Enjoy a local park or nature trail and pick up trash, get involved in your community government, and be sure to vote.

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