Oregon’s old treasures
When you go camping, hiking or exploring in Oregon forests, often you are seeking the big forests referred to as old-growth. Old-growth forests are not only visually stunning, they are rich, mature ecosystems teeming with diverse wildlife and fish. They provide us with clean water and absorb and sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Old-growth forests are more complex than any other kind of forest, and they are home to great biodiversity: everything from animals and insects, to fungi, mosses and lichens. But get this: Old-growth forest classification is as much about structure as it is about age.
Scientists determine old-growth forest classification based on the following characteristics:
- Tree size
- Accumulations of large, dead woody material, both
standing and fallen
- The number of canopy layers
- Vertical and horizontal diversity in the canopy
- Species composition (variety of tree and plant species)
in the understory
Active forest management can actually achieve this structure more quickly.
Old-growth forests are a crucial piece of Oregon’s forest mosaic. Despite claims to the contrary, the harvest of old-growth forests virtually never occurs in the state of Oregon. What is harvested is usually for the purposes of forest health restoration or public safety. On the wet side of the Cascades, where rain is common and fire is infrequent, forest protection requires fewer management efforts. However, on the east side of the Cascades, where rainfall is less and frequent fires have been kept out of the ecosystem, active forest management is needed to preserve old-growth forests. Sometimes protecting old-growth forests doesn’t mean locking the gate and walking away but just requires an active hand.