Protecting Old Growth Forests

Old growth red maple © Bob Leverett

How You Can Help 

Support legislation to protect old growth forests in Massachusetts!

Forests cover nearly 3 million acres in Massachusetts. Nearly all of this landscape has been impacted by agricultural clearing and grazing, timber and fuel harvesting, or development. Yet a few small patches of old-growth forest, undisturbed by human activity, still remain.

What is Old Growth?

Old growth is more than just a collection of big, old trees. These areas contain trees of all ages and have a complex, multi-layered structure that supports many plants and animals.

Blunt lobed hepatica

Blunt-Lobed Hepatica
Some woodland wildflowers
rely only on ants for seed
dispersal, not wind or birds.
Such plants thrive in
old-growth forests.

Standing snags (dead trees), fallen trees, live trees with cavities, and ground covered in centuries of decayed leaves provide rich and varied habitat features. Old growth also serves as a biological library for studies of forest development, tree genetics, and climate change.

To be classified as an old growth forest, the area must:

  • Cover at least 10 acres, or otherwise be large enough function as a forest unit and regenerate over time.
  • Contain trees that are more than 50 percent of the maximum age possible for the species.
  • Have no evidence of significant human alteration. This can be met looking at soils and historic information.

Places to See Old Growth

A few places to view Old Growth:These ancient groves, totaling fewer than 1,500 acres in all, survive on steep mountainsides, mostly in western Massachusetts and at Wachusett Mountain. A few sites can be viewed from established trails—stay on the trail to avoid damaging these sensitive areas.

  • The southwestern town of Mount Washington, home to a 200-year-old pitch pine stand along the 2,624-foot summit of Mount Everett.
  • The narrow Ice Glen in the Berkshire town of Stockbridge, with 300- and 400-year-old trees in the boulder field; the property also contains magnificent second-growth trees including some rising over 150 feet.
  • High along Todd Mountain in western Franklin County within the Mohawk Trail State Forest, where 400-year-old eastern hemlocks are found; old growth can be seen in patches along Route 2 from past the picnic area at the state forest to the top of the hill in Florida, Massachusetts.
  • Mount Wachusett, home to a section of old, knarled trees overlooked until  the 1990s because they are not remarkably large.
  • Lower Spectacle Pond in southwestern Massachusetts, which includes a stand of old-growth conifers along the Clam River, and serves as a link between other large tracts of nearby conservation land; Mass Audubon worked with other conservation partners, including the Commonwealth, to protect these 1,000 acres of mixed woodland that is now part of the Sandisfield State Forest.

Protecting Old Growth

Gordon Brownell by fallen tree at Wachusett Mountain

Gordon Brownell, who discovered the
old growth at Wachusett Mountain,
stands beside a fallen tree.

To make these protections permanent, and to establish surrounding forest buffers, please help support legislation that would provide permanent protection for old-growth reserves.

Most old-growth forest in Massachusetts is located on public lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Mass Audubon helped secure administrative protection of these areas through state old growth policy and Landscape Designations.

Old Growth Resources

  • Department of Conservation and Recreation Old Growth Policy
  • A technical analysis (PDF) of old growth locations across Massachusetts
  • Details on Mount Wachusett forest dynamics (PDF)
  • Educational Materials about Wachusett Mountain:
  • The Eastern Native Tree Society gathers information about trees in North America, including old growth sites and large “champion” trees at Mohawk Trail State Forest and other locations.
  • The Lost Forests of New England, a film by New England Forests that investigates the history of old growth in Massachusetts.