New discoveries about old-growth forests

July 24, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. July 24, 2003. Scientists have long debated exactly how to define an old-growth forest. It is generally accepted that old-growth forests are ecosystems defined as forests with old trees and related structural attributes like large trees, large dead woody material on the forest floor, and horizontal and vertical canopy diversity.

But Tom Spies, an ecologist at the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, says that as scientists study old-growth forests more closely, they are discovering that these forests contain many stages of forest development and that they differ widely in character with age, geographic location, and disturbance history. In examining the old-growth Douglas-fir along the Pacific coast, Spies and his colleagues shared these findings during a recent workshop:"If we've learned anything in the last 30 years," Spies says, "it's that our understanding of ecosystems will change, just as our understanding of old-growth forests changed during the late 20th century. As we discover greater complexity in forests than we ever imagined, we will need to develop greater complexity in our cultural responses to forests as well."
For a copy of the workshop findings go to

Visit the PNW Research Station Web site at

USDA Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station

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