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Age Old Question


Oregonians are passionate about how we treat our trees, especially those that fall under the heading “old growth.” The only trouble is that no one seems to agree on exactly how old old growth is. Ecologists, timber industry advocates and environmentalists have weighed in on this question over decades of forest management changes. Some say an old growth tree is 200 years old — or more. Others argue it’s a mere 80 years old. Many people make distinctions between trees that grow in western Oregon’s moist forests and those that thrive east of the Cascades in a much drier, more fire-prone climate.

Silviculturists say there are key differences between an old growth tree and an old growth forest. (In the case of forests, old growth is measured by the complexity of the entire ecosystem rather than the age or diameter of individual trees.) Even members of Oregon’s congressional delegation Representative Peter DeFazio and Senator Ron Wyden don’t see eye-to-eye on old growth.

The age of old growth is not a question confined to the realm of the theoretical. It has direct policy implications, as proposals for managing the state’s 27.3 million acres of the forest land call for specific protections for old growth trees. Old growth trees are key to the habitat of endangered species such as the spotted owl and they also absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Do you have experience in Oregon’s forests — harvesting wood, opposing logging or just enjoying the trees? How do you know when you’re in an old growth forest or in the presence of an ancient tree? How old is old growth?

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