On August 12, 2023, Ryan Trapani of the Catskill Forest Association led
a community walk through our parcel on Upper Sahler Mill Road in Olivebridge, NY. We started the walk in a field close to the road where Ryan noted that Olive and other towns in Ulster County do not have a lot of open land–so much of it is mature forests–and that open fields provide much-needed food for pollinators.
At the border of the field Ryan pointed out some of the “pioneer” trees
that grow in the early stages of a forest, such as Black Locusts and
Black Cherry and he noted that there is much more tree diversity near
roads because of the sunlight. He also spoke about the diversity of
our area in general. As both Sam Adams and Frank Parisio noted on
earlier walks, this area is a literal zone between the mountains to our
north and the plains to our south. Many species of both fauna and flora
here are at the farthest reaches of their ranges.
As we walked into the forest, we crossed a large expanse of hay
scented ferns. Ryan noted that while most people find them very
beautiful, they block tree growth because of their allelopathy. This
means that they discharge, through their roots, a form of herbicide that
inhibits the growth of competing plants. “Ferns are what the deer
leaves behind and that’s why there is so much of it.” He also surprised
us by saying that despite what most people think, we have fewer deer
now than a few decades ago–it just feels like we have more because
they feed closer to the road where there is better food. He noted that
the bear population seems at peak level.
In the forest we saw plenty of Hemlock–the most shade tolerant of
trees–as well as Black Birch, Red Maples and a few White Oaks, which
are so valuable ecologically for their acorns. He encouraged us–as he
does many landowners who engage the Catskill Forest Association to
help with forest management–to selectively cut down maples that are
competing with white oaks. As we went deeper we found some
Shagbark Hickories, Poplar, Butternut and also Red Oak–which is
surprising because it is not a very shade tolerant tree. The Butternut is
probably one of the last stragglers from when this land was part of the
large Merrihew farm (Butternut was one of the crops that they grew).
Ryan taught our group how to spot a healthy tree by looking at the
crown, or the part of the tree that has full, live branches. If less than
60% of the tree has full, live branches, then it is not considered healthy.
He also cautioned that many people mistakenly cut down the biggest
tree in a stand of trees, thinking it is the oldest when in fact it could just
be the fastest growing. Age can be estimated by the size of the flare of
the trunk where it meets the soil. A wide flare enables a tree to sustain
high winds better. Instead, it’s best to make sure you are cutting the
oldest tree in order to give the younger trees time to fully mature.
Lastly, he showed us a pit and mound, which forms when trees topple
over. He said you can tell what caused the tree to fall by the direction of
the mound–be it from a nor’easter or a hurricane from the south.
Everyone who joined the walk came away with more knowledge and appreciation for the diversity in our forests. We are grateful to Ryan, for an informative and inspiring morning!! Ryan hosts a podcast on forests with many renowned forest experts. You can learn more about the Catskill Forest Association and the services they provide here.