I just finished reading an incredible book called Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England, authored by Tom Wessels, an ecologist and environmental biologist who teaches at the Antioch New England Graduate School in New Hampshire.
This book teaches the reader how to look at a forest and deduce its history by observing disturbance patterns amongst its trees. Wessels describes six forms of forest disturbances common in New England, a region that was nearly clear cut by colonizing settlers and sheep herders. Each chapter focuses on a single form of disturbance, and reads like a detective mystery, drawing you into the observational and deductive methodology for reading forests invented by Wessels.
The six most common forms of these disturbances include fire, pasturing, logging, blights, beavers, and blowdowns. Wessels provides readers with clues about how to recognize each of these disturbance patterns by observing defects in the bark or branching of trees, woodland species diversity, patterns of stump decay, and soil topography.
For example, it’s possible to deduce the effect of fire on a forest by observing the following clues:
- Standing dead snags: Conifers and oaks made rot resistent by high heat that kills the tree, giving it a silvery appearance.
- Discontinuity in tree ages: Fires often leaves large tress but kill medium sized ones. If a forest contains large trees and many small trees, it is likely that a fire has occurred sometime in the past.
- Basal fire scars: Triangular scars at the base of trees. This is where fuel pockets form.
- Multiple-trunked trees: Many broad-leaved trees and pitch-pine grow stump-sprouts after they have been killed by heat.
After reading this book, I will never look at a forest the same way again. It’s helped me understand the way in which natural processes and human intervention can affect the character of a forest and I plan on referring back to it as I further develop my own observational skills for reading forests.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.