Speaking for the Trees: Old Growth Forests in Virginia

Mar 28, 2014

An article in the scientific journal “Nature” recently concluded that the oldest trees in the forest grow faster and pull more carbon out of the air than young trees do. Today, ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the original old growth forest is in the U.S. is gone, but activists are working to preserve what’s left.  An organization called “The Old Growth Forest Network” is looking to certify one in every county.  In some Virginia counties, that won't be possible.


Joan Maloof founded the non profit, Old Growth Forest Network in 2011, but she got the idea years earlier when she was working on her book, “Among the Ancients: It’s a collection of essays about one old growth forest in each of the 26 eastern states with detailed directions for finding them. The fact that there is so little old growth left was not news, Maloof is a retired professor of biology and environmental studies at Salisbury University, but she says visiting all those forests showed her, how few and far between they are.

“I would literally drive for hundreds of miles from one old growth forest to the next thinking, we did not leave anything in between really? We were that efficient that all this original forest was taken out from that point to the other? And I started realizing that the average youngster in their lifetime would never get to see an old growth forest."

From that came Old-Growth Forest Network, which now has a board of directors and a thousand members. and Maloof  still travels the country exploring woodlands and giving talks about the importance of old trees.

"I'm coming to Blacksburg because I’m very interested, not only in Stadium Woods there, that I’ve heard so much about but also the community of people who are working to preserve Stadium Woods.  The people who care about it.”

Maloof will speak at a fundraiser for “Friends of Stadium Woods,” a group working to forever preserve a 14 -acre parcel on the Virginia Tech campus. She says the Old growth forest network is as much about preserving forests as it is about connecting the people working to save them.

Maloof stresses she is not against logging, that trees are a renewable resource and can be grown as crops.  But she believes the tiny percentage of old growth stands should be in a different category. And there should be at least one in every county in the country. But in 24 counties in Virginia, they could not come up with a single one. “Which means there are no publicly accessible, protected from logging forests in any of those 24 counties and I think that alone should wake us up.”

The Old-Growth Forest network is not only for woods that are already old. It’s also for forests that will become old someday, that is, if someone makes sure of it. 

“We feel this is our promise to the future generations that you can build a relationship with those forests and you can come back in 20 years and you can bring your grandchildren and they can bring their children and that forest will still be standing. Unlike so many stories I hear where people go back and it’s gone.”

Joan Maloof will speak at the Blacksburg Library on April 3rd and in Fralin Auditorium on the Virginia Tech campus on April 4th.  She will also be at the 2nd Annual Benefit Concert for Stadium Woods the evening of April 4th from 6:30-9:30 pm at Beliveau Estate Winery in Blacksburg.

She'll be speaking in Charlottesville for the Historic Tree Symposium on April 6th.  Here for more information.