What does a Mid-Atlantic forest look and feel like? A cathedral of oak branches, soaring pillars of tulip poplar, and statuesque gray beeches. Beneath these large forest trees, the understory shrubs jockey for space and light. Fragrant spicebush, shade-tolerant pawpaw, and hardy staghorn sumac all stretch their leaves in the spring and light up the woods with fall color.
A century ago, however, the forest looked very different. Then, logging, railroads, and the Chestnut blight stripped the state of 60% of its forest, leaving a landscape so desolate that Joseph Rothrock, the state’s first forest commissioner, called it ‘The Pennsylvania Desert.’ The view haunted him, and he spent 20 years campaigning for forest protection.
Over the next 100 years, Penn’s Woods began to regrow. Progress was slow. Foresters hand-planted individual trees and protected them from deer and disease. Still, they worked carefully to bring back the trees. Now, 60% of Pennsylvania is forested once more.
But the work isn’t over. Climate change is already changing the fabric of our ecosystem. Trees that once thrived in Pennsylvania – like Eastern white pine, sugar maple, and northern red oak – may decrease in our area. Other more southern species are likely to rise – Eastern red cedar, sweetgum, and loblolly pine.
The trees we plant now will shelter our communities far into the future. We have focused on this for the Member Tree Giveaway in honor of Earth Day. The tree you receive is a species projected to survive well according to different climate models and will provide food or shelter for Pennsylvania wildlife.