Thursday, 11 April 2013 14:36

Saratoga P.L.A.N. Hosts Forest Forensics Classes

By Staff Report | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS —Saratoga P.L.A.N. (PLAN) held classes on “Forest Forensics” on April 5 and April 6 at Hennig Preserve in Providence. The classes, held for PLAN’s trail volunteers as well as members of the New York State Forest Owners Association, taught participants how to read the history of the woods.

Tom Wessels, ecologist, environmental science professor and author of Reading the Forested Landscape and Forest Forensics led the programs and demonstrated his ability to read the woods the way most of us read a book. 

Participants learned to read the forest floor for signs of human impact, including lands that have reverted to forest after decades, even centuries, of use as pasture, cropland, or woodlots.  The 604-acre Hennig Preserve served as an excellent laboratory for such a field study, containing old stone walls, a pre-Civil-War house foundation and well, a 100-plus year old charcoal making mound and many other interesting artifacts of a bygone era. Armed with information about how to interpret this evidence, participants could read the history of these sites and others. 

Among other lessons learned, Wessels taught how to distinguish former pastureland from cropland or woodlots, how to determine the age of stumps thereby indicating when the area was last logged, and how to tell the purpose of an individual stone wall. Many other historical lessons were discussed regarding the huge impact of sheep farming that drastically changed our landscape in the 1800s and the various pre-industrial farming techniques, the evidence of which can still be seen in every corner of Saratoga County. 

Don Washburn, a lead volunteer for the Hennig Preserve and member of PLAN’s Stewardship Committee said, “This was a truly unique class offered by Saratoga PLAN for trail volunteers, and we will be able to share what we learned with others in the future.”

Maria Trabka, Executive Director of Saratoga P.L.A.N. said, “We are thankful to our volunteers for helping maintain all of our public trails, and we are thankful for the historic research they do on the preserves.”

Understanding how others have used the land in the past helps us be better stewards today.” Commentary and photographs of the forest forensics class can be found on the Saratoga woods & waterways blog at:

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