Look out across the forested mountains of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountains are ancient, but much of the forest is young. Very little is old-growth, or ancient—never cut. But the time the park was established, as much as 80 percent of the forest had been cleared by loggers and farmers. Much of what you see as you travel through the park is second-growth.
But as you look out over these ridges and valleys from this vantage point, you see ancient, old-growth forest. Some trees are huge, but many are not. Old-growth doesn't big trees. Where conditions are harsh, like on ridge tops, a 500-year-old tree might be just six inches in diameter.
Left Photo Caption
The Great Smokies' old-growth forests are home to several record specimens—the size of some tree species is not exceeded elsewhere.
Middle Photo Caption
Farmers had a hand in cutting old-growth forests, clearing fields for pastures and cropland.
Extent of Old-Growth Forest
This map shows the extent of old-growth forest in the Great Smoky Mountains. Less than five percent of America's forests escaped the logger's saw or farmer's axe—a fact that renders the old-growth forest here even more significant. Scientists study these forests
carefully. The effect of a changing environment on the Smokies forest has implications for forests worldwide.