The value of old forests: lessons from the Reynolds Research Natural Area
In 1934, the Crossett Experimental Forest (CEF) opened to develop good forestry practices for the poorly stocked pine-hardwood stands that arose following the high-grading of the virgin forest. One CEF demonstration area has had no active silviculture other than fire protection since 1937; this 32.4-ha stand is now the Russell R. Reynolds Research Natural Area (Reynolds RNA). Periodic inventories of this tract provide a unique account of long-term stand development under minimal anthropogenic disturbance. For instance, successional change has been characterized by the slow conversion from pines to hardwoods. Gradually, as the dominant pines die, they are replaced by increasingly shade-tolerant hardwoods, resulting in a dense understory and midstory. Without concurrent fire to help prepare the seedbed, even a relatively severe bark beetle infestation in 1993–1994 failed to sufficiently disturb the site and permit the establishment of a new pine cohort. In addition to lessons learned on succession in this cover type, research associated with the Reynolds RNA has also helped develop old-growth restoration strategies, the ecological role of large dead wood in southern pine forests, the deleterious effect of dense midstory hardwoods on red-cockaded woodpecker habitat, the value of old forests in modeling tree allometry and carbon sequestration, and the unexpected benefits of preserving unique landscape features for future study. Clearly, the Reynolds RNA has demonstrated that there are opportunities to learn from passive stand management.