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KET Electronic Field Trips
The Forest
Words To Know
A Glossary of Forest Terms

BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES  |  timber harvesting guidelines and techniques that, when used properly, can eliminate or help reduce water pollution.

BLOCK CUT  |  a form of clearcutting where whole blocks of trees are removed from the forest, leaving the surrounding area intact.

CANOPY  |  the layer formed by the leaves and branches of the tallest trees in the forest.

CHESTNUT BLIGHT or CHESTNUT BARK DISEASE  |  a disease caused by an introduced fungus that enters wounds in a tree, grows in and under the bark, and eventually kills the cambium all the way around the twig, branch, or trunk. Sprouts develop from a burl-like tissue at the base of the tree called the “root collar,” which contains dormant embryos. As the sprouts grow, they become wounded and infected, then die—and the process starts all over again. The blight fungus moves from tree to tree as spores on the feet, fur, and feathers of the many animals and insects that walk across the cankers. The disease is now found throughout the native range of the American Chestnut and has even moved into some of the places where trees were planted outside that range.

CLEARCUT  |  a logging style where all trees in an area are removed.

CLEMENTS, FREDERICK  |  (1874-1945) an ecologist at the University of Nebraska and the University of Minnesota who helped develop and extensively studied the theory of succession.

CLIMAX SPECIES  |  tree species that are present in a forest reaching maturity (in the final stage of succession). These trees come in after the pioneer species and shade out the earlier species. Those with large crowns, such as poplar, maple, oak, and, in the past, the American Chestnut, might be part of the canopy or overstory. Others that can grow in the shade of the overstory trees might be part of the understory; they include beech, dogwood, papaw, and rhododendron.

CONSUMER  |  an organism that gets its energy by eating other organisms. There are three types of consumers: Primary consumers (herbivores) are animals that eat plants, such as mice or deer. Secondary consumers (carnivores) are animals that eat the primary consumers, like bobcats and hawks. Some animals, such as bears and humans, eat a diet of both plants and animals and are called omnivores.

DECOMPOSER  |  an organism that feeds on the bodies of dead, rotting organisms and the waste of living organisms and converts the matter back into soil components that can then be used as nutrients by plants growing in the soil. Examples include bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects.

DISTURBANCE EVENT  |  an event such as a fire, a disease epidemic, an insect infestation, the introduction of an exotic species, or a weather event such as a windstorm or drought that disrupts the natural cycles in the forest and causes changes in habitat, loss of species, and other changes that can affect the health of the forest.

FOOD WEB  |  a diagram of the flow of energy through an ecosystem. At the base of this diagram are plants. Some animals eat plants and get energy from them. Other animals eat the plant-eating animals. When any organism—plant or animal—dies, its body starts to decay or rot. Microscopic organisms, insects, worms, and other decomposers break down this rotting matter and return its elements to the soil. Plants then take the nutrients from the soil, and the cycle continues.

HABITAT  |  an animal’s home; the place where it finds what it needs to survive. These needs can be summarized as mainly food, shelter, water, and space.

HIGH-GRADE LOGGING  |  removing the best timber and leaving the poorest trees behind, regardless of quality, condition, or position in the stand.

KENTUCKY FOREST CONSERVATION ACT  |  a law passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1998 to regulate timber cutting in the state in the hope of promoting long-term sustainable timber production while also ensuring healthy forests. The act requires that commercial logging operations have a master logger on site and in charge, use best management practices, and correct any damage done to land and water resources. It also established a Best Management Practices Board, provides for penalties to timber cutters who do not comply with the requirements, requires an annual state forest inventory, and authorizes public education programs on good forestry practices. For more details, see the bill summary from the Legislative Research Commission.

KEYSTONE SPECIES  |  a plant or animal species that many other organisms in a community depend on, such as the American Chestnut before the chestnut blight.

MASTER LOGGER PROGRAM  |  a training program for Kentucky loggers where they learn best management practices, regulations, and other topics related to timber harvesting, with the aim of developing more efficient and environmentally sound logging operations.

MIXED MESOPHYTIC FOREST  |  mesophytic means “moderate loving” and refers to plants that prefer moderate levels of soil moisture and temperate climate. Mixed refers to a mixture of species that may include both evergreen and deciduous trees. Eastern Kentucky forests are part of the mixed mesophytic forest that extends down the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia. These forests are very diverse, with more than 200 species of trees, and exist on deep, well-drained soils. The soils are rich in nutrients and possess a humus layer (the dark, rich layer just under the fallen leaves) in which organic matter quickly decomposes.

OLD-GROWTH FOREST  |  a forest that has not been logged where the trees are at least 150 years old. Some of the features of an old-growth forest are trees with large crowns; gaps in the canopy from fallen trees; and remains of dead trees in the form of standing snags and rotting logs, which slowly decompose to enrich and thicken the forest floor.

OVERSTORY  |  see canopy.

PIONEER SPECIES  |  any of the first plants to take root in an area cleared of vegetation during the process of succession. Depending on the area, the “pioneers” could be mosses, lichens, grasses, etc. Some of the pioneer trees that start in an area have to be strong or robust enough to compete with grasses and other pioneer plants. And since there are no other trees to shade them, they must thrive in full sunlight. Some examples of pioneer trees (depending on the ecosystem) might include cedars, pines, sumac, and sassafras.

PRODUCER  |  an organism that can take in inorganic matter and convert it to organic matter. Green plants are producers since they take in sunlight and, through the process of photosynthesis, convert it to stored energy that can then be used by animals (consumers) that feed on them.

SELECTIVE CUT  |  a timber cutting practice in which each tree to be cut is chosen with regard to its position in the stand and future growth potential.

SUCCESSION  |  the gradual replacement of one plant community by another through natural processes over time.

UNDERSTORY  |  the layer formed by the leaves and branches of the smaller trees under the forest canopy.

VERNAL POOL  |  a temporary pool of water formed by the collection of rainwater or run-off in a depression such as a tip-up formation. Vernal pools serve as nurseries for frogs and salamanders.

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