In remote sections of GMF, protected by swamps and rough terrain, there are a few remnant trees that are over 350 years old. These were left untouched during the charcoaling and tanbark era, which ended around the turn of the 20th century, leaving very few other trees in the area.
Wildlife management and research have also been conducted throughout the history of the forest, as part of our forest stewardship. Under careful protection, wildlife has returned in increasing numbers. Wild turkey, white-tailed deer, coyote, black bear, and moose have all re-established resident populations.These are the focus of a number of studies by state and university researchers.
In addition to the terrestrial ecosystems, there are seven ponds on the property and numerous areas of wetland and riparian habitat. These, along with some 40 acres of beaver flow, afford excellent habitat for waterfowl.
In general, Great Mountain Forest covers a broad upland of heaving glaciated crystalline rock. Elevations range from 1,200 feet to nearly 1,800 feet, except at the southwestern extremity where the upland drops sharply to the ancient limestone formations of the Housatonic Valley. There the elevation is just under 700 feet. Soils and climate never favored agriculture here, but they are good for tree growth. Precipitation, with an average annual rainfall of 52 inches, well distributed throughout the year, and an average annual snowfall of 96 inches, favors the forest. So too does the fact that snow cover usually remains well into April, which helps to reduce spring fire hazards.
The elimination of fir is perhaps the most important since ecological change during the past 100 years, as slash fires were a regular and sometimes very destructive part of charcoal making. With the wildfires suppressed, as well as care forest stewardship practices, the forest has been able to regenerate and has again become a health ecosystem. The forest now is mainly composed of transition hardwoods, with a strong representation, over much of the area, of northern hardwoods mixed with hemlock and white pine. Native stands of red spruce and red pine can also be found. At the lower elevations of the Housatonic Valley, some typical Appalachian hardwoods appear, such as tulip poplar, black and chestnut oaks, various hickories, dogwoods, and sassafras.
In addition to a wide variety of forest types, a wide range of animals and plants populate the first including some rare ones. Endangered species observed in the forest include timber rattlesnakes and bald eagles, in addition to several invertebrates and woodland amphibians, which are rare or threatened in the state. Over 21 species of rare or endangered plants have been located and documented throughout the forest.
All of these factors are taken into consideration when planning GMF’s sustainable forest management practices.