Maloof explains that one of the obstacles to preservation is that developers who buy a piece of land see the green spot on a map and think only “open ground to develop” and not about the repercussions of ignoring what may be in those areas, including older forests. Also, loggers and developers may take advantage of the strictest definitions of an old-growth forest being an untouched one, to show a particular forest doesn’t count, so they can move forward with their plans to clear the area.
In addition to educating developers, Maloof speaks about the challenge of rallying enough people in a particular area who want to be involved in the preservation process. It may not be easy for most people to understand the importance or significance of an ancient forest until they step into one for themselves — until they smell the fresh air, hear the sounds of the forest and understand the nuances within it. This is why Maloof stresses the importance of the OGFN, hoping eventually there will be a forest within a short distance from every town or city.
“Maybe the days are past to be able to protect the old-growth forests in our community, but we can still protect the oldest forests in our community,” Maloof says.
When a forest is officially added to the OGFN, a hike is usually led through it, and Maloof says that what surprises her visitors the most about old-growth forests, particularly on the East Coast, is how subtle they are. She says they expect a much different experience, similar to the striking redwoods of California (which is also one of her favorite old-growth forests), but that when they begin to understand the subtlety of the forests, many of them become “old-growth forest addicts” who love and understand them.
Maloof says she has a theory that the more time you spend in the forest, the more you find yourself working to save the forest.
Besides being the author of two books, and Professor Emeritus at Salisbury University, Maloof lectues at many universities and conferences. Maloof speaks passionately about a couple of her favorite experiences lecturing, including at Cornell University. As a result of her first book, “Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest,” not only was she invited to the university as their annual Cornell Plantations Guest Lecturer, she also was able to add Cornell’s own old-growth forest, Fischer, to the OGFN and, ultimately, ensure that it is protected from being logged.
Currently, Maloof has a third book in the works. She says an official title has not been decided on, but that it will be a collection of data from numerous journal articles that all lead to a key conclusion: old-growth forests have superior and important biodiversity compared to other types of forests. She is hoping that, once published, her latest book will reach those in forestry schools as a supplementary text and will help educate future guardians of the forest.
Although it may be difficult to pin down a clear definition of an old-growth forest, what is clear is that, as long as Joan Maloof is around, they will have a strong advocate for their survival.
Austa Somvichian-Clausen is American Forests’ spring 2016 marketing and communications intern and is a senior at American University, studying public comunications and environmental studies.