“Cathedral” – documentary screening – 15 Sept

Cathedral: The Fight to Save the Ancient Hemlocks of Cook Forest

Cathedral - Wild Excellence Films - HWA still

Playing at the Sawmill Theatre in Cook Forest State Park at 7 p.m. on Saturday, 15 September.  Tickets are $15, and are available by calling 814-927-6655, or via Eventbrite by following this link.

The documentary tells the story of the hemlock trees of Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania, which are under attack by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), a destructive insect that has already killed thousands of trees in the eastern United States. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid was discovered in Cook Forest in 2013.  The little “Larry” beetles (i.e., beetles of the genus Laricobius), shown in the image above, are one of the methods of combatting the invasive HWA — click on the image to view the film’s trailer.

“These magnificent trees are hundreds of years old, and we have to do everything we can to help save them,” said Melissa Rohm, filmmaker on the project. “We hope that Cathedral will raise awareness about what’s happening in Cook Forest and why the hemlocks are so important. We want to inspire people to help.”

Cathedral includes interviews with park staff and is narrated by Old-Growth Forest Network founder Joan Maloof. The film takes the viewer on a journey through the forest in all seasons and shows the important work being done by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.

Snakes: Not Awful at All

happy snake day 2018Though often feared and vilified, snakes are essential for a balanced ecosystem, and generally are beneficial to have around.  Snakes eat mice and other rodents, keeping their populations in check and limiting the bugs and pathogens these critters can carry — snakes provide chemical-free, hands-off pest control for us.  On the other side of the food chain, birds eat snakes, and snakes eat snakes.

Snakes are threatened by habitat destruction and encroaching development, competition from invasive species, and  – persecution.  So please, put down your shovels, and learn more about the value of these much-maligned reptiles:


Happy World Snake Day 2018!

Fallen Giants of Cook Forest

Courtesy of Dale Luthringer, Cook Forest State Park Naturalist: 

It is with great regret that I inform you that both the Longfellow Pine & the Seneca Pine succumbed to a microburst on 4 May 2018.

A fast moving microburst came through the area early Friday evening with winds reported near 70 mph.  Firsthand accounts state the duration of severe heavy wind in the park was likely a mere 5 minutes.  I was in Erie at the time [and] spoke to a park patron on the trails on Monday, who was from Toronto where his high rise work building experienced winds in the 120km/hr range resulting in several windows being blown out.

Many tall pines are down, and to conduct a complete assessment will take time, but a preliminary brief cruise of trails in the heart of the Cathedral note mostly all recently felled trees suffered trunk failures, with most trunk failures being at the 40-60 ft height range.  There are still two tall upper 160 ft class pines standing near where the Longfellow was that I haven’t measured in close to 10 years.  Maybe one of them might make 170.  The Burl King (~11 x ~160), located a stone’s throw NW of the Longfellow appears to have come down in either one of last year’s May 2017 microburst events.

The Cornstalk Pine (~14 x ~135) adjacent to the Seneca Pine is still standing, but appears to have lost some of its crown.  I’m hoping the Cook Pine (~12 x ~165) is still standing.

So as it stands, the current tallest pine in Cook Forest and PA is one between the Seneca & Mohawk Trail last measured at 9.6 x 170.5 several years ago.  The current statistics I have for the PA state champ would have to reside at Heart’s Content, ANF, with the Heart’s Content Pine, last measured at 12.9ft CBH x 160.5ft high.  I will be measuring the Heart’s Content Pine in a couple weeks due to programming being held their soon.  It’ll take me some time to see the Cook Pine to check on its current status.

We are looking at getting cross sections for both the Longfellow and Seneca Pine.  The Longfellow’s cross section will have to be taken at over 60ft up from its base, but the Seneca’s should prove more fruitful with a cross section that should come from the 20-25ft height range.

At their greatest dimensions, the best I’ve been able to do for both trees were:

  • Longfellow Pine = 11.2ft CBH x 184.7ft high (previous tallest tree known north of the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Seneca Pine = 12.6ft CBH x 174.1ft high (previous Pennsylvania State Champ)

Both the Longfellow and Seneca have been in decline for years.  The Longfellow was still putting on height, but close to 20% of its bark circumference had rotted near the base.  The Seneca Pine was in much worse shape, with thinning crown and near 50% of its bark circumference rotted near the base.  

Even in death these massive trees tell a story and serve a purpose.  Still, it is sad to see these monarchs pass into the next stage of the forest cycle.  Nothing or no one lives forever.  Something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

The mantel for tallest tree in the Northeast now passes to Cook Forest’s sister, the Mohawk Trail State Forest [in NW Massachusetts].

Interview with Wild Excellence Films by Allegheny Front

Listen to “Filmmakers Highlight Plight of Cook Forest’s Iconic Hemlocks,” an interview with Dave & Melissa Rohm, the team behind Wild Excellence Films‘ documentary on Cook Forest, Cathedral: The Fight to Save the Ancient Hemlocks of Cook Forest. Here’s an excerpt:

Interviewer Kara Holsopple: What would it mean to lose the hemlocks in Cook Forest, to the ecosystem there and also to people?

David Rohm: Cook Forest would be a much different place. If you’ve been to Cook Forest, there’s a sheltering ability that these hemlock trees provide. 120-foot trees, you take away even half of them, and you’re going to see a huge difference. There’s a lot of wildlife. Migrating birds love the forest –way up in the canopies, they’re safe there. They reintroduced fishers there not too long ago. It’s like a mink but a little bigger. To people, Cook Forest means a tremendous amount. They get 500,000 visitors a year who aren’t going to visit if it’s not the same forest.

Please visit the Allegheny Front, via this link, for the full interview and audio.

Black-capped Chickadee sings Cheese-burger

All April three or four of these little birds have been frequenting the suet cake and singing in the forest – heard halfway along Tom’s Run Road on 14 April, and recorded near the Clarion River several days earlier:


For more information on the bird, and additional sounds recordings, visit these pages on Audubon & the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which provides this fact:

Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons…

(The suet cage is a napkin holder because some creature of the night carried off the proper ones – the birds think it’s tacky, but they’ve agreed to tolerate it until replacements are obtained.)

International Dark Sky Week

During Dark Sky Week, spend a few hours outside in the darkness, admiring the stars and listening for sounds of the night creatures. Or, considering tonight’s Cook Forest forecast, you’d more likely be in the darkness, in the rain.

Even if the night of the new moon is rained out, you can help spread the word about light pollution and the importance of dark skies. Notice how dark your yard is – or isn’t – and talk with friends, family, neighbors, or government representatives about why an unspoiled night environment is crucial for the health of humans and creatures alike. Visit the IDA for more information and resources, or the CFC’s page on dark skies:


Cook Forest Soundscape: River Road in the Rain

This recording was taken 3 April, a rainy Tuesday when River Road was about as quiet as it ever is, in the daytime.  On the recording are: a dozen or so robins, a pair of warblers, a red squirrel or two [long chatter sound].  Automobile sounds, near the end of the clip, come from people getting into a car and preparing to leave, and another car driving east on River Road toward Clarington.  No alterations were made except for volume normalization and trimming of the ends of the clip.

This is the first in a series of recordings to be taken in and around Cook Forest.  Please add our channel on SoundCloud:  https://soundcloud.com/cookforestconservancy/

How Birds Live

How Birds Live, Claude R HillHow Birds Live, by Claude R. Hill, 1940 revised printing by American Education Press Inc., is a charming 36-page overview on the workings of the bird world, with pen-and-ink illustrations.

Mr. Hill reprints an interesting technique for sketching birdsong with dashes and curves, the results akin to an avian morse code.  Hill attributes the idea to wildlife artist R. Bruce Horsfall, but, sadly, little can be found online regarding his contributions to song sketching.


How Birds Live - CR Hill How Birds Live - CR Hill

How Birds Live is an endearing and succinct introduction to bird biology and behaviour, and should engage any young naturalist.  Hill illustrates some of the ways birds benefit people, e.g by eating mosquitoes and crop-damaging insects and rodents – one pair of barn owls ate more than 2,000 mice in a summer.  He also explains how birds evolve to suit their métier: by having webbed feet or hunting talons, and downy feathers for warmth and stealth or strong, sleek feathers for flight.

How Birds Live - CR Hill

Cook Forest: 2018 Park of the Year

As named by the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation, a 501(c)(3) affiliated with the DER/DCNR, Cook Forest is the Park of 2018:

Park of the Year—Cook Forest State Park.

Fighting for the survival and protection of Pennsylvania’s old growth hemlocks.

This is taken from an email sent by PPFF on 19 January, and to date no further information has been found.  You can view the complete message, including all the other designees, here:  http://bit.do/PPFF2018awards.

Any additional news regarding this designation will be posted as available.  In the mean time, please take a moment to tell us what you love most about the forest, and what you think we should focus on this coming year:  Submit a Survey!

It’s Squirrel Appreciation Day!

For those who enjoy celebrating obscure and slightly silly holidays: 21 January is Squirrel Appreciation Day.  Cook Forest has a fair number of squirrels — including chipmunks, which are ground squirrels — but the squirrels of the year at CFC are the southern flying squirrels:

Southern flying squirrel

These fellows are tiny (~ 2 oz), nocturnal (look at those eyes!), and fearless leapers – flying squirrels glide, rather than fly, using the furred membranes between their front and rear legs on each side, called the patagium.  Though they primarily leap among trees in a stand, they’ve been recorded gliding as far as 295 feet, which is nearly 98.5 yards, which is nearly a football field’s length – and they do it at speeds between 10 and 30 mph.

They’re predominately active at night and spend very little time on the ground, so many folks never see these fellows.  Despite a small disparity in size and coloration, it’s quite difficult to tell the southern from the northern flying squirrel, which is endangered in Pennsylvania.  Since the Cook Forest flying squirrels had pups (or “kits”) in the autumn, we know they’re the southern variety, as only the southern squirrel has two small litters annually.  Sugar gliders look similar, but are a different animal altogether.

Flying squirrels are among the only communal squirrels – as many as 30 have been found living in a single drey, since the’re so small they need to nest together to share body heat. Flying squirrels don’t hibernate, but they often become less active during colder weather.

Fun fact: if you find a nest in your attic, you’ve got a “scurry of squirrels!”  Lucky you!


Some of us are in the same boat:

southern flying squirrel under sofa
young flying squirrel investigating movie night

This is not his natural or his normal habitat, but he and his siblings won’t be evicted into custom-built three-tier tree-hung condos until spring.  If you’ve got a similar problem, please contact the CFC and we’ll happily share any advice or information.


Park Supporter Questionnaire

The CFC has lately obtained its 501(c)(3) charitable organization status, and is now working on the website and our initial park programs. Please help us out by taking a minute to let us know what’s most important to you — we’ve created a quick survey we’d very much appreciate your taking the time to submit:

Cook Forest Conservancy Questionnaire

[via SurveyMonkey – the link will open in new tab]

Let us know what brings you here, what you’d like to see for the Park’s future, and how we can improve.

Welcome to Cook Forest Conservancy News

Hello!  Welcome to the blog of the Cook Forest Conservancy.  We’re just starting out, and we’ve decided to keep things interesting by posting not only current news and events, but also mini-articles about flora and fauna and other things you might see in the forest.  The best way to navigate topics is the search bar, or the tags that should appear below [most] posts, which will bring up similar entries and more things to learn. 

The CFC does have a facebook page for posting & re-posting events and articles, and a twitter for similar, but please also  subscribe to our email newsletter list, which should be coming out in the [semi-]near future.  We promise to keep volume light, you can opt out any time, and the CFC will never sell or trade your contact information:

Thank you for Visiting!

welcome to the CFC’s news & information database

In addition to current events and timely articles, this “news” page is meant to serve as an archive of information on all things forest — flora & fauna posts, camping & hiking tips, etc.  Whatever you’d like to learn or remember, please browse using the tags, or search.