Old growth trees meet predictable end

Published April 1, 2000

A fierce wind storm that roared across Europe this winter tore down hundreds of “old growth” trees on the grounds of France’s famed Versailles Place. This followed the blow-down of some 1,600 trees, felled on the grounds by a 1990 storm, and countless similar blow-downs and disease infestations over the two centuries since the sprawling mansion was built by King Louis XIV.

According to the New York Times, which applauded the forced replacement of the aging trees, the most recent blown-down occurred because the trees had grown to nearly 120 feet–too tall to withstand the winds. The garden’s original designers planned to allow the trees to reach only 60 feet. Earlier, 183 diseased chestnut trees had to be removed from the grounds.

Replacements for the uprooted and snapped-off trees will be difficult to find, as nearly 60 percent of France’s forests were destroyed by the storm. The country has placed restrictions on logging; as a result, many of its forests are old-growth. French officials now admit that reforestation–taking down the aging trees and planting new ones–should have begun in the 1960s.

A Washington, DC source familiar with forest health issues said the massive destruction at Versailles and across France is a typical fate for old-growth forests. They blow down, burn up, or die of disease or old age–leaving no vigorous young growth behind.