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Dark water formed an eddy around Steve Eisenhauer's boots as they sank into the muck at the base of a 90-foot black gum tree so old, its roots were deep in this ground when the Pilgrims landed.
Scientists estimate the age of black gums in an old-growth forest surrounded by Bear Swamp in Cumberland County, N.J., ranges from 400 to 500 years, making it among the oldest trees in the oldest forest of its kind in the Northeast.
Rise - Warmer - Oceans - Land - Saltwater
But sea-level rise fueled by warmer oceans and sinking land is pushing saltwater ever closer to the trees, with the potential to kill them in the not-so-distant future.
Less than half a mile away, hundreds of trees separate from the old-growth forest are already dead from rising salt levels in what once was mostly a freshwater stream. Those dead trees jutted gray and naked into the late-fall sky during a recent hike with Eisenhauer through the remote part of an old-growth forest, which is in the 6,765-acre Glades Wildlife Refuge owned by Natural Lands.
Eisenhauer - Director - Natural - Lands - Demise
Eisenhauer, regional director for Natural Lands, is cautious about proclaiming an immediate demise for the trees, Nyssa sylvatica, also known as black gum, black tupelo, or pepperidge.
"The old-growth trees are potentially threatened," Eisenhauer said. "But we tend to be cautious in saying so."
Clearly, though, he is taken with the trees.
"Cornell came and did test borings years ago. The oldest sour gums were more than 500 years old," Eisenhauer said, still marveling at that fact.
Gums - Forest - People - Trash - Thing
But it's not just black gums that are threatened. The forest is so remote, it lacks both people and trash, a rare thing in the region. It also is home to a grove of American hollies estimated to be at least 200 years old. Nearby are tulip poplar, beech, sweet gum, maple, white cedars, and other species. The few...
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