Visit to Harvard Forest

On Saturday April 23, eight WRWA members and friends viewed the stunning dioramas at the Harvard Forest’s Fisher Museum in Petersham, MA, enjoyed a picnic lunch outside the museum, and visited selected sites in the large forest.

The 3,750-acre Harvard Forest is owned and managed by Harvard University. Founded in 1907 as an ecological research area, forestry education was moved to Petersham in 1914; and the Harvard Forest was made a graduate school focusing on forest biology, conservation, land use history, and the effects of environmental change on forest ecology. The paper records maintained by the Harvard Forest represent the longest continuous history of any major forest in the United States.

The 23 handmade dioramas in the Fisher Museum show changes in the New England landscape and forests from the early 1700s by depicting the clearing of farmland, conservation practices, and management of the land. A 1936 booklet describes the construction of the models, which represent the landscape in detail. For example, the people are carefully made to scale, and the trees are made of strands of copper wire to form the trunks, boughs, and tiny branches.

After viewing the dioramas, Site and Research Manager Audrey Barker Plotkin led everyone on a short hike to a site studying forest succession and how different species respond to the same conditions. Along the way she described the foci of other research study sites: forest regeneration since the 1938 hurricane, forest biomass development over time, mycorrhizal association between pines and hardwoods, regeneration of native species after a clear-cut of white pine, and regeneration in protected and unprotected areas from browsing by deer and moose, to name a few.

You can read more about this special trip in a joint write-up of the event by Margaret MacDonald and Bob DeSiervo in the Spring 2016 Woodlot Tips. More information about the forest is also available at

Audrey Barker Plotkin, Site and Research Manager, explains the purpose and management of a study site.

Audrey Plotkin discusses the many different forest study sites at the Harvard Forest.


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