During 2011, Avalonia Land Conservancy contracted with Connwood Foresters under a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to study the Barrett Preserve in Ledyard, and prepare a Forest Stewardship Plan. This study revealed a problem common to most of the Connecticut forests-a lack of new understory growth.
The understory is one of the distinct layers in a healthy forest. Below the understory is the forest floor-the recycling center of the forest. Fungi, insects, bacteria, and earthworms are just a few of the recyclers at work here, constantly converting the debris of the forest into nutrients.
Above the floor are the herb and shrub layers. These are the layers that contain the grasses, soft-stemmed plants, and shrubs, Here is where humans hike and fauna live.
|The lower forest levels teem with life|
The understory contains immature and small trees that are shorter than the main canopy trees. The shading of the canopy reduces the light reaching the understory, so the shorter trees must be shade tolerant to survive. The understory is usually more humid than other parts of the forest. That refreshing chill that we experience walking from an open meadow into the depths of the forest is direct evidence of this trait. The understory also helps support many of the forest fauna. If the understory fails, the habitat for species such as the New England cottontail is lost.
The forest in the Barrett is now middle-aged. The larger trees are dense enough to shade out the forest floor, allowing only a few shade tolerant species to start life. In addition to the loss of habitat, the loss of understory leaves the forest vulnerable to complete destruction should we have a hurricane or other bad storm. It would take years for the property to become forested again without an existing growth of young trees. These younger trees usually survive storms better than the big trees which protect them. A forest fire burned most of the trees over some of the southern part of the property in 1989. This was followed by a dense re-growth of black birch. The Forest Stewardship Plan recommended clearing a portion of this fire damaged area to promote re-growth of a mix of species rather than all black birch.
|The Barrett Preserve|
This year Avalonia applied for and was awarded a grant from NRCS to clear about six acres of the Preserve in the places shown dark in the map. The three areas in the upper right are one acre tracts that are covered by mature trees and shrubs. We are contracting with a forester to have professional loggers either clear cut these areas or do a shelter cut leaving only a few seed trees and snags. The area to the lower left is a three acre tract of mostly black birch poles interspersed with some young trees and a few trees damaged by the fire. Our plan is to cut out most of the black birch from this area and perhaps thin out some of the large damaged trees to promote the growth of the young trees of other mixed species. We hope to do some of this clearing work ourselves but may hire professional help. Most of the black birch trees are four inches or less in diameter.
Part of the contract with NRCS requires clearing invasive plants from under the groves of dogwood trees near the entrance. The Ledyard town committee is working on this project now and will continue to work for years to come on this project. Visit the Barrett Preserve often, and watch how we restore this preserve to a healthy forest.
Written by Mike Goodwin, with additional text by Al Bach. Photo by Rick Newton.
Find out more about the NRCS here.