Monday, September 23, 2013

Creating a Young Forest

In early August the active cutting portion of the New England Cottontail Project was completed on Avalonia’s Peck and Callahan Properties in Stonington. Even as we were finishing, phase two was already in progress: regeneration. Shortly after a tree is cut, it responds by immediately sending energy into re-sprouting. It sends up multiple stems from the cut stump and begins leafing out. This is precisely the type of regeneration that will ultimately create the new, “young forest” that will attract and sustain the New England Cottontail and numerous other species. With sunlight now reaching the ground, seedlings that have been stunted and struggling can now begin energetic growth. Seeds that lay dormant in the soil for years will get the moisture and sun warmth they need to germinate. There was very little diversity in the understory of the Peck woodlands. Deep shade and deer browsing left little near the ground. Exposing the former forest floor to light has already begun to increase the variety and number of species present. We have noticed seedlings of sun loving plants such as Sumac and Greenbrier already visible, starting growth even this late in the season.

Arrow wood Viburnum planted for wildlife

Winged Sumac will make dense clumps and feed bluebirds

Volunteers in action

For every one tree that was cut, dozens of new stems have begun to colonize the area directly around the stump. Oaks and Maples do this. In some cases, such as with Beech trees, sprouts rise from the roots that have spread far from the main trunk. Where Beech trees have been cut, entire new dense thickets of only Beech saplings will grow. The density of the thicket is indeed desirable for cover and protection. But diversity is necessary to support the species we are trying to encourage.
Maple: rapid re-sprouting from cut base

Clearing slash

As part of the Funding agreement we had with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we needed to replant the area with species that will provide diversity, grow in a way that creates cover and also provide food for many species. On Sept 21 a small but dedicated group of volunteers took on the first phase of the challenge. The entire project covers 28 acres of hilly and rocky terrain. The ground is strewn with “slash”, branches and woody debris left on site to provide cover and nutrients for the soil over time. Not easy walking!! We were joined by our DEEP Forester with his chainsaw, and a USFWS biologist with plants and supplies. We lugged in a large garden cart with shovels, rakes, bags of grass seed, plants, netting, flagging tape and miscellaneous small items as well as water in large jugs. We had to clear the skid trail as we went along, moving branches and large debris and ultimately made it a half mile in to the far east of the property where a steep slope needed attention. There we raked the earth to plant a special conservation seed mix of grasses to germinate rapidly and stabilize the soil on the slope. We dug holes…no easy task in the rocky earth, and planted dozens of small seedlings, plants known to be beneficial for the wildlife we hope to attract. However, all these new seedlings and sprouts are like candy for the deer. Each plant needed to be staked and netted and surrounded by slash to deter the deer from nibbling.
Winterberry Holly, a favorite shrub planted for thickets and food source

Impossible to walk through, for deer and people!
Dense thicket formed by Beech sprouts.

Nearly 5 hours later we walked out. Our load was lighter but muscles were sore! It rained the next night. Now we hope the grass will sprout, the plants will root and flourish and the deer will not discover them! Thank you to all who made the large effort!

Written and photographed by Beth Sullivan.

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