Monday, January 30, 2017

After the storm

by Beth Sullivan
Winter storms can be just as bad as summer ones: wind, storm surge, precipitation and clean up. So far we have been really lucky that our winter has been fairly calm and not too stormy, weather wise at least. The last week has brought some swings in the weather and a pretty good storm.
In general, these weather events are really just part of nature’s cycles, an opportunity to “clean house” or change things up a little. Sometimes we can just go with it, let things happen as they should and not try to change any outcomes. But as stewards of the land we have protected for you, we have a responsibility to make things safe as well. This last storm was by no means the worst we have experienced in recent years, but it was enough to rearrange things a bit.
After the storm, we need to walk the trails and check for issues.
Wet land plants adapt to seasonal flooding.

High Water

Many of our preserves have lovely streams running through them. Often times it is those streams that are the impetus for us wanting to protect the land around them. The drought that lasted through summer and into the fall dried them down to mere trickles. Over the last few months we have had enough rain to fill them more, to restore much needed water to the plants in the wetlands. This storm with volumes of heavy rain drained off the land, collected the way watersheds do, and the brooks filled to flooding. Overflowing their banks, wetlands were drowned, but they are used to that. It is what they are supposed do: buffer and soak and hold the water. Unfortunately some shallow rooted trees were toppled as the soil loosened their roots, and the winds pushed and pulled at them. Sometimes this is good, the shallow depressions created where the roots pulled up often fill with water and can become little refuges for amphibians and reptiles. Deeper holes create great hollows for denning mammals.
A leaning tree has provided a den area.

In the forests, downed trees and branches may be a little unsightly, but they create layers in the under story. Perches, hiding places and ultimately the material will break down to become part of the nutrient duff on the forest floor-recycling for the next generation. It is a nice metaphor: one older generation making way, in a positive fashion, to make sure things are nourished and supported as the next generation steps in.
Trees blocking bridges need to be moved as soon as possible.

Clearing the trails

Along the woodland trails we have to be on the lookout for any fallen or hanging limbs and branches that could impact a visitor, literally. Teams of stewards have branched out over the last couple of days to clear trails, assess threats and report back where more effort and bigger tools may be needed. In the meantime please be careful anywhere you walk.
Some trail blockages are not dangerous, just inconvenient.

Coastal areas were hammered by high water and waves. The natural salt marshes flooded, but absorbed the strength and surge. The high water wrack line was left with litter; the fragile edges of the marsh may have broken off in places, but in general, thanks to the natural function of a salt marsh, the land is mostly intact.
At Dodge Paddock,  channel and grasses held though the logs were bared.

At Dodge Paddock, the challenge continues. While the rains flooded in from one side, the tides pushed in from the other. Everything filled up. The drainage ditch was compromised a bit. Erosion took place along the south face where all the eel grass got scoured away. But most of the coir log supports held; the grasses that were rooted held on as well. The new marsh grasses stayed firm, collected sediment and functioned as they should. The water drained out as it was intended. The system needs a bit of a touch up, but so far, so good.
Fresh and salt water flooded Dodge Paddock. Photo by Jeff Callahan.

Storms will happen; changes in the landscape will occur. Sometimes we can let nature take its course, sometimes we have to intervene a bit. We must always find a balance, and that is part of the job of stewardship. And stewardship of our environment needs support from everyone from boots on the ground, to top administration.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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