Monday, December 3, 2018

Restoration of an Aging Forest: Our Hoffman Preserve

By Beth Sullivan
Those of us who have hiked and enjoyed the Hoffman Evergreen preserve for many years are noticing the decline of the forest with sadness. Truly, it is normal for a forest to age, like humans, and there is a limit to how long trees can live and be healthy. But the last decade has been especially hard on Hoffman. The hemlocks that were lovingly planted more than 50 years ago are now too crowded to thrive. Many have died, and some succumbed to the wooly adelgid. There is little new green plant life beneath them.
The beautiful oaks that rose above the hemlocks have been devastated by insects and gypsy moths; winter moths have defoliated them for several years in a row. Severe drought conditions at the same time stressed them to death. Literally. Now the wind storms of the last year are toppling and breaking them. The forest has become dangerous to hikers and to the stewards who try to keep the trails open. It is also a fire hazard.
In the last three years, we have had several teams of experts come to evaluate the preserve. DEEP foresters and biologists have walked the preserve and given us their suggestions. Audubon CT sent a special team in to assess not only the health of the plant life, but the bird life as well, and prepared a very detailed report with their recommendations for action. Currently, we have had a professional forestry company that has offered to help us find the best way forward. Every single one of these reports agree: we can save the future integrity of the forest if we take action now.
Back in 2006, the Hemlocks were healthier, but they were already becoming too crowded. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Now there is nothing much alive in the understory, creating a fire hazard.

The trails have become dangerous for hikers and the stewards who work on them.

Restoration steps

Avalonia will embark on a detailed plan to begin the restoration of many areas of the preserve. Dead and crowded hemlocks will be removed and thinned to create space for healthy ones to expand and grow. Dead and dying oaks will be removed while their wood is still of some use and before more large trees fall into the trails. Areas where the pines were destroyed by the high winds and heavy snow storms of the past two winters will be cut. This will allow the seedlings below to grow and thrive. Openings will be created to allow dense shrub growth. Many of these shrubs will be berry bushes that will provide great food and shelter sources for a greater variety of species. The proposed work will avoid wetlands, slopes and sensitive areas. Some dead trees, snags, will remain for wildlife use in places that will not endanger trails.
We ask for your support and also assistance as we move through the next phases of forest management, soon to begin if the weather cooperates. This work should be completed before next green spring season. Some trails may be closed for periods during intense work. It will be jarring for sure, to have the peacefulness of the Hoffman Preserve interrupted for a while. But in the years to come, the work will bear fruit in the form of a healthier, safer, and more beautiful forest for all to share and enjoy. We hope that as time goes by you will join us in reporting your observations, keeping bird lists, and noticing things as you walk through the recovering areas.
I will periodically report on the project as we continue this process to nurture the forest that we were given many years ago. We will have many opportunities for stewardship efforts next summer and hope you will join us. Together we will restore Hoffman Evergreen Preserve.
Windstorms have toppled dozens of oak trees.

Care will be taken to protect historical sites.

Trees won't be cut down if they are homes for wildlife.

With more sunlight, the Mountain Laurel will bloom again.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
Don't forget to support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

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