Monday, September 16, 2019

A project underway

By Beth Sullivan
Many of this blog’s readers have followed the Hoffman Preserve saga for years. If you don’t know the whole story, please check our website for details and history.
The project we have planned and studied and agonized over for years, has finally begun. The timing is perfect as the birds and mammals have completed their nesting and are moving on. The ground conditions are so much better than they were last fall, winter, and into the spring when the torrents of rain made a muddy mess of everything and delayed the work. It could not have waited much longer as even now there are more oak trees succumbing this summer. A recent forestry report stated that close to 75% of New London county’s oak trees have died. How sad.
After thinning, large healthy trees will have room to expand.

Many areas of the interior will remain untouched.

The forest is still dangerous in many places.

An unfamiliar landscape

Today, several of us, Avalonia stewards, walked into the preserve with permission of the forester. There was no work being done today. There is no doubt that the face of the landscape has changed. The roadways through the forest are wide enough for the big machinery to maneuver. They can then reach into the sides and extract individual trees for the thinning process. In some areas it is almost impossible to tell that work has taken place. If you look, you will see a stump, still marked at the base in blue, but around it the forest floor remains much as it was with just more light and room for the remaining trees to branch out and grow. As we walked the roadway, we were amazed how soft and fluffy the soil remained. It was churned up a bit, which is good, mixing in the organic material. Because they are using low ground pressure machines, the soil is not hard and compacted. It will be easy for seeds that have been dormant for a long time to germinate and get established.
We walked near one of the four patch cuts. These are more open areas, pretty much cleared of trees, but the understory small shrubs remain. These areas do look pretty bare, but the trees that were there were mostly crowded, dead, or dying. The new patch cut will grow in slowly, first with grasses and wild weeds. We hope to give Mother Nature a boost by getting funding for a more specialized conservation mix of seeds that will include flowers for pollinators, forage for small and larger mammals, and some shrubs with berries and fruits for birds. As these areas regenerate, they will grow in from the sides, with shrubs adding height and good cover. This is what is called creating soft edges: a tiered effect like bleachers in a stadium, which is attractive to all species of animals and birds. If we are lucky enough to be around to see this area in 5-10 years, the difference will be amazing.
In this area, the Mountain Laurel will regenerate thickly and with the sun will soon blossom. 

These hemlocks are not dead, just too crowded. Thinning will reinvigorate them.

Thinned areas are still forested, just more open, and soon small berry shrubs will thrive.

Still more work to do

We will hope to get professional assistance in monitoring and managing all the areas for invasive plants and not let them get established and take over. In this town, invasives are everywhere and their seeds are carried by birds, animals and even hikers. A professor from Connecticut College and his interns are monitoring several plots to study how regrowth occurs and how invasives get established.
As we walked, we mostly followed the new open areas, but we noted that the old trails remained and criss-crossed through the landscape. When the project is done, Avalonia stewards will walk all the areas, old paths and new, and decide where we will establish trails that will serve us for the next decades. There is a smart phone app called Explorer for ArcGIS . All of Avalonia properties are documented in a file called Avalonia Online Maps. It shows boundaries and trails. We used that today to help us orient ourselves within the landscape. Lots of old markers are gone, though there are still colored blazes on many trees. The app may be very useful in the beginning.
The work will continue into early October, and the preserve must remain closed to hikers until we are given an all clear. There are still many broken and leaning trees. It is easy to get disoriented. The forester is hoping to offer a walk through the area in early October as part of the Last Green Valley Walktober events. Details will be posted on our website.
We truly appreciate those of you have supported this project and have taken the time to read about it and understand our goals. It will take a lot of work to get it ready for the public. We all need patience and faith in the process. If you are interested in helping us with restoration, please call the office. When you get back in to the Hoffman Evergreen Preserve, please record your observations or take photos and send them in. It will be part of the education for all of us.
This toad still has plenty of good habitat. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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