Monday, February 17, 2020

Bits and pieces

by Beth Sullivan
February is a weird month. I am not sure where January went, as I certainly didn’t tie up all my loose ends, nor did I accomplish a lot of usual January tasks. So now I am trying to both close the door on some projects and look ahead to others, not just in my own environs, but for Avalonia too.
Even in the brown season, there are things to enjoy along the trail. Photograph by S. Alexander.

Thanks to Sea Grant, the last Long Island Futures Fund Grant project has wrapped up at Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve. Over the last years and with multiple grants, literally since 2012, we have worked to eradicate Phragmites (an ongoing effort) and restore healthy salt marsh habitat to the area. It has been hugely successful as the marsh grasses have filled in, and tidal flow has restored flushing into the marsh allowing salt water and nutrients to support the system. Killifish now find their way into the water pools and manage the mosquito larvae so the infestation has diminished. The fields are getting wetter so we mow only what we can. We try to keep the woody plants under control and try to keep on top of invasive plants. Mrs. Beal’s garden has been transformed into an area of native plants: grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees that we hope will adapt to the changing climate and rising sea levels. Now we watch and wait. We will still monitor and maintain, but hopefully Mother Nature will take over.
The Hoffman restoration project is well underway, with the active cutting and thinning completed. The trails are marked well so hikers can continue to move through the preserve without getting too turned around by the change in scenery. It is pretty dismal in there now, but during the upcoming growing season, we will be watching to see what regenerates on its own. We are also deeply into planning ways to adapt the future forest to the climate change we know is coming. We have students and professors from UConn and Conn College already engaged. A great UConn team is researching management strategies and tree species that will tolerate the new normal that we expect in 20-50+ years.
At Beal climate adaptive plants have been introduced.

And the wonderful old vegetable garden has been transformed into a marsh migration buffer.

Back to college

Working with College students is always rewarding. They are motivated, concerned about the future of the environment and the future of the Earth. The Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment is a group I have worked with for eight years. This year their projects are varied, as usual, and over the course of the next months you will be hearing from them in this blog. It is always interesting to offer a new perspective on things, and will give me a break from writing. But they are also involved in outreach, research, and historical recordkeeping for Avalonia.
I am also excited to be working with a team from UConn as part of their Climate Corps program. Their professor, Juliana Barrett, is guiding them through a semester long project to research how our forests are dealing with climate change. They will study how best to implement management practices to help restore our Hoffman Preserve with tree and shrub species that, while being more southern in their range, allowing them to thrive in the next warming decades, will benefit local wildlife. There is a lot to learn.
One GNCE student will be researching the history of the Bennet Yard in Hoffman Preserve.

Still a tough winter

The winter may have been mild so far, but many of our preserves have taken hits with the heavy winds and waterlogged, unfrozen soils. Trees continue to fall, especially the heavy topped pines and the beautiful oaks that have been stressed over the last three years of insect infestation, summer drought, and winter wetness. It isn’t pretty, but it is nature at work. Everything has its own cycle. In the coming spring, look for new green growth in the places left open by falling trees. Look for more sun on the forest floor, and different kinds of wildflowers and shrubs taking advantage of that sun. Look for birds of different species using the new openings.
Our volunteer stewards continue to walk the trails and clean things up, to keep them open and safe. Enjoy the preserves. In all weather, there is something to appreciate. It is certainly too soon to think spring. We have had late blizzards in the past. But it is nice to think ahead. Tie up the loose ends of winter projects and make new plans for the upcoming spring.
The wind has taken a toll on pine trees, and keeps our stewards busy.

As winter moves slowly toward spring, there are skunk cabbages already open in wet woods.

We may still get snow, but we can enjoy the new fallen beauty.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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