The Quabbin Regional High School Envirothon Team of 2013 recently spent time getting to know the forest communities and wildlife habitats of the East Quabbin Land Trust’s Frohloff Farm in Ware. The students are dedicated to learning about forests and addressing environmental issues within our community. This year’s Mass Envirothon focus is “Trees, Forests, and Sustainability” and envirothon teams around the state are identifying ways that trees and forests can contribute to a sustainable future, and what steps we may take to ensure that trees and forests are conserved over the long run.
The forests at Frohloff Farm are managed by the East Quabbin Land Trust under the guidance of a professional licensed forester for wood products, wildlife habitat, and protection of more than a half mile of forest and marsh along the Ware River. The long term and continued viability of these forests helps protect public drinking water, sensitive terrestrial and aquatic resources, the scenic character of the farm, and recreation opportunities along the rail trail and river corridor. The forests serve as the backbone of a riparian corridor helping to conserve and connect wild species and their habitats. The forests become a refuge for many wildlife species and provide a corridor for movement, allowing species to shift ranges and adapt to changing climate and other environmental conditions over time.
A timber harvest to improve wildlife habitat and restore a declining forest is scheduled for later this year. A unique Pitch Pine and Oak Woodland occurs along the river bluff on sandy outwash soils. According to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, this forest was once more widespread along rivers in central Massachusetts but is now declining due to habitat elimination and lack of periodic disturbance such as fire.
The timber harvest will remove overstory White Pine as well as several other tree species and this work will take place under the direction of Massachusetts Forest Stewardship and Forest Cutting Plans approved by the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation. The logging will be followed by invasive plant control and prescribed burning to encourage seed germination and growth of Pitch Pine and Oak trees. This woodland provides important habitat for Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, and American Woodcock. Creation of small sandy openings within the woodland will provide potential habitat for Whip-poor-wills and important nesting habitat for the rare Wood Turtle, which spends much of its time within the forests adjacent to the Ware River. The logging will occur in the late fall and winter months when Wood Turtles are not in the upland forests but resting under water in the Ware River. The project is supported in part by a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Measuring the Success of Forestry Practices
The Envirothon Team – armed with clipboards, cameras, flagging, metal tags, and measuring tapes – inventoried trees and tagged the Pitch Pines that will be reserved, or left in place, during the timber harvest. They took notes on the size and health of individual trees, so that we can follow the trees over time. This baseline monitoring and future sampling will help us determine whether the Pitch Pines respond favorably to logging of over-story White Pine, the removal of the invasive shrub, Glossy Buckthorn, and prescribed burning.
Creating Snags for Wildlife
The Team surveyed the proposed logging area in search of wildlife snags. Several dying or dead standing trees such as Black Cherry, White Ash, and White Oak were noted as good wildlife habitat and flagged as trees to reserve from logging. The students weathered the black flies and ticks on this sunny spring day to find two very tall and large diameter white pines that will serve as wildlife snags. Yielding hatchets and bow saws, they cut into the cambium layer of each tree’s trunk and girdled the trees to create snags. By cutting the cambium layer, the pine will remain standing and die slowly over the next year or two. Although the trees will eventually die, they will bring new life to the forest for many years to come in the form of increased food supplies for birds such as pileated woodpeckers and good nesting, roosting, and shelter for wildlife.
Maintaining Openings to Enhance Wildlife
The energy and enthusiasm of the Envirothon Team was boundless. The students volunteered to cut sapling White Pine, Grey Birch, and Glossy Buckthorn shrubs that were invading small openings within the woodland. The sunny and sandy openings are potential Wood Turtle and Whip-poor-will nesting and resting sites. These areas also serve as important sites for Pitch Pine seed germination and establishment. Pitch pines are shaded out by the faster growing and more densely packed trees and shrubs. The students helped cut and pile many shrubs and saplings too small for the logging equipment to tackle during the upcoming timber harvest. Their work will make a big difference in keeping these areas open.
Many thanks to the Quabbin Regional High School Envirothon Team and their advisor, Becky Bottomley, for their dedication and stewardship contributions toward sustaining the forests of Frohloff Farm.