Effects of Drought on Habitat Restoration Projects

The keyword this past summer for GOSA stewardship volunteers has been rain, or unfortunately, the lack thereof. According to the U. S. Drought Monitor, as of early October, nearly all of Connecticut (98%) is experiencing “severe drought” conditions. Perhaps you have heard that the dry conditions have led to a high level of fire danger and that the wells of many homeowners are running dry.

What you may not have heard is how an organization like GOSA is affected by drought conditions. Beginning in the fall of 2014, and most recently this past spring, GOSA planted hundreds of native grasses, shrubs and trees in selected areas of its Candlewood Ridge and Avery Farm Nature Preserve properties to restore habitat for at-risk wildlife including the New England cottontail. These plants depend on regular rainfall and the dry summers of 2015 and 2016 have meant that GOSA volunteers have had to think quickly and creatively to find a way to water the plants. Firetruck photo at left: Thanks to Fire Chief Derek Fauntleroy and Nathan Shank of the Center Groton Fire Department for their deliveries of water to fill our pools.

Pool photo: GOSA volunteers watering bucket by bucket the nearly 1000 plants installed with funding from of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Long Island Sound Futures Fund and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

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Edith Fairgrieve


GOSA Founders

(l. to r.) Edith Fairgrieve, Priscilla Pratt, Sidney Van Zandt and Omar Allvord, at the GOSA annual meeting Oct. 12, 2006, in the Latham Chester Store, Noank, where they were honored for pioneering contributions to land conservation in Groton.

Edith Fairgrieve, a former GOSA director and one of four beloved pioneers of the Groton land conservation movement, passed away on August 4. A memorial service was held in her honor on Sept. 12 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mystic. Click here for more information about Edith’s conservation work with GOSA and beyond. An obituary was published in The Day on Aug. 17th.

Photo, left to right: Edith Fairgrieve, Priscilla Pratt, Sidney Van Zandt and Omar Allvord, at the GOSA Annual Meeting Oct. 12, 2006, in the Latham Chester Store, Noank, where they were honored for pioneering contributions to land conservation in Groton.

GOSA’s president, Joan Smith shared the following with GOSA’s Board of Directors:
It is sad to see the passing of one of GOSA’s earliest and stalwart members. As Jim Furlong once said, Edith had a moral compass of “true north.” Her legacy lives on in many of GOSA’s principles and projects. She made especially generous contributions to the acquisition of Avery Farm and to the Mystic Woods appeal. We admired her quiet but firm defense of the environment.

Click here to read more about Edith and her work in defense of the environment, including Sidney Van Zandt’s “Remembrance” from the memorial service.

Sidney Van Zandt’s “Remembrance” on Edith Fairgrieve

The following was written by Jim Furlong, former GOSA director, in remembrance of Edith…
This line… is pure Edith:

“Resident opposition, culminating in arrests on the day construction began, was insufficient to deal with a divided community backed up by the political clout of road builders and commercial interests favoring the Connector.”

In my earlier note to Joan, I think I failed to get to Edith’s essence as a GOSA member. Here’s another try:

Though she spoke quietly, Edith was a hard-nosed and uncompromising advocate for the environment. She was fiercely independent and took strong stands against contractors and town planners.  She would not think of tempering her positions in advance in order to avoid disputes. She put GOSA’s case as strongly as possible with the aim of winning the maximum protection for the animals, woods and waters she loved.

Cheers, Jim

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Constitutional Amendment Needed to Protect Open Space

GOSA’s President and Treasurer traveled to Hartford’s Legislative Office Building on March 14th, 2016 to testify at a hearing held by the Government Administration and Elections Committee on two bills pertaining to one issue: the sale, trade and gift of public lands to developers, municipalities, and others by means of the Conveyance Act.

The Town of Groton, in collaboration with a local representative, hoped to acquire 68 acres of Mystic River waterfront land owned by the State (now known as the Mystic Education Center, formerly the Mystic Oral School) for development. This parcel of land is one of the last undeveloped open spaces on the Mystic River. Both spoke in opposition to the Conveyance Act and in support of a constitutional amendment to make the process more transparent and protective of open space. Read GOSA’s Call to Action!, and articles in The Day and in the CT News Junkie about the plan, which ultimately failed.

In January 2017 GOSA learned that, once again, a conveyance of 10 acres of Mystic Education Center Land is in process.

Constitutional Amendment to Better Protect Open Space in CT  Responding to many the attempts over the years to hand over public land to developers, municipalities, and others with no intention of protecting it, Canton State Senator Kevin Witkos has called for a constitutional amendment to protect open space in Connecticut. People who want to save their favorite picnic spots, hiking trails, fishing holes, wildlife watching areas, and recreational space for the future should get behind the proposed amendment. David Leff, the former deputy commissioner for the state DEP who approached Witkos with the amendment idea, reminded us of our “sacred duty to be good stewards” of public lands. “No generation has the right to damage them or give them away.” New York, Maine, and Massachusetts have long had constitutional provisions to protect valuable open space from lawmakers tempted to peddle public properties. It’s time that Connecticut joined them.”

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Shifting the Mosaic: Creating Early Successional Habitat to Conserve Species by Syma Ebbin 3.29.16

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Why does GOSA cut down trees?

There are a variety of reasons why you may see GOSA volunteers or contractors hired by GOSA removing and/or cutting down trees. The key reason for this activity is that over the past century, many shrublands and young forests across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests. As this shrubby habitat has disappeared from much of the landscape, the populations of more than 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on it have fallen alarmingly.

Trees Cut Down as Part of Habitat Improvement Programs

 Protecting native species and the habitats in which they occur is an objective of a number of federal and state agencies and entities including the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP), the U.S. Fish & Wldlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and The UConn Department of Forestry. Private landowners like GOSA* receive grant monies and/or expertise to create these increasingly scarce habitats.  Our team of volunteers (please join us!) works tirelessly following the WHIP, CT DEEP, UConn Department of Forestry or NFWF work plans to restore meadows, encourage shrubby habitat, improve  streamside  corridors, and remove countless invasive species.

Some very recent and exciting news (January 2016) is that The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a proposal to establish a Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge dedicated to managing shrubland habitat for wildlife and connecting existing conservation areas (including GOSA properties) in southeastern New London and western Litchfield. The agency has identified nine areas in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island as well.**

The Merritt Family Forest WHIP, a three-year plan to restore a former meadow area, was completed in 2011. The fields are now alive with birds and other key species. The five-year, 21-acre Sheep Farm restoration was completed in 2015. Eight dilapidated structures were removed and the ground planted with native grasses, shrubs, and flowers.  Old fields were cleared of invasive species and seeded with native grasses and flowers (image above).  The Fort Hill Brook corridor and five acres of a new forest have undergone selective tree cutting to allow light for shrubby habitat. If you take the red trail at the top of the Sheep Farm you can see where we have cut about two acres of trees.  The previously dominant and now removed black birch does not resprout; the maples do and have become shrubby areas where birds can nest and other species can take cover. About 50 at-risk species benefit from this new habitat.  The Greenbriar is thriving as are many highbush blueberry and other species.

Cutting down trees is part of early successional habitat restoration projects supported by the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.  Trees are cut close to the base ( see coppicing** diagram at left) so that mature forest with little habitat value can become open shrubby areas with high habitat value (see drawing below). Habitat restoration programs are currently underway at Candlewood Ridge and Avery Farm, involving 31 acres or 8 percent of the 400 + acres protected by GOSA in the area.

To learn more about habitat improvement at Candlewood Ridge in the fall of 2014, please click here to read an article from our fall-2014 newsletter titled “Moonscape Transformed at Candlewood Ridge.” Click here to read an article from our spring-2016 newsletter titled “Shifting the Mosaic: Creating Early Successional Habitat to Conserve Species” by Syma Ebbin.

Trees Downed by Storm Activity/ or to Remove Invasive Tree Species

In 2012, GOSA cut down and chipped several large invasive Norway maple trees located at the entrance to the Sheep Farm because they were damaged by Hurricane Irene. Since we had all the equipment there, we decided to cut down the remaining invasive maples and add them to the chipping production.  The by-product of the downed trees can be arranged to make a habitat brush pile or we just leave it where it is; both provide good habitat.  Other trees were cut along Fort Hill Brook to give light so shrubs could grow and provide food for insects and birds.

Hurricane Sandy brought down quite a few branches and trees on GOSA and GOSA-managed properties in its wake as well.  Using funds provided by FEMA, downed trees were removed and in their place new native trees and shrubs preferred by native birds and insects were planted.

We hope that this post and the hyperlinked resources it provides will help to clarify why you have seen GOSA engaging in activities that seem counterproductive at best. Unquestionably, these logging activities are causing some short-term pain…but for long-term gain. Please contact GOSA at [email protected] if you would like to speak with a member of our Board of Directors about your concerns.

Before and after habitat restoration pictures pending.

*Many people are surprised to learn that 90% of Connecticut’s forest land belongs not to the state or federal government, but to individuals and families. Federal and state programs recognize the importance of these private forest owners by providing them with information, education, and technical assistance in managing their forest land.

**Coppicing is an English term for a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level.

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