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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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