Recently, DFW personnel conducted a habitat site walk on the new 190 acre section of the Maple Hill WMA in West Stockbridge. The Department of Fish and Game acquired it with the assistance of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council last year using $1,000,000 of Open Space Bond funds. It was added to the existing 202 acre Maple Hill WMA.
The DFW habitat management goal is to create a mosaic of grassland, shrubland and young forest habitats on approximately 150 acres of abandoned farmland to support declining native wildlife species. Some declining shrubland birds such as the Eastern towhee, Brown thrasher and American woodcock will benefit from the work.
The plan is as follows: Reclaim abandoned pastureland into high quality grassland and shrubland habitat by controlling invasive plants, tree clearing and mowing that favors wild apple trees and a diversity of native herbs and shrubs. Connect reclaimed abandoned fields by clearing tree hedgerows between them to expand site lines and increase habitat patch size for grassland and shrubland birds. Establish young aspen and mixed hardwood forest adjacent to shrubland areas to increase structural habitat diversity while retaining clusters of large crowned, mast producing trees such as black cherry, hickory and oak. The project should be completed in 2015.
It was undertaken through the DFW’s Biodiversity Initiative which was established in 1996. That was a landmark event because it was the first time that the state open space bond funds were made available for important habitat work.
According to John Scanlon, DFW Project Leader, the unique thing about this program is that it gets DFW foresters, biologists, restoration ecologists and district staff involved to identify high priority sites with the focus toward management of those species in the most trouble.
We stopped in three sections. The first was in an area where there was once agricultural land and orchards but are now covered with invasive shrubs and vines. The species associated with the former grasslands and orchards are struggling and are in long term decline. DFW plans to target invasive plants and reestablish native shrubland, remove some trees to bring in light, retain other trees good for habitat (bigger oaks, hickory, black cherry, abandoned orchards) and start production of fruit again such as raspberries. They will also encourage grasses to grow again.
The second was in an area of beautiful forests with magnificent maples, basswood, pignut hickory and birch trees. It was quite obvious that this section of forest was older than the abandoned farmlands where the invasives became an issue on our landscape. It had rich mature trees with full canopy and no invasives. Biologists have determined that this was a very special place, perhaps one of the best in the state both in size and actual integrity.
It was located in rich mesic (moist) soil; rich both in terms of mineral content of soil and species diversity. This area is influenced by its marble lime bedrock, making it PH neutral with a high mineral content conducive to thick, lush forest trees, and green carpets with super rich diversity of plants. The National Heritage and Endangered Species Program folks consider it to be a high priority area; a “gem” that doesn’t occur very often. This stretch of forest will be left alone with no tree clearing.
Our third stop was an oak knoll which was not as moist with less maple trees. Many of these trees will be removed to allow the sun to penetrate and help create a young aspen forest and native shrubland. Some of the largest trees, such as oak, cherry and hickory will be left to provide food for the animals. Any cut tree tops will be left for nutrients and they will be constructing brush piles from the trees which will make great habitat for the smaller mammals. In order to help pay for the restoration effort, some of the oaks there will be removed and the timber sold.
It was a very informative and enjoyable site walk and the goals and methods of the restoration effort were clearly explained. It was obvious that a great deal of consultation and research went into this plan. It was put together with the interests of the critters which dwell on this land taking top priority, as it should be. “Come back and revisit this place in 3 or 4 years”, said Scanlon, “and you will be amazed and impressed with what you see.” *****
Well, upland game hunting season is upon us once again. Next Saturday, the pheasant and grouse hunting seasons open and run until November 30. The daily bag limit for pheasants is 2, possession limit is 4 and season limit is 6. The grouse daily bag limit is 3, possession limit is 6 and season limit is 15. If you hunt a wildlife management area, you cannot hunt before sunrise or after sunset, and you must wear a “hunter orange” hat.
Also opening next Saturday are the cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare seasons and they run through February 28, 2014. The daily bag limit for cottontails is 5 and possession limit is 10. The daily bag limit for snowshoes is 2 and possession limit is 4. Cottontail hunters can help DFW study the distribution of them across the state by participating in the cottontail collection survey. You can bring the rabbit heads to a DFW district office. Include your contact information, date of harvestl, precise location of the animal and method of hunting, if applicable.
Also opening that day is the coyote hunting season and it runs through March 28, 2014, including during shotgun deer hunting season. There are complex regulations governing this sport and you are advised to check them.
No hunting is allowed on Sundays.