New! SVT Trail Guide: 40 Walks West of Boston

Desert Natural Area Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens Habitat Restoration

Burn area one year later, photo by Dave Longland.Wild Lupine in bloom, photo by Dave Longland.
Spring is bountiful at the burn area. We were delighted to hear several of our focal species at the site this week, including prairie warbler and indigo bunting.  Eastern towhees continue to use the area. We will be completing our annual breeding bird survey in the next couple of weeks. Wild lupine is in bloom and we are hoping to see its population expand with the newly opened habitat areas. Insect surveys have begun. Stay tuned for more updates as the season progresses.
Have you noticed blue marks on trees at Memorial Forest? Find out more about these and the ongoing habitat managment project below. SVT recently hosted a presentation about the project, summaries can be found at these links:
Current Project Status
SVT’s forester is preparing a Cutting Plan for Phase II of the habitat restoration at SVT’s General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Massachusetts Memorial Forest. This will be completed by April 2015 and has included the marking of trees. Unit A, 15 acres, will be heavily thinned in preparation for a burn that would likely take place within the next few years. Unit B, 40 acres, will be thinned at this time, but no further action will be taken for approximately 10 years. (Please see map of Units A and B.)

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) Bureau of Forestry has finalized a proposal that is posted on their web site. The public is invited to review and submit comments. Their proposal includes thinning of dying red pine stands, improving oak and white pine stands and 27 acres of pitch pine-scrub oak habitat restoration.
SVT, DCR and the City of Marlborough will be hosting a public meeting this spring, possibly in late April.  As soon as the date and location are finalized, we will post that on this web site and send out press releases. We will also host two site walks this spring; those will also be posted here and advertised in local newspapers.
Biological monitoring of the restoration project will continue this year. We will conduct our annual breeding bird survey throughout the 900-acre Desert Natural Area. We will continue vegetation monitoring at plots that were set up last spring in the burned area and in the Phase II area at SVT’s Memorial Forest. Vernal pool monitoring and wildlife observation will also continue. We will be adding insect surveys this year as well. All of these efforts allow us to evaluate the success of the management and adapt as necessary.
We will also continue to work on invasive plant control. Professional certified applicators will be hired to selectively treat invasive plants that cannot be controlled successfully with manual removal. Volunteers will assist with manual removal where appropriate or teaming up with certified applicators. If you are interested in assisting with this effort, please contact Laura Mattei.
The audio player below features the calls of about a dozen bird species, recorded at the site a month after the burn by Chris Renna.
Management Context
The Desert Natural Area, located in Sudbury and Marlborough, is a 900-acre ecosystem complex within a larger area of over 4,000 acres of protected conservation lands. This ecosystem complex contains fire and disturbance-dependent communities of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens in a habitat mosaic with red maple swamps, cold-water streams, and associated wetlands.
In 2009, abutting landowners came together to define overall management goals for the ecosystem complex.  Cooperating landowners include USF&WS Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge (DCR), Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), City of Marlborough, Town of Sudbury, Massachusetts General Federation of Women’s Clubs (MGFWC) and Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT). In 2010, Marlborough, Sudbury, MGFWC, and SVT each had Forest Stewardship Plans prepared for their respective properties based on the ecological goals established by the group. In 2014, the DCR prepared a forest stewardship plan proposal. The USFWS ARNWR is in the planning stage for the southern unit of the refuge.
The ecological goals for the Desert Natural Area are:
  • Restore pitch pine-scrub oak barrens
  • Control invasive species
  • Enhance habitats for migratory bird species that are declining in population (such as whip-poor-will, Eastern towhee and brown thrasher)  
  • Maintain rare turtle habitat (Eastern box turtle and wood turtle)
  • Maintain high quality cold water streams (Cranberry Brook and Trout Brook)
  • Maintain vernal pools and upland habitat required by vernal pool breeding amphibians.
In additon to these ecological goals, partners intend to maintain high quality passive recreational opportunities, preserve cultural and archeological resources and educate the public about the resources and management of the area.
Two coldwater streams, Cranberry and Trout Brooks, run through the Desert Natural Area.  These streams provide high quality habitat to native brook trout and a diversity of macroinvertebrates.  Such high quality streams are uncommon in the Metrowest Boston area. Management will be designed to protect the integrity of these streams.
There are several vernal pools that provide critical breeding habitat for blue and yellow spotted salamanders, and wood frogs.  These pools are also important to turtles for spring feeding.  SVT initiated long term monitoring of the vernal pool on their property.  Care will be taken with any management actions to assure protection of upland habitat requirements of the vernal pool obligate species.
Recreational access and trail improvements have been on-going for many years by all of the landowners in the Desert.  There is an on-going effort to eliminate illicit off-road vehicle use.  SVT updated a trail map for the entire area.  There are over six miles of trails open for passive recreation.  Most landowners permit hunting and mountain bike riding although these activities are not allowed at SVT and the GFWC.
Invasive Species Control
Mapping of invasive plant species and distribution was completed in 2009 and 2010. SVT and the City of Marlborough have contracted with the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS) to conduct targeted herbicide treatments to control invasive plants. Use of herbicides is essential for certain species such as Oriental bittersweet, black swallow-wort, phragmites and Japanese knotweed as well as for very large shrubs. We organize volunteers to conduct manual removal of invasive plants where appropriate and to assist certified applicators. These are on-going efforts. 
SVT and the Town of Sudbury are implementing biological control of purple loosestrife in the marshes along Hop Brook. The Galerucella beetle is an insect from Eurasia that feeds exclusively on purple loosestrife. We have released these beetles in the Hop Brook Marsh. For more infrmation on this program, please visit SuAsCo CISMA's site.
Invasive plant control was initially funded by a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Pulling Together Initiative. This work will continue under funding from the Sudbury Foundation and the Foundation for MetroWest.
Pitch pine-scrub oak barrens restoration
The goals of this project are to restore pitch pine-scrub oak barrens habitat, including habitat for rare and declining species; and to educate area residents about the ecology, management, and significance of the barrens ecosystem. Relict pitch pine-scrub oak barrens are located on SVT, Marlborough, DCR and ARNWR property.  Across the region this natural community type has been languishing due to fire suppression, natural vegetative succession, invasive species, and land development. 
Ideally, this project will restore 50 - 100 acres of an imperiled natural community that is targeted for protection in the Massachusetts Wildlife Action Plan. We anticipate that several rare and declining species of flora and fauna will benefit from habitat restoration including: whip-poor-will, prairie warbler, Eastern towhee, brown thrasher, barrens buckmoth, frosted elfin (butterfly), slender clearwing (moth), purple tiger beetle, wild lupine, and box and wood turtles. This project will also help prevent wildfires that could pose a health and safety risk to nearby residential areas. 
Sudbury Valley Trustees, the City of Marlborough, and the DCR are partnering with the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (MNHESP) to implement this project on their lands. Tim Simmons, Restoration Ecologist with the MNHESP is providing technical expertise and guidance. Additionally, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is providing technical and logistical support.  The USFWS hopes to conduct similar management on their property in the near future.
The project is being implemented in phases. In the first phase, SVT and Marlborough implemented a prescribed fire on 14 acres located at the town boundary, on either side of the gas pipeline (trail interstection "E"). The first controlled burn took place on May 7, 2014 under the supervision of Joel Carlson, Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC. The burn was preceded by site preparation that included the mowing of shrubs and trees up to 6 inches in dameter.
SVT is initiating the second phase at their Memorial Forest in 2015. “Unit A,” depicted as 5a on the forest stewardship plan, will be heavily mowed and thinned in preparation for a prescribed fire to occur within a few years. “Unit B,” depicted as 4 on the forest stewardship plan, will be thinned only at this time. DCR proposes to conduct thinning of various types on their land in 2015, conditions permitting. Using adaptive management, partners will adjust the phasing and scale of management actions to accommodate practical logistics and to respond to on-the-ground ecological conditions. The proposed methods have been developed through a 12-year cooperative research and management program conducted by UMASS and MassWildlife. 
SVT and the City of Marlborough collaborated on outreach to local communities. DCR is now joining that collaboration. We will continue to host public forums and site walks. Informational signage will be maintained on site. An informational brochure was produced and distributed to neighbors, other stakeholders and the general public.  
This project has required a concerted fundraising effort. The City of Marlborough received funding from the DCR Community Forestry program to prepare their land for the first phase controlled burn. SVT was granted a contract with the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Massachusetts Landowner Incentives Program (LIP). The National Fish &Wildlife Foundation’s Pulling-Together Initiative provided funding for initial invasive plant control throughout the Desert Natural Area and for the prescribed fire.
The Sudbury Foundation granted funds for continued restoration work in 2015. Foundation for Metrowest has provided funding to support invasive plant control.
This project is supported by grants from:
 Forest Stewardship Plans for Conservation Lands within the Desert Natural Area:
See our Prescribed Fire FAQ Page and a list of resources for additional information to learn more information about this project and prescribed fire in the northeast, or download our Prescribed Fire FAQs brochure.