Desert Natural Area Restoration: Phase II FAQS

Frequently asked questions about Phase II of our Memorial Forest Restoration Project.

Why is it important to protect biological diversity?

The number of our planet’s wild mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish has declined by more than half since 1970 (as determined by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London). Loss of habitat has been the principal reason for the endangerment and extinction of many thousands of species all around the world. In the words of renowned biologist E.O. Wilson, “We must act to save what is left.” 

SVT’s mission is to protect and care for this web of life. In addition to intrinsic values, a greater diversity of species yields many benefits to medical and agricultural practices as well as to other industries.

Why is the Memorial Forest project important to the protection of biodiversity?

In order to save several species that are disappearing from New England, SVT will be thinning trees on 50 acres of Memorial Forest. This will enable us to restore a rapidly diminishing pine barrens habitat. Many rare and declining species depend on pine barrens for their survival, but the pitch pines and scrub oak that make up this unusual habitat are being crowded out by common white pines.

Based on established ecological management practices, SVT has determined that the forest needs to be thinned and burned to allow pitch pines, scrub oaks, and associated species to thrive. SVT expects this restoration will allow vanishing wildlife such as whip-poor-wills to survive and restore their populations at this site.

How will the tree thinning and cutting be implemented?

This is a standard logging operation that will be implemented with large machinery including a feller-buncher and a skidder. The feller-buncher has much better precision and less secondary impacts than traditional logging operations. The feller-buncher creates a neat row of the cut trees. The skidder will use pre-determined skid trails to transport the trees to the logging landing.

The logging landing will be located on the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Logs and chips will be transported via existing roads on the national wildlife refuge and state forest land, exiting at Hudson Road. We expect the operation to take 3 to 4 weeks to implement.

Is this a clear cut?

No. We are removing 50% of the tree basal area on the 15-acre unit and 35% on the 35-acre unit. (Basal area is a measure of biomass of trees.)

What happens next?

A burn plan will be prepared for the 15-acre unit; we expect to conduct a prescribed burn in a few years. The 35-acre unit is on a longer restoration time frame; we do not expect to conduct further clearing work there in the near future, probably not within the next 10 years.

How does this project relate to the proposed Eversource power line along the abandoned railroad?

The SVT habitat restoration project is distinct from the Eversource power line proposal. SVT and our partners are restoring pitch pine-scrub oak barrens that will benefit rare and declining species of wildlife. The Eversource proposal is a wide, clear-cut corridor with large towers or a narrower corridor for a potential underground line.

By definition, barrens typically have less than 50% tree cover. While some of the structural characteristics of a powerline corridor are similar to barrens habitat, the ecology is distinct. The powerline corridor is not likely to contain trees, whereas our habitat goals include a dynamic mix of trees, shrubs, and grasslands.

As a long corridor, the powerline clearing has potential to increase predation on ground-nesting birds and turtles because these types of corridors can favor more opportunistic predators. The construction disturbance also has potential to introduce more invasive plants to our natural area. 

Won't invasive species just take over?

In 2009 and 2010, we did a complete survey of invasive plants at the Desert Natural Area, including SVT’s Memorial Forest. Since that time, we have been steadily working to remove and control invasive plant infestations. Glossy buckthorn is the primary threat at this site. We are purposefully avoiding any cutting in areas where glossy buckthorn is abundant.

Our invasive control efforts at the Phase I site were successful; we have had virtually no glossy buckthorn sprouts showing up in the burn area. The logging company must clean their equipment prior to entering the work site; this is also a requirement of the national wildlife refuge and has become a more common practice.

Why don't you just let nature take its course?

In our human-dominated landscape, most natural processes have been altered. At this site, fire suppression over the past several decades has allowed the former barrens landscape to convert to white pine and oak-dominated closed canopy forest. Pitch pine and scrub oak cannot regenerate under these conditions. The wildlife that depends on the more open barrens and plants associated with those barrens cannot survive. Thirty percent (30%) of threatened species in Massachusetts depend upon some type of disturbance, usually fire, to maintain their habitat.

Won’t animals be hurt by this project?

Some animals may be harmed during the logging operation, but we are conducting the work in the late fall to reduce this possibility. Bats will already be in hibernation, birds have migrated, and it is not nesting or breeding season. Birds and mammals can move to avoid direct impacts. Salamanders and frogs will be the most vulnerable to the logging activity; however, we are leaving an additional buffer around our one vernal pool, and approximately 50% of their upland habitat area will be untouched.

Do you have permission to do this work?

Yes. The original Forest Stewardship Plan and the Cutting Plan for this project were reviewed and approved by the District Service Forester of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (MNHESP) reviewed the Forest Stewardship Plan and the Cutting Plan. The MNHESP determined that they do not expect activities in the proposed plan to negatively impact the rare species habitat or result in a “take” of plant or animal species protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).

Although not required to do so, SVT delineated all of the wetlands near the Phase II project area. The Cutting Plan was reviewed by the Sudbury Conservation Commission; modifications to the cutting plan were made based on the commission’s feedback and comments (such as increasing the buffer from Hop Brook).

We acquired additional permits and permissions from the USFWS Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts DCR, the MBTA and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline to cross over their respective properties for logging access and operations.