Habitat Management at Smith Conservation Land

Photo by Louis Calisi.
Smith Conservation Area-May 2021-Louis Calisi
Photo by Louis Calisi.

SVT is restoring high-quality habitat in areas that have been damaged by Asian bittersweet.

The Smith Conservation Land in Littleton has outstanding conservation values: It hosts multiple habitat types, contains three high-quality vernal pools, and is considered a high-priority area for protection by the state’s BioMap2 ranking system. 

Red Pine with Asian Bittersweet

Unfortunately, the Smith land also hosts aggressive invasive plants that have severely compromised its habitat values. Most notably, Asian bittersweet has spread across 22 acres of this 54-acre conservation land, strangling trees and displacing all other vegetation in its path. The Smith land also has a large stand of red pine and European tamarack trees, neither of which are native.

Over time, we will reduce the abundance of invasive plants and remove the pine and tamarack plantations so a native forest can be restored. Trees such as sugar maple, oaks, and black cherry will fill the forest canopy, while the understory will abound with maple-leaf viburnum and winterberry shrubs as well as ebony spleenwort ferns and wildflowers like wild columbine, starflower, striped wintergreen, and white aster. 

To achieve this goal, we are deploying a variety of invasive plant control tactics: repeated cutting, root extraction, hand pulling, smothering, and possibly the use of goats or pigs. We are also using a limited amount of herbicides targeted only to the invasive plants.

Invasive Bittersweet. Photo by Lisa Eggleston.

We have worked closely with the Littleton Conservation Trust (which owns a conservation restriction over SVT’s land) and experienced ecologists to ensure we are using environmentally sound and effective methods. We have addressed concerns that area residents had about the impact of herbicide treatments, and our plans have been approved by both local and state authorities.

The Smith Conservation Land is also the site of a popular trail that SVT and LCT maintain for public enjoyment. The trail has remained open throughout the project, although there are occasional trail closures that are posted at the trail head.

Project Updates

January 2024

SVT, with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is performing tree cutting and removal on 7.5 acres at Smith Conservation Land. The work will start on January 8 and continue for about 2 weeks. This clearing work is part of the larger habitat restoration effort at this property. We will remove tree species that are not well-suited for the habitat type and climate in this region, allowing native species to take their place.

The red trail on the east side of Whitcomb Avenue will be closed while the clearing work takes place. The blue and yellow trails on the west side of the road will remain open for use. 

Fall 2022

SVT developed a comprehensive management plan for the control of invasive plants. We are implementing various control techniques to compare their rates of success and the resources they require. 

SVT established two demonstration plots in the 100-foot wetland buffer zone of the red pine plantation (Management Unit 1). In one plot, we are excavating the roots and attempting to completely remove the bittersweet. In the second plot, we are cutting all bittersweet vines two to three times per year.

Throughout the growing season, SVT staff, contractors, and volunteers excavate Asian bittersweet roots in the 50-foot buffer zone of the wetlands in the Residential Buffer of the red pine stand and the European tamarack stand (Management Unit 2).

SVT staff laid down cardboard and wood chips over an area in the southeast corner of the property in an attempt to smother all vegetation, including any bittersweet that is resprouting. The goal is to kill existing vegetation and eventually to put down a native seed mix.

SVT hired Bay State Forestry Service to conduct herbicide applications to Asian bittersweet in Management Units 1, 2, and 5. This has included cut-stump and foliar applications. Backpacks with handheld sprayers have been used to carefully target only the bittersweet and some other invasive shrubs. This treatment was expanded to Units 3 and 4 beginning in late Fall 2022.

Project Documents and Background Research

As part of the approval process, we conducted extensive research and compiled several reports and updates, as listed below: