Desert Natural Area Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens Habitat Restoration
- Current Project Status
- Conservation Significance
- Project Description
- Photos and Videos
- FAQ: 2013 (Phase 1)
- FAQ: 2016 (Phase II)
Since 2013, SVT has been conducting formal surveys each spring for whip-poor-wills. Unfortunately, for most of those years, we have not been hearing the whip-poor-wills (affectionatley known as "whips"). Have you heard any whip-poor-wills? If so, please contact Laura Mattei at [email protected].
Due to the dramatic declines in whip sightings, MassWildlife teamed up with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute to study whips. You can find out more about their study here. And you can listen to an interview on WGBH here.
Phase II of our efforts to restore the globally rare Pitch-pine/scrub oak barrens at SVT's Memorial Forest was completed in 2017. The Phase II management area is located between the old rail line, Hop Brook and Cranberry Brook. Unit A, 15 acres, was heavily thinned (50%) in preparation for a burn that will take place in approximately three years. We are observing regeneration and conducting annual vegetation surveys to evaluate conditions. Unit B, 35 acres, was thinned and no further action will be taken for approximately 10 years or more. (Please see map of Units A and B.)
Over the last seven years, SVT has been removing and treating invasive plants throughout the Memorial Forest. Many volunteer groups have been manually removing glossy buckthorn. SVT had hired a contractor to conduct cut and dab treatments of larger invasive shrubs along the Cranberry Brook and Hop Brook corridors. These efforts will improve plant diversity over time and mitigate the spread of invasive plants to other areas.
The City of Marlborough is focusing on continued invasive plant control before expanding the restoration area on their property.
This project is part of a larger statewide and regional effort to protect biological diversity. Below are quotes from some of our partners and other conservation professionals.
“In the impressive protected confluence area of Sudbury, Marlborough, Hudson, and Stow, a legacy of our heritage is being thoughtfully restored by the Sudbury Valley Trustees. The rare pitch pine/scrub oak habitat is reappearing, a local version of Myles Standish State Forest and the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Bulging with uncommon plants and animals on sandy soils, even sustained by occasional fire, the place will highlight a key piece of the region’s history. Like priceless resources in a museum or a town library, this habitat warrants our careful restoration and sustained protection. Imagine an inspirational and educational spot so close to us all!” - Richard T. T. Forman, SVT Board Member, and editor, Pine Barrens: Ecosystem and Landscape
"Inland Pine Barrens such as those occurring in the Desert Natural Area are globally rare natural communities and represent one of the highest conservation priorities in Massachusetts for preserving regional biodiversity. Unfortunately, the majority of Inland Pine Barren communities that remain in the state are now highly degraded due to nearly a century of fire suppression across the landscape. Considering the rarity of this community-type and its general continued decline across its range, it's very exciting to see the restoration and management efforts that are taking place at The Desert. Opportunities to restore functioning Inland Pine Barren communities have become increasingly rare across the Northeast, making the work undertaken at The Desert an important project in the regional conservation of this important resource." - Chris Buelow, Restoration Ecologist, Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
"Pitch Pine - Scrub Oak Barrens are an important habitat for many species, including some that depend specifically on barrens habitat. Sudbury Valley Trustees’ efforts at the Desert Natural Area is highly beneficial for a suite of plants and wildlife including many rare and declining species. This is exactly the kind of stewardship that is needed in Massachusetts if we are to save our natural heritage statewide and regionally. Much of this habitat has been lost or is highly degraded in the Northeast. Larger and functioning habitats based on natural processes or those that mimic natural processes are more resilient to threats including those from impending climate change. Furthermore, having been involved in similar barrens management across Massachusetts, visitors overwhelmingly enjoy these habitats after restoration finding the open woodlands and small clearings both aesthetically and recreationally interesting." - Russ Hopping, Ecology Program Director, The Trustees
"SVT's pitch pine-scrub oak restoration project in Memorial Forest will help stem the decline of bird species who are dependent on early successional habitat, such as the Eastern Whip-poor-will, Prairie Warbler, and Brown Thrasher. Early successional habitat is a natural component of pitch pine-scrub oak forests, and thoughtfully applied forestry and prescribed burns can effectively restore the ecological function in these systems." - Jeff Ritterson, Forest Bird Conservation Fellow, MassAudubon (Learn more about the State of Birds in Massachusetts.)
"Grassroots Wildlife Conservation, a non-profit dedicated to rare species conservation in Massachusetts, is fully in support of Sudbury Valley Trustees' management plan to thin existing forest in the Desert Natural Area and to maintain the resulting savanna, meadow and scrub habitat with occasional prescribed fires. We know, from our own experience, that non-forested and thinly wooded areas of sandy upland are among the rarest and most critical habitat features in our Massachusetts landscape. Dozens of rare and declining species, from birds such as brown thrasher and blue-winged warbler, to reptiles such as eastern box turtles and black racers, to insects, such as frosted elfin butterflies and twelve-spotted tiger beetles, to rare wildflowers, including New England blazing star and butterfly milkweed, depend on open areas with dry, sandy soil. In the past, frequent natural fires would have maintained many open sandplains in New England. Grassroots Wildlife Conservation commends the SVT for their innovative and well-considered management actions and proposals for greatly boosting the value of the Desert Natural Area to our local biodiversity." - Bryan Windmiller, Executive Director, Grassroots Wildlife Conservation
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.
Invasive Species Control
Pitch pine-scrub oak barrens restoration
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.
Forest Stewardship Plans for Conservation Lands within the Desert Natural Area:
- Forest Stewardship Plan for SVT's General Federation of Women's Clubs of Massachusetts Memorial Forest
- Forest Stewardship Plan for The City of Marlborough's Desert Natural Area
- Forest Stewardship Plan for the Town of Sudbury's Hop Brook Brook Conservation Area
- Forest Management Proposal for the Department of Conservation & Recreation Bureau of Forestry
This project is supported by grants from:
- The Sudbury Foundation
- Foundation for Metrowest
- National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Pulling Together Initiative
- USDA NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
- Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Forest Stewardship Program
- MassWildlife Landowner Incentives Program (LIP)