Desert Natural Area Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens Habitat Restoration
- Current Project Status
- Conservation Significance
- Project Description
- Photos and Videos
- Fire FAQs
- FAQ: 2016 (Phase II)
Effective May 1, 2021, all conservation land owners in the Desert Natural Area have enacted a dog-leash policy. Visitors are asked to keep their pets on leash at all times to help protect wildlife and sensitive resources, and to ensure a pleasant experience for all. People and their pets should stay on trails. Read the policy.
Great Oak Services mowed the 15-acre area around the Desert Loop Trail of SVT's Memorial Forest January 18 - 20th. The goal of the mowing is to create a layer of woody debris on the ground that will provide better fuel for a subsequent prescribed burn.
SVT and representatives of MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) toured Memorial Forest and the Desert Natural Area to assess the site and make plans for the next prescribed burn. The NHESP representatives were impressed with the condition of the property. They noted an abundance of scrub oak as well as the presence of several plants that are characteristic of these types of barrens, such as Labrador Tea and pinweed.
They also offered advice for how we can best prepare the site for a burn in 2022. SVT will be mowing (masticating) the cleared areas around the Desert Loop Trail in Winter 2020-2021 in preparation for the next burn. (SVT and the City of Marlborough had planned a burn for Spring 2020, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.)
SVT and the City of Marlborough hired Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC to prepare an updated Burn Plan for 56 acres on SVT's Memorial Forest and 8 acres on City of Marlborough's Desert Natural Area.
The Burn Plan has been approved by MassWildlife for restoration of rare species habitat. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has issued a burn permit. Both the Marlborough and Sudbury Fire Chiefs have reviewed the plan, met with our consultant and are supportive of the prescribed burns. An Order of Conditions has been issued by the Sudbury Conservation Commission for work within and abutting wetland resource areas.
If you would like to be on an email list of regular updates about the project, please contact Laura Mattei at [email protected].
View a map of the proposed burn units.
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
- 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
Phase II clearing work 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 prescribed burn. Unit B, 35 acres, was thinned and may be burned to improve ground level site conditions but no trees will be cut or harvested for at least another 5 years. (Please see map.)
Slides from a public presentation several years ago can be found at these links:
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) Bureau of Forestry has finalized a prescription that is posted on their web site. Their proposal includes thinning of dying red pine stands, improving oak and white pine stands and 23 acres of pitch pine-scrub oak habitat 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 has been supported by grants from:
- Hollis Declan Leverett Memorial Fund, Bank of America Co-Trustee
- 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)