Projects

Cowassock Woods Deer Management

"There are no young, regenerating trees and many of our native plants and flowers have disappeared", a view of deer impacts at Cowassock Woods.
"There are no young, regenerating trees and many of our native plants and flowers have disappeared", a view of deer impacts at Cowassock Woods.
Starting in the fall of 2015, SVT is implementing a pilot project to begin to reduce an overpopulated deer herd that has significantly degraded the vegetation and wildlife habitat at Cowassock Woods in Framingham and Ashland.
To assist us in this effort, two SVT-approved bow hunters will be allowed to hunt at Cowassock Woods from November 18, 2015 through December 31, 2015. The property will not be open to hunting by the general public and there will be no use of firearms.
By taking this step, SVT is joining other conservation organizations and municipalities who are working together to address the serious impacts caused by too many deer who browse and devour young tree seedlings and wildflowers. These woods have no future. There are no young, regenerating trees and many of our native plants and flowers have disappeared. Invasive, non-native plants that deer don’t like are on the rise. In turn, we are losing the birds and other animals that use the understory for nesting and feeding.
In addition to the ecological impacts, there are also increased human health and safety impacts associated with an overpopulated deer herd. The incidence of Lyme disease has increased tremendously; deer are one of the principle vectors of Lyme disease. Deer-car collisions also increase in areas of higher deer densities.
SVT is a member and coordinator for the West Suburban Conservation Council (WSCC) which is a collaboration of over 40 local land trusts, municipal boards and other conservation entities. In 2010, WSCC identified deer impacts on forest health to be a priority for action.
SVT is joining many others in a regional effort to address this problem. Many towns, including Framingham, have begun deer management programs. Other towns in our area that have some level of deer hunting programs include Berlin, Concord, Dover, Marlborough, Northborough, Sudbury, Westborough, Westford, and Weston. The Trustees of Reservations has instituted deer hunting on approximately 3/4 of their properties in order to maintain the ecological health of their conservation lands. Greenbelt, a regional land trust north of Boston has had a hunting-by-permission program for many years.
You can find more information about deer impacts and deer management at the WSCC web pages.

Bluebird Box Monitoring

A Framingham nest box with a successful start tot he spring season, photograph by Pam Keeney.
A Framingham nest box with a successful start tot he spring season, photograph by Pam Keeney.
Although pesticides and competition negatively impacted bluebirds in the early and mid-20th century, they have recovered well in recent years and are stable or increasing both as breeding and wintering birds. In fact, the most recent Concord Christmas Bird Count - the 55th - recorded 643 of the birds; a number 40% higher than in any previous count. Much of this recovery is thanks to bluebird boxes that provide nesting locations for the cavity nesters. 
In 2015, SVT is monitoring a total of 48 boxes in Framingham, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, and Westborough by 12 dedicated volunteers. 
Monitoring nestboxes alerts us to problems birds may be having with predators and competitors. House sparrows (sometimes called English sparrows) and European starlings are non-native species introduced from Europe. Their aggressive seizure of cavity nest sites is a primary reason for declines in eastern bluebird populations.

Purple Loosestrife Bio-Control Project

SVT staff and volunteers ready the host plants for the raising of beetles at Wolbach Farm during spring of 2015.
SVT staff and volunteers ready the host plants for the raising of beetles at Wolbach Farm during spring of 2015.
Our wetlands are being severely threatened by purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Purple loosestrife is a highly invasive, perennial aquatic plant that grows from persistent roots. The annual stems can reach 9 feet tall and form a crown that can be up to 5 feet wide. The showy, magenta flowering stems end in a 4-16 inch flowering spike. 
In the mid to late 1800’s, purple loosestrife traveled to northeastern port cities as ship ballast from European tidal flats. When this ballast was dumped for the return trip to Europe, a major seed source remained along the eastern seaboard. For the next 100 years it was a pioneer species while it acclimated to the northeastern seaboard and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Purple loosestrife outcompetes native vegetation and can quickly adapt to environmental changes. Wildlife and birds of all kinds are displaced from wetland habitat when they lose their food source, nesting material, and ground cover.
In order to preserve wetland ecosystems, many organizations across the country have initiated a purple loosestrife biological control program. Biological control is the control of an invasive species using a natural predator. These programs have had success in lowering the density and slowing the spread of purple loosestrife. The most popular biological control agent for purple loosestrife is Galerucella beetles. These beetles eat and breed specifically on purple loosestrife. 
SVT is participating with a purple loosestrife bio-control project in 2015. The program is being coordinated by the SuAsCo CISMA (Cooperative Invasive Plant Management Area). CISMA is a partnership of private and government conservation organizations working together to combat invasive species in our watershed.
To establish a population of Galerucella beetles capable of impacting purple loosestrife, large numbers need to be introduced. Luckily, these leaf-eating beetles are prolific given the right conditions.
We started by creating an “artificial wetland”, kiddie pools filled with water. Purple loosestrife root stock was dug up shortly after snowmelt and planted in individual containers in the kiddie pools. 
As the plants grew, we monitored for diseases, parasites, and any potential beetle predators. Nets were used to keep predators and parasites out and later to keep the Galerucella beetles in. Adult beetles were ordered from a lab in New Jersey and arrived in early June, when the loosestrife was large enough to support them. 
Ten to fifteen beetles were added to each plant and they quickly began to breed. A female will lay about 10 eggs a day for several weeks. Estimates range from 500-2,000 beetles that will be produced from one plant. 
The first generation of offspring will typically emerge in 5-8 weeks, depending on conditions. Ours started to emerge after 6 weeks and as of July 27th, 30 plants inoculated with beetles have now being introduced to purple loosestrife sites selected by CISMA along the Sudbury River.

Small Field Restoration

SVT staff, volunteers and neighbors are working to restore a historic field at the corner of Grove and Edmands Road in Framingham.
SVT staff, volunteers and neighbors are working to restore a historic field at the corner of Grove and Edmands Road in Framingham.
Sudbury Valley Trustees staff, volunteers and neighbors have been working together to restore the Waters and Weir field at the corner of Grove and Edmands Road in Framingham. SVT has had the field mowed annually (by the Hansons). However, over time, invasive plants such as multiflora rose and Oritental bittersweet vine have steadily encroached, negatively impacting the habitat and the view. Clearing out the invasive brush will restore the meadow habitat as well as provide for a more pleasant viewing experience. Additionally, SVT has been using biocontrol to reduce the abundance and vigor of the invasive purple loosestrife in the field. This entails the release of a beetle (Galerucella) that feeds only on purple loosestrife. The field hosts, among others, eastern bluebirds, common yellowthroats, and American woodcock. We would like to especially thank Pam Keeney, Dave Panich, Dave Moore, Bill Fadden and George Harrington for their efforts and support in moving this project forward. 

Partnership to Monitor and Protect Cold-Water Streams

Brook trout photo by SVT Director Bruce Osterling.
Brook trout photo by SVT Director Bruce Osterling.
Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT) is partnering with the Organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers (OARS) to monitor and protect local streams.  OARS received a $20,768 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. The grant funds work to assess, protect and restore streams with native brook trout in Sudbury, Hudson and Marlborough. This funding will enable OARS to assess current conditions, establish longer-term stream temperature monitoring to assess climate change impacts, and identify threats to habitat in the four Sudbury River streams known to have wild brook trout populations. Other partners include the Sudbury and Marlborough Conservation Commissions, Greater Boston Trout Unlimited, and USGS Conte Fish Research Laboratory.
“It is wonderful to find native brook trout living so close to the metropolitan Boston area,” noted Suzanne Flint, project leader and OARS Staff Scientist.  The proposal and effort builds on the results from the joint effort by MassWildlife, GBTU, SVT, and the Sudbury Conservation Commission, investigating streams in the town of Sudbury. The OARS project will contribute to a cutting-edge study of the impacts of climate disruption on local habitat and wildlife by the USGS Conte Lab.  OARS’ water and air temperature monitoring will be the eastern-most trout habitat data of the larger climate change study. “Native brook trout are a key cold water species for measuring the impact of climate disruption on local habitat,” she added.
Volunteer “citizen scientists” will be trained by OARS to assess stream condition and collect temperature and trout spawning data.  “Increasing the resilience of water resources, like these tributaries, is an important aspect of adapting to climate disruption so that drinking water, wildlife habitat and recreation are protected,” said Alison Field-Juma, OARS Executive Director.
According to Trust Executive Director Bill Hinkley, the Trust will provide roughly $500,000 in grants to more than 15 organizations this year, thanks to motorists who choose to purchase one of the Trust’s specialty license plates. “Trust plates, including our signature Whaletail and Trout plates, are the only specialty plates that exclusively fund environmental initiatives,” said Hinkley. “You purchase a plate from the Registry of Motor Vehicles and half the registry fee is donated to the Trust to fund water-focused environmental education and protection programs.”
A local success story, the Trust has become the Commonwealth’s premier environmental philanthropy since its inception in 1988. Its primary source of income is environmental license plate revenue which has funded more than 400 grants totaling approximately $15 million. “Since its inception, MET’s support of innovative research and outreach has been incredibly important to improving the management and enjoyment of our rivers,” noted Field-Juma.
It is easy to support environmental education, conservation or public awareness efforts funded by the Trust. Choose an environmental plate (Right Whale & Roseate Terns, Leaping Brook Trout, or Blackstone Valley Mill) when you purchase a new car or renew your registration with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The initial registration fee for your new plate is $50. The special plate fee is an additional $40 ($28 is tax-deductible; $12 is to manufacture the plate). Total first-time cost of your Specialty Plate is $90, with a renewal fee of $90 every two years.  Visit your local Registry of Motor Vehicles or order a plate online at www.mass.gov/rmv; or log onto www.mass.gov/eea/met where you can learn more about the Trust, the programs it supports, and the specialty license plate offerings. 

Greenways North Field Habitat Restoration

Glossy buckthorn has spread and dominates the central and eastern portions of the field. Photo by Chuck Walla
Glossy buckthorn has spread and dominates the central and eastern portions of the field. Photo by Chuck Walla
Cardboard was placed over a plot of land to prepare the site for planting of native wildflowers.
Cardboard was placed over a plot of land to prepare the site for planting of native wildflowers.
Contractors and volunteers work to improve wildlife habitat at Greenways in Wayland. Photo by Chuck Walla
Contractors and volunteers work to improve wildlife habitat at Greenways in Wayland. Photo by Chuck Walla
After the cardboard was removed, the plot was readied for planting.
After the cardboard was removed, the plot was readied for planting.
Volunteers helped to plant 1800 plugs into the plot.
Volunteers helped to plant 1800 plugs into the plot.
Fencing was installed to help ensure the natives would have a strong start.
Fencing was installed to help ensure the natives would have a strong start.
SVT volunteers getting ready to water wildflowers
SVT volunteers getting ready to water wildflowers
Restoration plot after 6 weeks of growth
Restoration plot after 6 weeks of growth
Restoration plot in bloom after 12 weeks of growth
Restoration plot in bloom after 12 weeks of growth
Look what’s happening at Greenways! Gone are the shrubs and in a field that just a few years ago was dominated by invasive plants such as Glossy buckthorn, Multiflora rose, and Purple loosestrife, an open field habitat has emerged.  Due to diligent management practices, SVT has been able to see a marked decline in the presence of these aggressive invasive species. Now, with invasive control efforts winding down, SVT is able to start planting for the future! With a suite of native grasses and wildflowers being planted this summer, the North Field at the Greenways Conservation Area begins the next step of its restoration back into a habitat where a diversity of butterflies and other pollinators will soon find a new home.
In 1995, our regional botanist, Frances Clark, described the north field as being “rich in both upland and wet meadow plant species.”  She went on to say that “the field has the greatest diversity of butterflies of any other habitat at the Greenways Conservation Area.  The numbers and coverage of invasive exotic species is low at this time.” 
Sadly, over the last 17 years, the quality of the field has dramatically declined.  The native flora diversity has declined precipitously, as has the number and diversity of butterflies.  Glossy buckthorn has spread and dominates the central and eastern portions of the field.  Multiflora rose is also common in the field.  Native plant diversity has declined with sensitive fern being dominant.
SVT initiated limited habitat restoration from 2005 to 2007.  With a grant from the Massachusetts Landowner Incentives Program, we hired a contractor to clear the field perimeters of invasive shrubs.  However, the glossy buckthorn in the field interior remained a problem that would require use of herbicides to effectively control.
In 2012 as part of a CISMA project, SVT received a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Pulling Together Initiative.  SVT hired the New England Wild Flower Society to conduct selective herbiciding of plants in the field.  Volunteers are also assisting with this effort.  It will require several years of treatment to yield the ultimate goal of reducing the invasive plant cover by over 75% and increasing the native plant and butterfly diversity.
 

Birds abound at Cedar Hill

The View from the side of Cedar Hill Reservation in Northborough
The View from the side of Cedar Hill Reservation in Northborough
By Laura Mattei
Six years ago we plunged into an ambitious project to restore shrubland habitat on the top and south-facing slope at the Cedar Hill Reservation in Northborough.  Before we started the project, the former pasture was a mix of old field, shrubs, and small trees.  Over several years we cleared 16 acres.  
The land clearing was simple, but dealing with the resultant surge of invasive plant growth was not.  Bush honeysuckle and Oriental bittersweet grew back with a vengeance in grand profusion.  Invasive plants love disturbance and lots of sunlight.  Over several years, we hired certified applicators to selectively spray herbicide on the invasive plants.
If you take a walk at Cedar Hill today, you will find a mix of grasses, forbs and shrubs.  We have significantly increased plant diversity throughout.  Based on the results of our photo-point monitoring and vegetation survey, we have significantly reduced invasive plant cover; however, we must remain vigilant.  We will most likely need to do another herbicide treatment to keep the invasive plants under control.  
Our primary goal for the project was to create habitat for shrubland bird species that have suffered recent population declines.  We succeeded!  Within just a few years, target bird species arrived to nest at the site.  These birds include the perky prairie warbler, the buzzy blue-winged warbler, and the stunningly beautiful indigo bunting.  While Eastern towhees had already been common at the site, we would have lost them had we let the land succeed to forest.
What’s missing?  Native shrubs.  While we have an excellent diversity of native plants, including some native shrubs and small trees, we are missing many of the native shrubs we would want to see at this site, such as high bush blue berry and arrowwood viburnum.  Our next step will be an attempt to reintroduce more native shrubs to the site.  We may do this by collecting and propagating seeds from nearby sources, and then planting the young plants.  Deer browsing threatens young plants and we will need to encircle plants with wire mesh while they become established.  
This is a long-term project.  We are fortunate to have achieved such positive results in such a short period of time, but we have many more years of effort to reach our full biodiversity goal.
This project has been supported by the following funders:

2011 Turtle Survey Summary

Join us for the The Great Turtle Search, which will run through mid-June.
Join us for the The Great Turtle Search, which will run through mid-June.
A group of volunteers participating in the Great Turtle Search at SVT's Memorial Forest.  Photo by Ray Nava
A group of volunteers participating in the Great Turtle Search at SVT's Memorial Forest. Photo by Ray Nava
SVT's Director of Stewardship, Laura Mattei, shows off a painted turtle during a recent count that was part of the Great Turtle Search at SVT's Memorial Forest.  Photo by Ray Nava
SVT's Director of Stewardship, Laura Mattei, shows off a painted turtle during a recent count that was part of the Great Turtle Search at SVT's Memorial Forest. Photo by Ray Nava
By Erin Snook, SVT-Americorps Community Outreach Coordinator
The goals for the Great Turtle Search were: 1) to reach out to local communities and involve neighbors in conservation by providing an active learning opportunity, and 2) to survey common and rare turtles living in the Desert Natural Area (including SVT's General Federation of Women's Clubs of Massachusetts Memorial Forest in Sudbury and Marlborough) to gain a general sense of turtle presence.  
        From April to June, we conducted 15 formal turtle surveys that brought over 130 volunteers into the Desert Natural Area.  With advice from turtle experts, we focused our search on areas where we thought we were most likely to find turtles.  On most of the surveys, volunteers were able to find turtles, especially when they were held on warm, sunny mornings.  The majority of the turtles seen were painted turtles (Chrysemys picta).  The official count on painted sightings (those recorded on data sheets by survey leaders) is 16, but we know from anecdotal accounts that the number was much higher; probably closer to 50.  The occasional snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentine) was also seen and several turtle nest sites were documented in sandy areas.  There is a video of a nesting snapping turtle on Nature Sightings.  
When the project began, we knew that the likelihood of finding rare turtles (Massachusetts Species of Special Concern: eastern box turtles, wood turtles and Blanding’s turtles; and spotted turtles, recently de-listed Species of Special Concern) was not great.  They are true to their “rare” status!  However, we worked to set up surveys in the prime habitats for these species and encouraged our dedicated volunteers to spend as much time in the Desert Natural Area as possible.  Previous scientific studies have shown that, more than large numbers of people, a high number of man-hours produces the most rare turtle sightings.
I am currently working on a report of our project and findings that I will send to the conservation landowners of the Desert Natural Area.  Landowners can use this information as biological data to take into consideration as they plan the management of their properties.  When healthy populations of rare species are determined to exist on a property, landowners often choose to manage/increase habitat that supports the particular animal.  Rare species reports have been sent to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.  More information on habitat management can be found in the May, 2011 report by NHESP, “Eastern Box Turtle Conservation Plan for Massachusetts”.
Sudbury Valley Trustees may decide to conduct additional turtle surveys in 2012, but they will likely be on a smaller scale.

Invasive Mappers

One of the volunteer teams working to map invasives at the Desert Natural Area, L-R - Karin Paquin, Anne Marie Brostrup-Jensen and Betty Wright
One of the volunteer teams working to map invasives at the Desert Natural Area, L-R - Karin Paquin, Anne Marie Brostrup-Jensen and Betty Wright
SVT endeavors to maximize the biological and ecological value of its properties. In some cases this requires active habitat restoration. Designing and enacting a management plan for a successful restoration requires an initial assessment of current conditions. The cover story of our June 2009 newsletter focused on restoring biological diversity at the Desert Natural Area, 900 acres of conserved lands in Marlborough and Sudbury, and the location of SVT’s Memorial Forest. One of the important surveys that we are conducting is locating and mapping invasive plant species. 
When SVT put out a call for assistance on this project, fifteen volunteers enthusiastically responded. This group met on multiple evenings at our headquarters at Wolbach Farm for a project overview and for training that included learning to identify the more common invasives, such as oriental bittersweet, glossy buckthorn, and Japanese barberry.  Additionally, all were instructed in mapping methodology and learned how to use a GPS. The volunteers then went on site, working in teams of 2-4 people, with SVT staff performing spot checks for quality control.  Mapping focused on “disturbance corridors,” which included existing trails, a rail line and a gas pipeline.  These areas were targeted because invasive plants are known to invade along disturbed and developed areas.  Some volunteers were also assigned to “bushwhacking” locations to see if invasive plants were also found in relatively undisturbed habitat.
Volunteers helping Stewardship with this endeavor included Anne Marie Brostrup-Jensen, Doug Johnson, Karin Paquin and Betty Wright of Marlborough, Renate Hanauer, Nancy Lomas, and Julie Theroux of Framingham, Jan Hardenbergh, Aiko Pinkoski, and Kate Ruh of Sudbury, Patrice McCabe and Craig Smith of Hudson, Brian Graves of Maynard, Bill Green of Cambridge, Dylan Harrison-Atlas of Newton, Cameron Shorb of Lincoln, and Holly Estes, Groton resident and Sudbury Public School teacher.
When asked about the experience, volunteers displayed a collective enthusiasm, describing it as an opportunity to meet or reconnect with friends, learn something new, help solve a problem, and have fun in the out-of-doors. For Betty Wright this area was already of interest.  “I have been doing a Botanical Inventory for the Desert Natural Area and the Invasive Mapping compliments the Inventory and gives me a deeper understanding of the plants and their distribution within this area.  This will be very useful as I get deeper into what I am doing next year.”  Craig Smith “enjoyed the chance to get out into the field and put mapping and plant identification skills to a useful purpose.” Karin Paquin stressed the opportunity to work as a team. “It was a lot of fun to go out on the trail as a team, identify invasives and know that this is part of a longer term process to not only identify problem areas in Memorial Forest but to eventually design and execute an eradication strategy.  We learned a lot about the forest and the different habitats within the forest.  We also learned a lot about each other.  I was very fortunate to be teamed up with a botanist so there were many ‘teachable moments.’ We learned a lot about other native species on the way.  We even found a couple of relatively rare native plants!”
The primary complaint from the volunteers seemed to be that they now see the proliferation of invasive plants everywhere they go.  Aiko Pinkoski recounts, “I have learned so much about invasives and how they are all around us that I now recognize them all over the place!  I'm now trying to do some control in my own yard and also helping with a town-wide volunteer effort.” Doug Johnson bemoans “invasives are everywhere, in museum parking lots, fancy hotel entrances, trails, streams, roads, friend’s yards. It is driving me crazy!”
Fortunately complaints are a very minor part of what the volunteers expressed.  Doug Johnson also mentions, “I felt like we were really doing something useful.  SVT and specifically Laura Mattei (Director of Stewardship) are the very best in volunteer coordination, communication and recognition. The training and support for this project was, as always, excellent.” Kate Ruh, as well, stresses the satisfaction of accomplishment. “I learned a lot about invasive plants and their impact on the environment.  It was really satisfying to see the big picture and know that I contributed something to that.”
Funding for the invasive mapping projects was provided by the Hollis Declan Leverett Memorial Fund (administered by Bank of America) and the National Park Service’s River Stewardship Council.
Thanks to these willing volunteers, SVT has far exceeded its mapping goal for the year, completing the entire Memorial Forest and most of the Desert Natural Area. We have prepared maps illustrating the abundance and distribution of each invasive species.  These same volunteers have committed to completing the remainder of the mapping next season and working on removal of small, isolated populations of invasive plants.  We are most grateful to all these volunteers. This huge undertaking would never have been possible without their able and dedicated assistance.