Smith Habitat Management

SVT seeks to maintain and enhance the biological and ecological values of lands while providing for compatible recreational uses. 

Habitats at Smith

The Smith Conservation Land has a diversity of special habitats including the Beaver Brook marshes, small fields, vernal pools, and pine-oak and hemlock forests, and it borders the Black Pond ravine. These habitats are home to salamanders and wood frogs that use the vernal pools for breeding and also to Blanding's turtles, a rare species that use the wetlands for feeding.

Unfortunately, 50% of the land is degraded by invasive plants and tree plantations. "Tree plantations" are a monoculture of non-native trees; at this site, tree plantations include red pine, European tamarack, and Norway spruce. Tree plantations are more susceptible to damage from pests and diseases over time and do not foster native plant and animal diversity.

The red pines are dying and Oriental bittersweet is taking over in this area. This is a safety hazard as well as an ecological hazard. 

SVT plans to remove the red pine and transition the area to sugar maple, mixed hardwoods and white pine with a diversity of native plants and shrubs.

The Importance of Native Plants

Native plant diversity yields diversity of all life. We know that when we have monocultures of invasive plants or non-native trees, we do not have the abundance of native plants that support the huge diversity of native insects that in turn support our birds and other wildlife.

For example, while birds may enjoy eating bittersweet berries, these berries do not have adequate fat reserves that are required for migration. Also, the bittersweet vines do not support the insects and caterpillars that our native birds need in the spring to feed their young.

A recent study found that birds preferentially feed on native fruits during migration, avoiding fruits from invasive plants even when native berries are scarce. SVT seeks to maximize the native plant diversity that is appropriate to the geology and soil conditions at our conservation areas. 

The Invasives Problem

Before cutting the red pines and introducing native trees, we must reduce the abundance and vigor of the invasive Oriental bittersweet vines. Invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity, second only to direct habitat destruction and fragmentation. Bittersweet is a particularly aggressive invasive plant that will explode in disturbed areas that are opened up to the sun.

Oriental bittersweet is the invasive plant that is most abundant and pervasive throughout the 24 acres of disturbed habitats at the Smith Conservation Land. Garlic mustard, narrow-leaved bittercress, and Dames rocket cover extensive areas of the property to the east of Whitcomb Avenue. Multiflora rose is quite common in the moister soil areas.

Other invasive plants found on the property include common barberry, burning bush, glossy buckthorn, purple loosestrife, and wall lettuce. Black swallow-wort was found in one small area, and we are working to prevent it from establishing at this site.

Fighting Invasives

Conservationists throughout the country have been dealing with the challenge of controlling invasive plants for many decades. Conservation best management practices typically call for a mix of mechanical and chemical control methods, dependent upon the plant species and site conditions.

Given the extremely pervasive and daunting problem of controlling invasive plants, SVT carefully chooses its battles. SVT focuses our efforts on those reservations that have higher ecological values and at which we believe we can dedicate resources over the long-term to control invasive plants.

At Smith Conservation Land, we have a unique opportunity of partnering with the Littleton Conservation Trust (LCT) on management strategies and implementation. LCT holds conservation restrictions over the land that provides additional conservation protections in perpetuity. LCT has a dedicated board and other volunteers who bring years of experience in conservation land management.

In February 2019, SVT invited representatives from MassWildlife and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to visit the site and to provide additional technical and funding advice. Subsequently, the NRCS, through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), drafted a management plan and provided SVT with a contract to control invasive plants and remove the dying red pine stand.

The NRCS plan called for the use of mechanical clearing and cut-stump chemical applications. The NRCS provides partial funding for the project, and SVT is in the process of conducting additional fundraising.

SVT is currently researching potential alternative strategies for control of the Oriental bittersweet as well as revisiting the science and potential risks in the use of triclopyr. Triclopyr is considered to be the most effective chemical for control of bittersweet. We anticipate using a mix of strategies for invasive plant management.