22-acre section in Athol's Bearsden Conservation Area being logged
ATHOL — Cutting is under way in a section of the Bearsden Conservation Area as part of a forest management plan that could see the acreage adjacent to the railroad tracks and the Millers River returned to an “early successional habitat.”
Michael Stange and a crew are logging about 22 acres. Trees selected by forester Michael Mauri, who developed the management plan for the Conservation Commission, are being taken. Most are white pines.
Former Department of Conservation and Recreation employee David Small, who is a member of the Athol Bird & Nature Club, recently approached the ConCom about seeking a state grant to fund the creation of an early successional habitat. With the ConCom’s support, he and ConCom member Jamie Briggs wrote the grant application, said ConCom chair Robert Muzzy on Monday during a site visit to the location being considered. The ConCom is still awaiting word on whether the grant will be awarded.
If the grant is awarded, Small will serve as project advisor for the creation of the early successional habitat.
Now retired, Small worked for the DCR’s Division of Water Supply Protection as assistant regional director at Quabbin Reservoir. “Most of my life now is volunteering my more than 30 years of land and wildlife management experience,” he said.
As two examples, he is an associate member of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Advisory Committee for the state’s Division of Fisheries and a member of the Wildlife Ware River Watershed Advisory Committee (DCR).
The total grant funding being sought for the creation of an early successional habitat is $24,610.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, an early succession habitat is an area “with vigorously growing grasses, [flowering] forbs, shrubs and trees which provide excellent food and cover for wildlife but need disturbance to be maintained. Examples of early successional habitats include weedy areas, grasslands, old fields or pastures, shrub thickets (e.g. dogwood or alder), and young forest. If these habitats are not mowed, brush hogged, burned, cut, grazed or disturbed in some other fashion, they will eventually become forest over time. Grasslands will revert to old fields. Old fields will eventually grow into young forests. Young forests will grow into mature forests. This process is referred to as succession. As such, grasslands, old fields, and young forests are often referred to as early successional habitats.”
Additionally, the NRCS notes that early successional habitats are important because various wildlife species that depend on those open habitats are lost to those areas when those areas mature or are developed. “While some species such as black bear (and many others) don’t require early successional habitat, it provides a valuable feeding area (think berries and apples) that can help improve their condition,” according to the NRCS.
Much of the area of focus in the Bearsden Conservation Area was once agricultural farmland. In addition to the current logging, work to restore an early successional habitat would include the removal of the closed tree canopy and the mulching of remaining slash to provide a seedbed for the regeneration of an early successional forest. The grant application notes the species to benefit would include black bear, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, gray squirrel, bobcat, whip-poor-will, black-billed cuckoo, Nashville warbler, Eastern towhee, prairie warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, field sparrow, brown thrasher, blue-winged warbler, white-throated sparrow, and New England cottontail. Additionally, the habitat is desirable for those species in post-fledging life stages, such as wood thrush, scarlet tanager and broad-winged hawk.
While surveying the area Monday, Small suggested some “controlled” burns at some point could aid in plant regeneration.
Visiting the site on Monday, were Muzzy, Mauri, Small, Briggs, and DCR Service Forester Fletcher Clark. Also on hand were Stange and his crew. The group stressed it is important that recreational users of the conservation area understand the work being undertaken. In addition to the possible creation of an early successional habitat, it was noted the current logging is, in part, removing a fire hazard while also providing a source of revenue for the town.
Muzzy said that, to date, about $10,000 has been spent on logging in Bearsden, at Ward Hill and at the water department’s South Athol Road property. In return, the town has received about $44,000.
Logging will also be done in the near future at the town-owned property on South Athol Road commonly referred to as the Bidwell property.
Looking ahead, the group noted that species monitoring would be undertaken in the early successional growth habitat area, and that the area would create additional recreational opportunities that would be fully realized in about two to three years. Aside from the general public, groups such as the local scout troops, local schools, the ABNC and the North Quabbin Trails Association, have long used the conservation area.
A public promotion will be undertaken to make users aware of the early successional habitat and its benefits. In addition, Briggs is to create signage to be posted at the main entrance to the conservation area explaining the importance of the current forest management work.