On May 25, the Rochester Land Trust (RLT) invited the public to walk the Church’s Wildlife Preserve, a property it owns and manages on Marion Road.
The event was titled “Forest Management/Logging Walk and Talk” featuring forestry expert Phil Benjamin whose grasp of the natural cycles of woodlands was on full display.
Walkers learned that after the RLT secured the 20.8-acre parcel from local farmer and mill owner George Church, they engaged Benjamin to assist in creating a forestry plan that would improve the landscape.
As Benjamin recalled, that took place some 10 years ago when Church was instructive in how he wished the property to be handled after selling it to the RLT. Those instructions included no logging activity.
Determined to be respectful of Church’s wishes, the RLT stepped away from a cutting plan Benjamin had developed. After Church’s passing, it was time to implement what all concerned believed to be the best plan for the forest, selective logging.
“It was desperately in need of cutting,” Benjamin stated. Recently Benjamin returned to develop a new plan. What he found now after an additional decade of unaltered growth were the trees that once were saplings had become full-grown groves of thin pine mingled with blown-downs that created rat nests of tangled trees, making it impossible to move along the forest floor. It was time to secure new permits from both state and local agencies – time to help the woodlands.
“We had to get approval from the MassWildlife Natural Heritage and Endangered Species (MNHES) Program,” Benjamin said. Evidence of the threatened Eastern box turtle was apparent in the forest.
The MNHES restricted cutting to the winter months between November and March when the turtles would be hibernating. These restrictions were nothing new to Benjamin whose plans included being careful to keep manmade disturbances at a minimum.
Looking deep into the thickly wooded wall of trees, Benjamin said foresters have to take into consideration the next generation of trees, not just the full-grown specimens. He said that the Church Preserve is primarily a white pine forest, but that other types of tree were also present, although not dominate. In keeping with what was naturally growing, his plan would create a healthy environment for pines.
Benjamin explained that by creating holes in the canopy, sunlight could permeate through to the ground below – ground that was covered with seeds waiting to germinate. As the loggers enter the forest, “They try to minimize damage while locating the trees we’ve marked for removal.”
Using an elaborate set of markings that are placed at the base of the trees in a kind of sign language of dots, dashes, and other markings, the forester communicates to the logger which trees are to be removed and which are to be left in place.
“Last winter, crews came in and began cutting. … They did a fabulous job,” Benjamin confirmed. He stressed the importance of using loggers whose understanding of the plan and willingness to adhere to it makes all the difference between a forest that is heavily disrupted by cutting and one that will benefit from the effort.
“Mother Nature is very forgiving,” Benjamin went on to say. “In a short period of time, the forest recovers.”
The logging produced 100,000 board feet of wood that the RLT sold, netting $9,000 after paying expenses.
Heading a bit deeper into the property, Benjamin pointed out that the purpose of selective cutting is to try and replicate what nature itself might do. Trees that are packed too tightly cannot become healthy specimens, nor does it allow the precious sunlight to warm the damp forest floor rich with seeds.
Along with Benjamin was forester Tom Farrell. He said that a secondary benefit to logging in a prescribed manner is that insects could thrive better, and insects are protein for young birds.
“It allows more biodiversity,” he explained, as young birds need the protein supplied by the insects while the insects need the rotting wood shavings and fallen trees as their food supply.
Farrell talked about creating a forest that allows trees of varying age groups to thrive. As one age group reaches full maturity it can be cut, leaving behind strong succeeding generations.
Church Preserve also contains walking trails that meander through the now sun-streaked forest, and near the parking area is an old stone root cellar that the RLT has renovated by placing fallen stones back into their original positions.
Now with the logging operation complete, the RLT welcomes visitors to enjoy this and its other properties. To learn more about the Rochester Land Trust and walking trails open to the public ‘like’ them on Facebook or visit www.rochesterlandtrust.org.
By Marilou Newell