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Restoration of Sugar Maple Stand

Posted: Thu Feb 06, 2020 10:06 am
by JHarkness

I thought I'd share the story of my efforts to heal an abused stand of young sugar maples on my land in eastern New York. This site was cow pasture as recently as the late 1970s, since then it slowly turned into a thicket of multiflora rose and buckthorn, and now has been replaced primarily by sugar maple, white ash and a few black cherries. Two years ago the majority of the "understory" consisted of Japanese barberry and garlic mustard, and the overstory was so crowded that on windy days nothing could be heard over the clanking of twigs.

My work began with removing the invasive plants in the understory, which has been a tedious process, and still has not yet been completed, but the worst thickets are now gone. Within just a few months, white snakeroot and herb Robert had appeared in the stand, I imagine they were simply suppressed beneath the barberry.

Last winter, I decided to thin the stand and use the cut trees for firewood and to increase the mostly non-existent coarse woody debris on the forest floor. I removed the subordinate trees only, mostly those with crown deformities or other evidence that they were not doing well, I gave favor to the largest and healthiest trees in the stand. Much of the cut logs I left behind as coarse woody debris, and the crowns I piled up to protect regeneration. I also girdled a number of more substantial trees crowding those I wished to favor.

Though neither the thinning or the invasive plant removal are by any means finished now, I can look back on it as something immensely positive. The increased sunlight, though minimal, has led to a massive increase in native forest floor vegetation - the two species already mentioned are thriving now and many new species have appeared - and the remaining trees have already shown a positive response to the thinning, one particular maple amazed me when its highly deformed crown recovered almost fully in a single growing season. One particular white ash has grown incredibly well in 2019 and is presently just shy of 100' of height. The best part? It is still in perfect health despite the demise of all of its neighbors to EAB! Now red trilliums grow in the stand and are slowly starting to spread. Wood and Christmas ferns are now thriving, white wood asters and jewelweed grow along the stream which rarely ever contained flowing water before the thinning, and which was eroding severely before I removed the barberry. Amazingly, a species of orchid that I have never seen here before has suddenly appeared in this stand. I have also planted a number of herbaceous species that grow in the area, but haven't yet found their way to this stand - I have planted ostrich ferns, mayapple, wild leeks, wild ginger, maidenhair ferns and a few others here, and all are doing well so far.

Recently, I moved a stack of logs to finish drying elsewhere and had to leave the bottom layer as I found red-backed salamander eggs beneath several of the logs. Before this thinning, there was simply no woody debris on the forest floor large enough to serve as an egg-laying site for this species.

Such are the benefits of immersing oneself in the ecology of place and using one's own needs to benefit the well-being of the entire biotic community. I am sure some will argue that I am somehow violating the wildness of this place, making it somehow less "natural", but the health of the land interests me far more than the opinions of those who do not live in connection with it.

If I can find any photographs I took of the stand this year, I'll be sure to upload them here.


Re: Restoration of Sugar Maple Stand

Posted: Thu Feb 06, 2020 10:31 am
by JHarkness
The tall white ash
The tall white ash
Red wake robin
Red wake robin
Wolf tree along trail
Wolf tree along trail

Re: Restoration of Sugar Maple Stand

Posted: Thu Feb 06, 2020 8:55 pm
by Rand
Must be a great sense of accomplishment to turn a scrudgy weed-heap into a beautiful forest. Sounds like the spring perennials have a pretty good seed bank built up in the soil, and all it needs is a little TLC to bring them back.

In NW Ohio the EAB kill rate has been something like 99% for forest grown trees, and 90% for open grown trees..and most of those look none-too-pretty anymore. Count yourself lucky that you still have a good one.

Re: Restoration of Sugar Maple Stand

Posted: Fri Feb 07, 2020 2:43 pm
by Lucas
Rand wrote:
Thu Feb 06, 2020 8:55 pm
Must be a great sense of accomplishment to turn a scrudgy weed-heap into a beautiful forest.

I admire the resolve, effort and dedication in the face of a Sisyphean task.

Re: Restoration of Sugar Maple Stand

Posted: Sun Feb 09, 2020 11:49 am
by dbhguru

Kudos to you. It give us hope that careful stewardship can bring back natural flora.