WARWICK — With fog hanging low on a cool, damp afternoon, roughly two dozen people walked through the Song Memorial Forest Wednesday to learn about Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s forest management efforts following an October 2019 windstorm.
The heavy windstorm impacted the Orange-Warwick region, including the 83-acre Song Memorial Forest, which has been owned by Mount Grace since 2001. Speaking to the group Wednesday, forester Mike Mauri explained the different management approaches that were used to sustain and promote overall biodiversity. Both active logging and passive no-cut approaches were combined as Mount Grace aimed to stimulate tree growth and generate timber income as part of an ongoing system of sustainable timber production.
Guiding the group through the property along a rough path, Mauri stopped a handful of times to explain what work had or hadn’t been conducted in certain areas. Some areas that were impacted by the blowdown were left alone, partly to remain as an example of the heavy damage. As a side note, he added that bears will sometimes excavate dens below the root mass of a blown-over tree.
“We accomplished a number of things, and one thing we accomplished was nothing,” he said. “In other words, there is a significant part of the forest where we didn’t do anything to it. We just left it the way it was.”
In other areas, Mount Grace conducted “thinning,” where they removed some trees to provide the remaining ones with better conditions to improve their growth. Mauri explained that by taking away some of the competing trees, it allows the sun to reach established and young trees, increasing photosynthesis.
“Our purpose in cutting wasn’t just to take timber and sell it, but it was to influence the forest in a constructive way,” Mauri said.
Mount Grace aimed to be minimally disruptive to the forest while promoting diverse growth of the native tree species. One method of promoting growth, Mauri said, is “acorn squishing.” Mauri explained that most acorns that fall on the ground do not germinate because they are either eaten or completely dried out. By walking along the path, or driving the heavy machinery used in the project over them, Mount Grace helped “squish” the acorns into the ground, promoting the growth of oak trees.
“Give it a few years and you’ll see the young trees, and even some blackberries,” Mauri said. “It’s going to be an exciting habitat.”
Mount Grace Executive Director Emma Ellsworth said the conservation nonprofit initially did not intend to conduct these management practices so soon after the storm. However, Mauri relayed to her that property abutter Ted Cady was conducting work on his own land and “insisted” Mount Grace take advantage of the equipment that was already in the area. Ellsworth said this allowed for a timely cut, and to conduct some “really exciting and creative” forest management.
“It also allowed Mount Grace to make some needed revenue just as the pandemic was hitting, when our fundraising was struggling,” Ellsworth said. “We got to habitat work we wanted to do, we got to salvage wood that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to cut, and we earned some money and contributed to the local timber industry.”
Mauri said Mount Grace partnered with a father and son team, Jason and Warren Spaulding, from “just over the hillside” in Winchester, N.H. for the logging work. In addition to timber, the logging and cutting produced approximately 40 cords of firewood, most of which Mauri said was distributed locally. By distributing the firewood nearby, he said it not only helps support local commerce but prevents the transportation of invasive species or insects from one region to another.
“It’s now in people’s homes around the area,” Mauri said. “Maybe they’ve already started burning it.”
Some of the timber was shipped to domestic businesses, like Green Crow Corporation in Andover, N.H., as well as international businesses. Jason Spaulding said there is a strong market for timber in countries like China or India, because the same high-quality hardwood commonly found in North American forests does not grow there. The project produced roughly 160,000 feet of timber, which Mauri said filled about 40 logging trucks.Zack DeLuca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4579.