Lathrop’s “Free Fifty” Forest–An Amazing Achievement

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in Lathrop’s Lamp Post, Nov. 10, 2016)

November is a month of truth for a forest. Most native shrubs have lost their leaves or turned to muted colors. But some very dangerous invasive plants are still going strong, their vibrant colors now highly visible, as they crowd out native plants but fail to provide the food that native wildlife needs: 96% of birds need insects, not just nectar and seeds, to raise their young; 90% of insects eat only native plants (Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home).

Lathrop’s “Free Fifty” Forest project has been removing invasive plants from 50 acres of forest on both campuses. These before-and-after photos, taken 2 years apart in the same spot, tell the story of our amazing achievement. The top photo, taken in November of 2014, shows red leaves of invasive burning bush and yellow-green leaves of invasive honeysuckle invading our forest on the east campus. The bottom photo, taken two years later in Nov., 2016, shows all the invasives removed. Now the native winterberry (center left in the photo), as well as native high-bush blueberry and others are thriving in our woods, supporting more wildlife than before.




The next photo, taken April, 2014, shows invasive Japanese barberry coming into our north campus woods along the stream. The photo below it shows two years later, 2016, a bit later in the season, where you can see the dead barberry in the middle, and other plants thriving around it.



Naturalist Laurie Sanders helped us with planning. The wonderful work of Polatin Ecological Services was augmented by more than 1,000 hours spent by 23 residents to remove invasive plants (see photo at the top of the page). Twelve resident “stewards” are now monitoring the land for new invasions. Funding came from resident donations and grants from the Kendal Charitable Fund, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, and the Northampton Community Preservation Act.

Next? We want to carry this work into our remaining acres of untreated forest. Also, this year we began a three-year project to remove invasives along the banks of our brooks, which are heavily invaded.  And, what doesn’t show in the “after” photo, hiding under the leaves, are seedlings of those invasives we cut down. Their seeds remain viable in the ground for up to 7 years.  But now it’s relatively simple to just go through and pull out these babies by hand.

So our “free fifty” is amazing, but it’s only the beginning.

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