Lathrop’s Resilient Forests

by Barbara Walvoord

From Lathrop Lamp Post March 9, 2017

Walking in our beautiful Lathrop forests gives us a sense of peace and timelessness.  Yet great stresses lie ahead for New England forests: buildings and roads; invasive plants, insects, and diseases; heavy deer browse; and climate change.  In a 2016 booklet, “Increasing Forest Resiliency for an Uncertain Future,”  the authors, from U Mass, U Vermont, and the USDA, identify these stresses and help landowners increase their forests’ “resiliency,” which the authors define as “The capacity of a forest to respond to a disturbance by resisting damage or stress and recovering quickly.”  Resilient forests have a diversity of tree and plant species, adaptable plants, a mix of old and young trees, ample deadwood, a variety of tree arrangements from dense to sparse, and ample regeneration of species, especially those adapted to future climate conditions (www.masswoods.net).

Three recommendations from the booklet are especially salient for Lathrop:

  1. Protect contiguous and connected forested lands. Segmented forests are more open to invasives, they impede the movement of wildlife, and they offer less variety of wildlife habitat. Lathrop is shaping its master plan to minimize intrusion into the contiguous forests on the western part of the east campus, starting at the end of Bassett Brook Drive.
  2. Remove invasive plants. Our “Free Fifty” forested acres (11 on the north campus and about 40 on the east campus) are largely free of invasives, thanks to four grants and hundreds of volunteer hours. Yet vehicles, and boots, as well as animals, wind, and water carry invasive seeds from the adjacent invaded lands, as well as from our garden plants such as burning bush, Japanese barberry, shrub honeysuckle, vinca, snow-on-the-mountain, and pachysandra, all of which can take over, crowding out native species that support more wildlife.
  3. Plant native species that increase diversity and that can thrive in a warmer climate, and protect them from deer. Sharon and I have begun with a small area behind our house at 45 Huckleberry. We have not only cleared invasives but also planted several different native shrubs, each with its little fence to prevent deer browse.

Paul Catanzaro of U Mass Amherst, the first  author of the resiliency booklet is leading the creation of a demonstration forest in Pelham, to conduct scientific studies of the impact of different strategies for increasing forest resiliency and to share those findings with landowners (Gazette, Feb. 24, 2017).

At Lathrop, we will follow the booklet’s suggestions and the Pelham studies assiduously.  But, science aside, we elders know that part of resilience for ourselves and our forests lies in that deep sense of peace we find among our quiet trees. The ancient druids were perhaps not so wrong: a resilient forest is sacred; spirits may live there, enduring beyond change.

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