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Sustainability

Forest Health Assessments and Management Plans

County-owned Lands 

The Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (EPS) conducts Forest Health Assessments and prepares Forest Management Plans for large County-owned forested areas in order to guide actions to maintain the health of forests for ecological functions and high-quality passive recreation. A Licensed Forester under contract to EPS conducts quantitative assessments using the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service NED model. More than 2,600 acres of County-owned forestlands have been assessed:

  • Oregon Ridge Park (2006, 895 acres)
  • Lower Back River Peninsula (2009, 884 acres)
  • Pottery Farm Park (2010, 227 acres)
  • Cromwell Valley Park (2011, 164 acres)
  • Marshy Point Park (2011-2012, 331 acres)
  • Villa Nova Park (2012, 138 acres)

Assessments include overstory, understory, and ground layer structure and species composition for distinct forest stands. Data is collected for dozens of forest condition measures, including basal area, stand relative density, regeneration, Undesirable Growing Stock (UGS), and other measures. These data allow recommendations to be made regarding restoration and maintenance of forest health, including restoring native oak dominance, enhancing the existing Old Growth forest stands, and controlling invasive and diseased species such as sweetgum.

General Findings of Forest Health Assessments

  • Forest stands are even aged, mature (100 to 120 or more years), and lack vertical structure.
  • Overstories are losing historical oak dominance, which is critical to providing habitat for migrant songbirds and to providing water quality functions including cycling of nutrients in the forest.
  • Canopy closure is high so as to preclude oak regeneration and to favor shade-tolerant species such as maple.
  • Stands are overstocked (over-crowded), with high basal area and relative density, resulting in vulnerability to forest pests and diseases.
  • Deer impact on forests is severe in some areas (deer browse averages 8.8 pounds per deer each day for eight months, and deer consume 2.2 pounds of acorns per deer each day in the fall and winter).
  • Stands include a high percentage of UGS, trees with poor form and condition with high risk for early mortality.

Why Does Oak Dominance in Our Forests Matter?

“If the oak forest goes to maple and birch and yellow poplar, why does it matter? It matters because the wildlife that we enjoy in eastern forests, that whole vast community, is dependent on hard seed trees, and that’s been true for 10,000 years.”

Bill Healy, Research Wildlife Biologist
USDA Forest Service (retired)
In “Acorns: Masters of the Forest,” by Mary-Russell Roberson
Smithsonian Institution Zoogoer, July to August 2007

Completed Forest Health Assessment and Management Plans

Data appendices are available by request only. To request a copy of either report, please email Ayla Haig. Completed assessments and management plans are currently available as follows:

Oregon Ridge Park Forest Health Assessment and Forest Management Plan (PDF) (Assessed in 2006: Plan finalized in April 2007)

Lower Back River Peninsula Forest Health Assessment and Forest Management Plan (Assessed 2009; Plan finalized December 2010)

The December 2012 Lower Back River Peninsula document provides an assessment of forest health for 22 forest stands for the 884 acres of forest for these County owned lands.

Pottery Farm Park (Assessed in 2010; Plan finalized December 2012)

The Pottery Farm Park plan is complete and provides an assessment of forest health for 13 forest stands in 227 acres of Pottery Farm Park.

Forest Restoration

Based on the recommendation of the consulting Licensed Forester who prepared the Forest Health Assessments and Management Plans, EPS implements forest restoration projects.

Oregon Ridge Park – Gypsy moth Salvage harvest (2008)

In 2006, Gypsy moths infested 20 acres of mature (115 plus years old) Chestnut oaks at Oregon Ridge Park in an area near the Nature Center. This area was not sprayed in 2006 during a small but intense infestation. The defoliated area was the most densely stocked tree stand at Oregon Ridge, and the region had just emerged from a drought (2002 to 2006). These conditions caused the entire stand of oaks to die with virtually no leaf out in 2007. In the ensuing year, standing and falling dead trees presented a severe safety hazard to the public. A salvage harvest was conducted in July 2008 by Glatfelter Pulp Wood Company, which removed 36,000 board foot of logs and 1,400 tons of pulpwood. Because oak regeneration was generally absent and only maple, black gum, and beech occurred within the two inch to ten inch size classes, oak dominance would be lost for the future.

As a result, EPS staff implemented an aggressive reforestation project to replant five species of oak and hickory, and the Nature Center Council planted a small stand of American Chestnut. This provides some diversity while maintaining oak dominance, in order to make the stand more resilient to future Gypsy moth infestations. Over the subsequent years, EPS has sprayed invasive tear thumb and other species that threaten the survival of the reforestation, using the non-toxin defoliant RoundUp. Reforestation included sheltering a small number of existing desirable species that sprouted following harvesting, planting and sheltering one to two foot potted seedlings, planting and sheltering (special larger shelters for deer) four to six foot three-gallon containerized trees, and installing empty shelters for seeding acorns by citizen groups working with the Nature Center staff and Council. Continuing restoration includes selective manual removal of non-oak seedlings as necessary to maintain oak dominance in the forest canopy.

Revised June 17, 2013

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