Archive for March 2016

Armstrong Education Center’s Forum on Opportunities for Conservationists of All Ages

DSC_0969On February 27th,  PRLC held its first forum to connect interested citizen conservationists with local resources and organizations working in the environmental field. We were privileged to have as a guest speaker John Cronin who is the Senior Fellow in Environmental Affairs at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies at Pace University, where he is helping to create an interdisciplinary program of undergraduate and graduate studies in environmental innovation and policy.  He shared with us his inspiring story of how he became the first Hudson Riverkeeper starting in 1983 and went on to pursue a 40 year career in environmental advocacy as a result of a formative volunteer experience with music legend Pete Seeger.  PRLC’s Land Steward & Educator, Krista Munger, and Geoff Griffiths, a visiting graduate student from the SUNY School on Environmental Science and Forestry, presented various local and national initiatives which use volunteer data to inform decision-making on conservation priorities.  Geoff is working to develop the New York Wildflower Monitoring Project on the iNaturalist web platform.

We were pleased to see the interest generated by this event and look forward to working with local conservationists interested in citizen science to support both our work and the work of other inspiring, local organizations. To obtain the resource list prepared for this event, email Krista at landsteward@prlc.net  or call 914-205-3533 at PRLC’s Armstrong Education Center’s Office.

When A Tree Falls in the Forest...

794A tree has fallen on your property.  What should you do?  From a conservationist’s standpoint, the best course of action is often to leave the wood where it lies.   Ecosystem health depends upon the nutrients provided by decaying plant matter, and downed trees are a major boost for the bottom of the food chain.  Their great storehouse of carbon sustains a host of mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, and other microscopic life forms that break down the molecular structures of organic matter and convert them back into the building blocks of life.  That is why dead trees make great nurseries for other plants, including replacement trees.  Take a look at the Late fall oyster mushrooms pictured here – they fed beetles, deer, and my own family for weeks.

How long does it take for a dead tree to rot?  Generally 70-150 years, depending upon the species, the size, and the climate.  Hardwoods like maple and oak actually rot faster than softwoods like spruce and pine, and both degrade faster with moisture.  It might be said that the true life of a tree is measured in living years (50-150 on average) plus 30 years as a standing snag, and another 70 years or so on the ground.

spotted salamanderIf this seems like a long time to wait, consider that in the meantime, the limbs from downed trees provide habitat to plants and animals that require cover on the forest floor, like wrens and chipmunks.  Salamanders, toads, and many mammals make burrows under logs, or live inside.  It may be possible to work these features into your landscaping scheme, or to obscure them with a native climbing vine like Virginia creeper.

blowdownWhere it is unfeasible to leave downed wood on the ground, you might stick with a living lighter on the land approach and move it in large pieces to rot in a natural and out-of-the-way location.  Smaller pieces will rot more quickly but require more time and energy to cut.  Do not stack unless you seek to preserve the wood for burning or other use.  Occasionally, treefall in wind storms is so catastrophic that the survival of nearby trees and understory is threatened.  Pictured here is some of the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy upon the forest in Carolin’s Grove Preserve in Pound Ridge, NY in 2012.

When so many trees are lost from the canopy in such a short time, there is great potential for lasting ecological changes including species loss, soil loss, and decline in water quality.  Our stewardship crew recognized that natural forest regeneration at this site was additionally threatened by excessive deer browse and the invasion of non-native species, and we decided to take action.  We hired a trained crew to spend several days cutting and chipping dead spruce in the Preserve, with a special focus on removing dangerous hanging limbs.  blowdown2Then, we installed a series of fenced areas in the new clearing and planted those with an assortment of native tree and shrub saplings.  This year, we plan to add more trees and pollinator plants.  We are already seeing the signs of natural forest regeneration.

When a tree falls in the forest, or even in your yard, it pays to think long-term about what course to take.  To learn how to select and plant native tree species on your property, attend our free workshop on May 7, 2016 (more information here) or volunteer with us on a tree-planting project in Pound Ridge this Spring!