Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Come October

August 8, 2011  

The days of summer are quickly winding down and the sweltering summer heat will soon give way to the crisp autumn air. Around this time of year, the thoughts of many New drift from summer days spent on New England’s beaches back to the wood lots that many New Hampshire residents call home.  While traditionally we think of the fall as a time of harvest, the fall is also a perfect time to do the habitat work that wildlife populations throughout the, “Granite State” depend on.   Habitat improvement projects or at least the applications of those wishing to receive federal funding for habitat projects need to be submitted to the Natural Resources Conservation Service by the 2nd of October. The Natural Resources Conservation Service or NRCS is the federal agency responsible for the administration of the current version of the Farm Bill and its associated funding programs.  These funding programs can be used on private land to help fund habitat improvement projects such as creating forest openings for wildlife.  They typically cover approximately 75-percent of the average cost of a habitat improvement practice.  In New Hampshire roughly 85-percent of the forested lands are privately held.  What this means is that state and federal wildlife agencies simply don’t control enough land area to be able to institute landscape scale changes. What are landscape scale changes? The area that we now know as New Hampshire was in colonial times nearly 95-percent forested.  As the colonists began the process of building the infrastructure that would one day become the United States, they began to clear land.  By the late 1700s New Hampshire was 75-percent field and open pasture.  This dramatic shift in cover type in a little more than 150 years helped several wildlife species such as the ruffed grouse, who depend on young forest and shrubland habitat to reach all-time population highs.  However, species that depended on mature forests dwindled. Fast forward to 2011 and the opposite is true.  Today New Hampshire is predominately mature forests and species dependent on young forest habitat are in real trouble.  Some species are in so much trouble, like the New England cottontail rabbit, that they are in danger of being placed on the Federal Endangered Species List.  The only way to prevent this from happening is to restore the proper balance between mature and young forest habitat throughout the entire region. How come nature can’t take care of itself? Well to put it bluntly because of us.  All forests go through a natural cycling process know as succession.  It is the means by which forests rejuvenate themselves over time.  Succession is usually driven by natural disturbance which can come in many forms.  Some of the most common forms can be wind throw, flooding, beaver activity and wild fire.   Uncommon disturbances might be in the form of an earth quake or something of a similar nature that occurs very infrequently.  Another pre-colonial disturbance to the landscape was the small-scale, nomadic land clearing practices of many of the Native American tribes indigenous to the area.  These processes combine to create a shifting pattern of openings across the landscape prior to the large scale land clearing of the colonists.  Today however, we control many of these natural occurring events to the point where they are no longer of a large enough scale to help the forest undergo succession.  This is where the private landowners of New Hampshire come in.  Because these natural disturbance processes are no longer functioning we must mimic the disturbance through active management such as brush mowing or timber harvesting. But where to begin? Well like most other things in life if you want good results you have to have a plan with clear goals and objectives.  My high school football coach used to always tell the team that failing to plan was planning to fail.  A forest management plan (which by the way is one of the many practices that the Farm Bill will help fund) is a great starting point to focus your efforts and save precious time and money.  But don’t wait until the last minute.  The application process can take a few weeks if the offices are busy.  Luckily the NRCS and the NWTF have partnered to help private landowner sort through the programs and find their nearest field service center.  You can also attend one of our Upland Habitat Management seminars and see for yourself different habitat management options to help create turkey hunting habitat.  Representatives from the NRCS will be on hand so you can have all your questions answered at one stop.  The next seminar is scheduled for August 23rd at 38 Rochester Neck Rd in Gonic, NH.  The seminar will begin at 5:30 PM and conclude at 6:30.  We will then proceed over to the Bellamy Wildlife Management Area in Dover, NH where representative from the NH Fish and Game Department will lead a tour of the management are and highlight some of the ongoing habitat work being done.

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