Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Mistake Is About To Be Made

An old road runs along the property line of an old farm that has, for many years, been owned by a hunting club; it's the road that I walked on a pleasant winter morning. 

Of the club's 125 acres about one third is comprised of old fields on which the members maintain some small wildlife food plots. The rest of the property is covered with a forest of mixed oak species.

About 20 years ago the club had a timber sale throughout its woodland. That sale was set up and marked by a forester and left a goodly number of vigorous oaks in the forest, trees that produced large numbers of acorns in a good seed year. Those acorns fed white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, black bear and smaller mammals and birds.

Unfortunately, the timber sale opened the forest canopy, allowing more sun to strike the forest floor, which promoted invasion by Japanese barberry and its subsequent spread.

As can be easily discerned from its name, Japanese barberry isn’t native to the eastern forest. Although wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and some songbirds occasionally eat the fruit, barberry provides nothing for white-tailed deer. Interestingly, although an adjacent property has a deer population estimated to occasionally exceed 40 per square mile, members of the hunting club complain about seeing few deer.

Now, all those vigorous, acorn producing oaks are marked with small spots of paint. It appears that the only sources of food for deer in that woodland are destined to head to the sawmill.

Did the hunting club desperately need money? Or, were they sold a bill-of-goods by an unscrupulous forester or logger; told that the trees were “over mature” or “going back” or that cutting them would produce browse for deer?

In late fall, winter and early spring white-tailed deer feed primarily on acorns and browse in the form of twigs of species that they find palatable. Once those oaks are cut the acorns they produced will also be gone and the barberry will spread further.

The dense shade cast by thick stands of barberry prevents most tree seedlings from becoming established - there goes any browse the logging might have produced. It is reported that barberry actually changes the soil’s chemistry and it is well known that forests with a barberry understory have many more Lyme disease-carrying ticks than healthy forests. Soon the property will look like this - a property with an average of 3,500 barberry plants per acre.

The hunting club is about to make a big mistake for their land and their sport, a mistake whose impact will probably last far beyond most of the aging members’ lifetimes.    


Essen Girl said...

Oh no! :(

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Sounds serious.

The Furry Gnome said...

Sounds like a vicious cycle! Luckily, I don't know any barberry-infested woods around here.