Lee Five Corners Reserve, Strafford County

Healing a Habitat

Sometimes a chunk of land can look pretty tattered, its contours broken by gravel mining, its topsoil gone, its natural vegetation under siege by invasive shrubs – not very inviting to wildlife. That's how this 22-acre parcel appeared, before the Town of Lee Conservation Commission teamed up with wildlife specialists to do a complete make-over on the property.

Biologist Ted Kendziora works in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's New England Field Office in Concord, New Hampshire. "This parcel didn't look like much when we got started," he recalls. "Now it's on the verge of becoming a real hotspot for wildlife."

American redstart singing

Songbirds like this American redstart will sing at Lee Five Corners./E. Guthro

Key to the effort was banishing a bunch of exotic invasive plants. These non-native shrubs provide some food and cover to wildlife, but they don't offer as many benefits as the shrubs that co-evolved with the region's animals. A first step was to mechanically remove autumn olive – sprawling shrubs that were shading out other, better wildlife plants. A skid steer with a special bucket rumbled up to the autumn olives and pulled them out of the ground. Says Kendziora, "We filled in the holes left by the shrubs' root systems, did some grading, and seeded the ground with perennial rye grass along with native shrubs such as blackberry, silky dogwood, and viburnums."

Other exotic interlopers – including multiflora rose and Japanese knotweed – were grubbed out or killed using safe, short-lived herbicide sprays. "It's likely that some of the invasives will come back," says Kendziora, "but they won't outnumber the native shrubs any longer."

Aging Aspens

Next in line was an aging stand of aspens. Aspens are great wildlife trees – until they get too old, which is how the aspens were at Lee Five Corners. Loggers harvested around 4 acres of aspen, cutting them during winter when the trees' nutrients were stored in their expansive root systems. Come spring, the roots began sending up abundant new growth.

young aspen in NH

Young aspen offers both food and cover to many different wild animals./C. Fergus

"Give this stand a year or two," says Kendziora, "and it will be prime young-forest habitat." Young aspen stands offer dense wintering and breeding habitat for birds and mammals, and plenty of light-loving food-producing shrubs.

Using limbs and logs from trees harvested during logging, conservationists built brushpiles to provide shelter for small mammals and reptiles and amphibians. In spring 2012, the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts planted hundreds of native shrubs at Lee Five Corners Reserve. As the shrubs grow, they'll provide more and better wildlife habitat.

A small wetland takes in about 1 acre. Conservationists will stimulate the growth of native alders in this damp pocket by cutting down older shrubs, spurring a dense resprouting of stems from the existing root systems.

Building Diversity

Talk about building diversity: Workers created a turtle-nesting area by spreading out sand that had been piled up by the old gravel-mining operation. Wood turtles lay eggs in nests that they dig in sandy soil. Perhaps the local wood turtle population will use the new nesting habitat and will feed on the fruits and insects stimulated by improvements to the reserve's shrubland. (Wood turtles need young-forest habitat; these handsome reptiles are considered to be one of the most endangered freshwater turtles in North America.)

wood turtle

Wood turtles thrive in young forest habitat./J. Mays

People are part of the equation, too. A trail is planned to wind through the different habitats on the 22 acres. There's plenty of mulch left over after logging and chipping operations. The mulch will be spread on the paths, which will be kept open in the future by periodic mowing.

New England cottontails have not been found on Lee Five Corners Reserve, but they live only a few miles away. This restoration project will build the kind of habitat that bunnies need; cottontails may find the site on their own, or rabbits bred in captivity could someday be released there. In the meantime, this spot is changing from an abandoned eyesore to a great pocket habitat for wildlife.

How to Visit

Lee Five Corners Reserve is just north of U.S. Route 4 in the Town of Lee. Go north on N.H. 155, then at the five corners make a left onto the Old Concord Turnpike. The habitat project is on the right, just before you come to a steel gate. A wide spot on the unpaved road allows parking for several vehicles.

For more information or to arrange a visit, contact Ted Kendziora, USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, 603-223-2541 x 13, ted_kendziora@fws.gov.

Funding and Partners

Town of Lee, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program), Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute