Monterey Preservation Land Trust, Berkshires, Massachusetts

Young Forest Project Delivers Multiple Benefits

Light-loving trees and shrubs, a suite of songbirds, ruffed grouse, deer, black bears – and, conservationists hope, eventually New England cottontails – should all benefit from timber harvests begun in 2014 on Monterey Preservation Land Trust’s 383-acre Mount Hunger property in Berkshire County, western Massachusetts.

Peter Tucker, of Alford, Mass., is MPLT’s forester. On a November afternoon he led a tour of the Mount Hunger project, first hiking uphill on a woods road through mixed oak and northern hardwood forest.

Timber harvest at Mount Hunger

MPLT forester Peter Tucker confers with MassWildlife's Marianne Piche at Mount Hunger habitat project. The timber harvest opened up a nice view of Long Mountain to the northeast. The cut-over area will rapidly regrow with dense young forest in an area where that type of habitat is rare./C. Fergus

“This is a productive, diverse property,” Tucker said. “It includes rock ledges, a cliff, and a nice mix of tree species.” The Mount Hunger parcel offers excellent access, bordered as it is by public roads on two sides and including more than three miles of woods roads and hiking trails. It abuts land owned by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. Much of the woods in this heavily forested region consists of middle-aged to mature trees. What’s often lacking is a mix of different age classes of trees, along with the more-diverse tree, shrub, plant, and wildlife communities that accompany younger forest.

Massachusetts Wildlife (MassWildlife) holds a conservation easement on the Mount Hunger property, which keeps it permanently protected and open to the public. The road that Tucker followed had been used to transport sawlogs and firewood from the 15-acre timber harvest that he had laid out earlier.

“The logger, Roger Duryea of Otis, did a great job,” Tucker commented. “He harvested mainly log-length firewood and some sawlogs. Fortunately there’s a good market for firewood in this area.”

Logger Roger Duryea readies trees for transport

Logger Roger Duryea of Otis readies cut logs for transporting on MPLT's Mount Hunger property./P. Tucker

MPLT received funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) to improve the road prior to the timber harvest. “It will become an excellent walking trail – a big asset to boost public use,” Tucker said. “The trail will lead alongside the harvest area, so that hikers can see young forest habitat firsthand, and be on the lookout for wildlife – songbirds like towhees, white-throated sparrows, indigo buntings, blue-winged warblers, and chestnut-sided warblers, as well as many mammals that need thick areas of regrowing tree seedlings and shoots.”

The timber harvest area, called “Patch A,” lay downhill from the trail. The cutting had opened up a view of distant mountains cloaked with mature woods, as if to underscore the value of having some young forest on the landscape. “Gaining a view is a welcome benefit of some habitat cutting projects,” Tucker said.

He swept an arm toward the cut-over patch. “In looking for sites where we can make young forest, we like to zero in on areas that have been ‘high-graded’ in the past, where the best trees were taken in a prior cut. It’s those sorts of places where we can regenerate a new forest stand and end up with essentially a better and more diverse forest while helping wildlife at the same time.” He added, “It’s really a win-win situation – a coming-together of funding, the science that shows how wildlife and plants benefit from even-age timber harvests, and a healthy market for the wood that’s harvested.”

Foresters for the Birds

Tucker has attended Foresters for the Birds workshops, sponsored by Massachusetts Audubon and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Service Forestry Program. In the workshops, natural resource professionals explain and advocate carefully planned timber harvests to provide habitat for songbirds that need young forest. For the MPLT projects, Marianne Piché, a habitat management biologist who works for MassWildlife under partnership with NRCS, provided input and advice.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrushes thrive in areas of mature forest, but they also need openings with dense patches of young forest, where they feed on fruits and insects./T. Berriman

As Tucker surveyed the cut area at Mount Hunger, he pointed out mature trees that had been left as singing perches and foraging areas for songbirds such as blue-winged warblers, as well as brushy debris from the tops of harvested trees to deter deer from browsing the regrowth too heavily. Logs left on the ground would become drumming logs for male ruffed grouse, who hop onto such prominences in springtime, then drum their wings loudly to attract females. The plan also called for the logger to leave den trees: older trees that have or may develop cavities and hollows in their trunks, used by a variety of wild creatures for hibernating and denning.

“This is a better-than-average growing site,” Tucker said. “Oaks require lots of sunlight to regenerate. I’m thinking we’ll get plenty of oaks in this new stand. Birches – white birch, black birch, yellow birch – also need ample sunlight to grow. It’s important to keep these tree species as part of the forest mix. Without a big natural disturbance like a wind burst or a tornado, we don’t tend to get openings as large as this one.” Tucker also thought that black cherry, sugar maple, and red maple would spring up following the timber harvest. “This is partly a seed-tree cut and partly a clearcut,” he said. “What we’re doing is encouraging desirable native trees that are good for wood products as well as for wildlife.”

Red maple buds

Ice-coated red maple buds, favored food for deer./P. Tucker

A second, similarly sized harvest, “Patch B,” will take place nearby before 2017. It’s possible that New England cottontails will already have found and occupied the first harvest site, Patch A, by then. “The Monterey Preservation Land Trust is aware of the need to have young forest on this tract going into the future,” Tucker said. “It’s healthy for the land.”

MPLT, established in 1984, has acquired approximately 900 acres, and holds conservation restrictions or agricultural preservation restrictions on an additional 1100 acres. The Mount Hunger project attracted NRCS funding because of its potential to help New England cottontails, as the property is in the Southern Berkshire New England Cottontail Focus Area, and biologists found evidence of the presence of this rare rabbit only three kilometers away in 2011.

“I really like projects like this one,” Tucker said. “It’s always a learning process as you figure out how to benefit the land, the forest, the wildlife, and the people. As time goes on, I see more and more projects like this one coming along. Loggers and foresters and biologists and landowners are finding their niches – learning how to make it all work, on both a commercial and a noncommercial basis.”

Visitors can consult an online map of the Mount Hunger property.

Funding and Partners

Monterey Preservation Land Trust, MassWildlife, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

From the north, take Monterey Road in Tyringham south into Monterey and turn left on Mt. Hunger Road. At the top of the road is a parking lot on the left. From the south, take Tyringham Road north and turn right on Mt. Hunger Road. See this Mount Hunger Trail Map. Patch A lies ____________________________.