A Dinosaur in the Woods: How One Land Trust is Taking Action for Wildlife

This past fall, a brontosaurus made its way through the forests of Epping and Kingston, New Hampshire. But don’t be alarmed! While this beast ate whole trees and shrubs, leaving large forest openings in its path, it was no dinosaur. This “brontosaurus” is actually a large flailing-head mower attached to an excavator, used to grind up shrubs and young trees. The machine, more commonly seen clearing power line corridors, does an excellent job creating shrubland and young forest habitats. These large mowers are especially useful for creating forest openings in areas where the trees aren’t large enough for a commercially viable timber harvest.

Click here to view a video showing a brontosaurus at work!

The Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire (SELTNH), based in Exeter and serving the greater Rockingham County area, used the large mower on two of its properties this past fall: the Tucker and French Family Forest (563 acres) in Kingston, and the Pawtuckaway River Reservation (500+ acres) in Epping and Raymond. Both properties have extensive forest and wetland habitat, but no significant shrubland or young forest habitat to speak of. “We saw a real opportunity to diversify the habitat on these properties,” said Brian Hart, director of SELTNH. “As a land trust and as landowners, we recognize a responsibility to be good stewards to our properties. Creating important wildlife habitat is a big part of that.”

Shrublands and young forests have been identified as critical habitats in the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan. Large shrublands--those greater than 5 acres--are relatively rare in New Hampshire as human development has increased and our forests have matured over time. These shrublands support many wildlife with declining populations, species such as New England cottontail, woodcock, ruffed grouse, and Eastern towhee.

After a brontosaurus does its work, the newly created openings grow back quickly to dense shrubs such as sweet pepperbush, blackberry, and sweet fern, and young trees such as birch and aspen which sprout vigorously from their roots when cut. This dense structure will benefit many different species of wildlife. Chestnut-sided warblers, yellow warblers, ruffed grouse and turkeys are all likely to nest in the dense cover provided by the flush of new growth. Snowshoe hare will find places to hide from predators among the dense tangle of shrubs. Grouse will enjoy the catkins (flower clusters), and beaver the fresh twigs, of young aspen trees.

While it clearly benefits wildlife, creating such openings isn’t always cheap. Brontosaurus mowers are expensive to hire. However, financial assistance is available to landowners interested in creating this type of habitat. SELTNH took advantage of two such programs through the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help offset the cost of this work. The Tucker and French Family Forest was protected with help from the Wetlands Reserve Program, an easement program that also provides funds for wildlife habitat and wetland restoration. On the Pawtuckaway River Reservation, the land trust received funding through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, which helps landowners pay for wildlife habitat work.

While certainly more visible, creating wildlife habitat isn’t the only way SELTNH is using the Wildlife Action Plan to take action for wildlife. The land trust regularly uses the Wildlife Action Plan maps to help prioritize conservation projects, and plans to use the maps as they move forward to develop a new Strategic Land Conservation Plan. “Knowing where critical wildlife habitat occurs within our service area is invaluable. It helps us prioritize our work and identify new areas to focus our efforts,” Hart said.

UNH Cooperative Extension’s Habitat Stewardship Brochures have also proved a valuable tool. “We reference the stewardship recommendations in our easement language, and having a brochure to hand a landowner is very valuable,” noted Dave Viale, land
protection and stewardship specialist at SELTNH, “It can really help encourage landowners, and shows them the value of the habitats that exist on their properties.”

Are you a land trust that would like to do wildlife habitat management on your fee-owned or easement properties, but are unsure where to begin? Give us a call and we’ll help you understand what wildlife species will benefit from management, offer guidance on where to find financial assistance, and provide on-site workshops for your landowners. Contact Emma Carcagno for assistance

Story By Emma Carcagno, UNH Cooperative Extension