In the spring of 2016, Bet and Patrick Smith purchased their 30-acre Connecticut property on a mission to provide quality wildlife habitat on land that would have otherwise been vulnerable to development.
Excited by a purchase they had hoped to make for years, Bet and Patrick saw endless potential to support wildlife on their new property. However, they quickly learned that the land had not been managed for nearly 45 years and that turning this property around was going to be a greater challenge than expected.
Countless invasive species including Winged Euonymus, Japanese Barberry, Asian Bittersweet, and Multiflora Rose had engulfed their land and trees. The Smiths were knowledgeable about proper woodland care, but the sheer size and depth of these invasive plants presented a hurdle beyond what they could have anticipated.
They couldn’t even walk the land because it was so choked with invasives—it was an impenetrable jungle. If they could not access their woods, wildlife would surely struggle as well. It had to be addressed.
Bet and Patrick attempted to tame the invasives themselves, working with chainsaws and pruners in an effort to access the overgrown path to their woods. Each day, they cleared between 10 and 50 feet of the trail, but it seemed like each foot they cleared revealed more invasive plants choking out the native plants.
“People say this is impossible, you can’t do this, but we’re both pretty persistent, we know we’re going to have to go back year after year and manage it, it’s not a one shot deal,” says Bet.
Overwhelmed by their ambitious plan, Bet and Patrick knew they needed help. They required a professional who could give them better options to control the invasive plants and create a forested habitat that was enticing to wildlife. They made a few phone calls and met with several foresters, but none of them seemed to be the right fit.
Around that time, Bet met Lisa Hayden from the New England Forestry Foundation at a local event. Lisa introduced her to the My MassConn Woods program — a partnership between the New England Forestry Foundation, the American Forest Foundation, and the MassConn Sustainable Partnership — which focuses on providing woodland owners with resources and knowledge to steward thriving and resilient woodlands in the face of a changing climate.
Through the My MassConn Woods program, Bet and Patrick were connected with Eric Hansen, a forester working for the partnership, for a visit funded by a Wildlife Conservation Society grant. During the visit, Bet, Patrick and Eric discussed their goals for their woods in detail. As they walked the land, Eric identified several new invasive plants that Bet and Patrick had not recognized such as Glossy Buckthorn.
Eric gave Bet and Patrick suggestions that would help them overcome their invasive plants, enhance wildlife habitat, and address the challenges of climate change. Though climate change had not been a management focus for the couple previously, they found that many of Eric’s climate resiliency recommendations overlapped with their existing goals.
In fact, controlling invasive plants is a key management recommendation when preparing woodlands for climate change. Not only do invasive plants provide additional pressure to woodlands already under the stress of a changing climate, but they are also projected to increase as a result of climate change. Invasive plants also do not provide the same level of support for wildlife as the native plants that they are used to.
Bet and Patrick were so impressed with Eric — he listened to their needs, focused on their goals and gave them information on forest management that they did not know — that they decided to hire him to prepare a forest management plan that incorporated all of their goals and outlined a strategy to overcome their invasive plants.
With the help of the My MassConn Woods project, Bet and Patrick were able to build a relationship with a forester who could help them achieve their existing goals and even charter new goals. Today, the Smiths continue to battle invasives, but native plants are slowly regenerating in some areas thanks to their determination and Eric’s professional advice.
As the couple looks to the future, they are excited to create quality wildlife habitat with woods that are free of invasive species and resilient to a changing climate.