Forest Harvesting Operations
DFW conducts forest harvesting operations through publicly bid timber sales with private contractors to establish valuable young forest habitat. Harvesting operations provide renewable wood resources used by all citizens of Massachusetts, and help sustain rural communities within the state. Forest harvesting operations on DFW lands comply with all local, state, and federal laws, and with 'Green Certification' standards for sustainable forest management. Harvesting operations on DFW lands also apply Conservation Management Practices (CMP's) for rare species at all appropriate sites.
Harvesting operations help DFW achieve landscape composition goals for successional forest habitat. Establishing landscape composition goals is an inexact science, but it is prudent to determine a desired future condition for WMA forestlands based on available knowledge. After considering habitat requirements for both vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife, landscape composition goals for WMA forestlands statewide presently include 15-20% young, or early-seral forest (seedling, sapling, and small-pole forest <30 years old), 65-75% mid-seral forest (large-pole and sawtimber forest typically 30-150 years old), and 10-15% biologically mature, or late-seral forest (typically >150 years old). Young forest habitat is obtained through harvesting operations and through natural disturbance events such as wind storms. Late-seral forest habitat is obtained through establishment of Forest Reserves. High priority sites for harvesting operations include successional (old field) white pine stands growing on hardwood sites, and stands that were highgraded (had quality timber trees removed and trees of low merchantable quality retained) prior to DFW acquisition.
Preserving biodiversity in temperate forest requires the maintenance of all successional stages, and managers should recognize the role of disturbance in maintaining biodiversity. Forest managers need to provide a range of habitats at temporal and spatial scales that will support viable populations of all native wildlife species, and this task must be accomplished in a landscape that is being increasingly developed for human use, and that does not resemble any previous historical condition. While it is instructive to examine the historical range of variability associated with natural disturbance regimes, managers should not seek to re-establish conditions from a previous time (e.g., prior to European settlement), but rather should seek to secure a range of conditions in today's landscape that will support viable populations of native wildlife species.
Following any disturbance to a forest canopy, the flush of woody and herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor provides food (e.g., berries, browse, and insects) and cover (e.g., shrubs, tree seedlings, and slash) resources for wildlife that is generally lacking in older forest. Wildlife species that prefer young forest conditions have been perceived as habitat generalists, but in fact, many wildlife species associated with young forests such as the New England cottontail and chestnut-sided warbler are habitat specialists with specific vegetation structure or area requirements. Relatively large (>25 acre) patches of young forest habitat may be necessary to maintain viable populations of mammals associated with young forest. In addition, young forest habitat appears to be important for wildlife species generally associated with mature forest areas. Examples include fledgling and molting adult wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) that move from mature forest to patches of young forest habitat that may provide critical for food and cover resources not typically found near nesting sites.
Protection of rare species, unique communities, and wetland resource areas is a priority for all harvesting operations on DFW lands. Forest harvesting operations are typically designed to:
- Increase structural diversity by retaining coarse woody debris and snag, den, cover, and mast-producing trees on all harvested sites.
- Enhance native tree species diversity by creating a variety of micro-climate conditions (sun vs. shade, mesic vs. moist, etc.) through clustered retention on most harvested sites.
- Create larger forest stands over time by combining multiple, smaller, homogeneous stands that exist today as an artifact of landuse history into single, larger, heterogeneous stands by applying variable and flexible harvesting prescriptions across multiple smaller stands at the same time.
- Regenerate old field white pine stands to a mixture of native hardwood and softwood species.
- Identify and remove non-native invasive plants within or adjacent to harvest sites.
The following checklist of procedures is followed by DFW foresters on all harvesting operations:
- Contact appropriate DFW District Manager to coordinate on timber sale administration.
- Review landcover mapping information (including forest stand condition, wetland location and composition, vernal pool locations, and occurrence of priority natural communities), boundary and road infrastructure condition, Natural Heritage Atlas information, and forest inventory data for the site.
- Conduct pre-harvest monitoring to determine plant species occurrence and abundance in the forest overstory and understory, to locate rare and/or invasive species, locate wetlands, vernal pools and seeps, and to initiate infrastructure planning for skid roads, landing locations, stream crossing, and harvest area extent. Record GPS waypoints at all appropriate points.
- Contact Natural Heritage if any portion of site occurs in Priority Habitat for recommended mitigation, and if no Priority Habitat request information on any Element Occurrences of rare species on the site and recommended mitigation.
- Update or compose draft site plan for the entire property where the planned harvesting operation will occur. Include: Property Summary (Site name, town(s), Forest Management Zone, Wildlife District, Ecoregion, Watershed, stands to be treated, and acres to be treated), access summary, environmental permitting, forest certification considerations, management goals, property description and history, landscape setting, disturbance history (e.g., evidence of wind or pathogen disturbance, excessive browsing by white-tailed deer and/or moose, etc.)., biological monitoring, rare species concerns, soil & water quality, historical and cultural resources, recreation & aesthetics, silviculture and references.
- Review site plan with DFW Forest Project Leader.
- Submit draft site plan to District and NHESP for review and comment. Incorporate comments.
- Establish access roads, skid trails, and landing areas according to specifications in the BMP manual.
- Establish buffer strips along roads, and filter strips along riparian areas as per the BMP manual.
- Avoid wetland resource area crossings when planning skid trails and access roads whenever possible. Establish and maintain necessary stream and wetland crossings for logging machinery as indicated in the Massachusetts Forest Best Management Practices Manual (the BMP manual) (Kittredge and Parker 1995).
- Plan harvest near vernal pools according to guidelines for certified vernal pools in the BMP manual.
- Plan harvest near seeps according to guidelines by Healy and Casalena (1996).
- Post informational signage on the planned harvest at the roadside interface (typically the landing area) for the harvest to inform the public of the upcoming treatment.
- Mark timber sale area according to prescriptions in the site plan and corresponding FMZ plan.
- Complete and submit a Chapter 132 Forest Cutting Plan to the appropriate DCR office. Send a copy of the cutting plan to the appropriate conservation commission(s). Send abutters notice to all adjacent landowners within 200' of harvest area via certified mail.
- Draft timber sale contract, review with Forest Project Leader.
- Mail timber sale prospectus to all vendors on mailing list, and post legal notice of sale in at least one newspaper.
- Conduct public showing of the timber sale and award contract through a public, competitive bid process.
- Administer timber sale in full compliance with DFW timber sale contract, Chapter 132 cutting plan and Massachusetts Slash Law.
- Ensure that post-harvest access by ORVs is controlled by the use of gates, stones, or other methods to block main harvest roads, and by leaving slash and felled trees in any temporary logging roads as appropriate.
- Establish post-treatment biological monitoring as appropriate, including monitoring for the presence of invasive plants. Use monitoring results to modify future harvesting practices as appropriate.
Forest harvesting operations have recently occurred on the Peru, Hiram Fox, Fox Den, Montague Plains and Moose Hill WMA's, and are planned for the Herm Covey, Birch Hill, and Phillipston WMA's. Forest cutting plans are available for most of these operations.