Forest Reserves on State Wildlife Lands in Massachusetts
Forest reserves are portions of state lands where commercial harvesting of wood products is excluded. Only in reserves will the total amount of woody biomass produced within a forest ecosystem remain within the ecosystem. Reserves will be a limited but important component of extensive forest landscapes that are dominated by working forestlands. Reserves will capture elements of biodiversity that are missing from harvested sites, and will provide unique recreational opportunities for people. Elements of biodiversity that will be captured in reserves primarily include: 1) An abundance of 200-500 year old trees; and 2) Extensive "pit and mound" micro-topography with associated large woody debris that occurs when old trees are blown over and remain in the forest. Harvested lands can support these elements to some degree, but only in reserves will these elements become dominant and ubiquitous. While no forestland in Massachusetts is free of human impacts such as air pollution, natural disturbance processes will, to a large degree, determine the structure and composition of the forest ecosystem in reserves. Reserves will provide valuable late-seral forest habitat for wildlife that will ultimately support species assemblages and abundances that do not occur on harvested sites.
Reserves can be used to conserve small, isolated resources (e.g., particular rare species habitats, sites with fragile, highly erodable soils), and to conserve extensive representative portions of the diversity of relatively un-fragmented forest ecosystems that occur in Massachusetts today. A combination of numerous small (patch) reserves, and occasional large (matrix) reserves can be imbedded within extensive, working forest landscapes to insure that all elements of biodiversity are represented across Massachusetts' forestlands. Forest reserves allow us to more fully assess human impacts on harvested sites, and may provide insights into how extractive management of harvested forestlands can be improved. Patch reserves will typically be relatively small (tens or hundreds of acres) and will be defined by the extent of the unique resources (rare species, steep slopes, etc.) intended for conservation. Matrix reserves will be relatively large (a few thousand acres) and will be based on natural disturbance patch size. Natural disturbances are common in southern New England forests, and range from frequent, small disturbances (e.g., annual wind events that disrupt <1 acre of forest canopy) to occasional, catastrophic disturbances (e.g. major windstorms that disrupt as much as 5,000 contiguous acres of forest canopy once every few centuries). Major wind events like tornadoes and hurricanes often disrupt more than 5,000 total acres across the landscape (hurricanes in particular can impact millions of acres), but disturbance is not continuous, and historically the largest individual disturbance patches do not appear to exceed about 5,000 acres in this area. DFW supports having a limited number of large reserves of 5,000± acres that represent the diversity of forest ecosystems that occur in Massachusetts.
The primary difference in activities between reserves and other state-owned forestlands will be the exclusion of commercial timber harvesting. Recreational use of motorized vehicles such as dirt bikes, ATV's, and four-wheel drive trucks are already excluded from the great majority of state lands, and will also be excluded from reserves. Recreational use of snowmobiles during the winter season will continue under existing permits and on designated trails, but will not be expanded on any reserve site. Foot-pedaled mountain biking and horseback riding will be determined on a case by case basis for each reserve. Camping will typically be restricted to existing recreational sites, and will not be expanded in reserve sites. Activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing, trapping, birding, and other forms of wildlife observation are currently allowed on most state-owned forestlands, and will continue in reserves. Each matrix reserve will have an operational plan established with public input to clearly define what activities will and will not occur, and to determine in advance how managers will coordinate with local officials in response to events like wildfires, and outbreaks of insect pest and other pathogens within a reserve. Management of reserves must be consistent with maintaining human health and safety, and with maintaining economic viability of private forestlands outside reserves.
A total of about 15,550 acres (11.7%) of DFW lands have been identified as potential reserve sites, including about 7,150 acres of patch reserves (5,850 ac of rare species sites and 1,300 ac of sanctuaries totaling 5.4% of DFW lands) and about 8,400 acres of matrix reserves (6.3% of DFW lands). There are currently about 250 potential patch reserves averaging about 28.6 acres each identified on DFW lands. Potential patch reserves on DFW lands will be assessed on the ground through a cooperative effort involving DFW Forestry, Natural Heritage, District, and Fisheries personnel. Final patch reserve locations will be mapped during 2007-2008. DFW matrix reserve lands were endorsed by the State Fisheries & Wildlife Board in June of 2006 and include portions of the Chalet and Stafford Hill WMAs (about 6,800 acres), portions of the Jug End SR/WMA (about 770 acres), portions of the Hiram Fox WMA (about 700 acres), and portions of the Sly Pond Natural Heritage Area (about 150 acres). Additional DCR lands are included as matrix reserve at each of these sites.
For more information, see EOEA's Sustainable Forest Management summary on forest reserves.