The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, The Ruffed Grouse Society, the Wildlife Management Institute and Cowl's Land and Lumber Company of North Amherst have teamed up in a habitat partnership to join the American Woodcock Initiative. The Initiative's goal is to focus habitat management efforts to benefit American woodcock and other declining wildlife populations through maintenance of field and shrubland habitats and the creation of young forest habitat in Massachusetts.
Young forest habitat makes up less than 5% of forest habitat types in the state. They consist of densely growing stands of young seedling and sapling trees typically no more than 30 years old. This type of habitat establishes itself in areas after major forest disturbances such as heavy wind or ice storms, fires, flooding or by certain types of timber harvest techniques. Woodcock, as well as New England cottontails, chestnut sided warblers and wood turtles are among the species which depend on young forest habitats for all or parts of their lives. The lack of young forest habitat has contributed to declines of these species throughout southern New England.
Private landowners own more than 80% of forest land in Massachusetts. Historically, they have managed their forest lands through partial cutting of mature trees. On a large scale landscape, this cutting practice has resulted in the older, mature forest stands seen in much of Massachusetts.
Wildlife and forest ecologists have long known that certain forestry practices such as clear cutting achieve many of the same benefits of natural disturbances and are an effective means of creating young forests. With the advice and assistance from the Woodcock Initiative Partners, clear cuts will take place in carefully selected forested areas where they will create much needed young forest habitat on Cowl's properties benefiting woodcock populations as well as other wildlife.
"It was kind of counter-intuitive to me at first," admits Cinda Jones, 9th generation co-owner and President of Cowl's Land and Lumber Company. "We've always been praised for selectively cutting areas and never clear cutting. Through this partnership, I've learned that sometimes larger openings are what some wildlife species require for survival. We've always worked hard to do the right thing environmentally and to assure long term benefits to our forests, fish and wildlife. It's gratifying to take our efforts a few steps further through this partnership."
"Under the Jones family's leadership, Cowl's philosophy of enlightened forest management integrates strong environmental stewardship into the business of providing locally harvested forest products, said Paul Karczmarczyk , Regional Wildlife Biologist of the Ruffed Grouse Society. "This project builds on that proud history by addressing the lack of young forest habitat across the New England landscape, one of the most critical forest wildlife problems in our region. The outputs of this effort will not only benefit declining woodcock, ruffed grouse and other forest songbird populations, but will build a solid habitat foundation for the recovery of rare and threatened forest biota like New England cottontails, wood turtles, the large-leafed goldenrod and golden-winged warblers."
The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has long recognized that restoring and maintaining habitat is essential to perpetuating Massachusetts' native wildlife and has been directing efforts towards wildlife habitat protection, restoration and management. "The Division has a goal of maintaining or creating young forest habitat on 15-20% of its own properties. Ideally, we would like to see that same percentage applied across the all forest lands in the state." said George Darey, Chairman of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board. "It is our hope that by reaching out to large private landowners such as Cowl's; working with them on similar wildlife habitat projects will reverse declining trends in wildlife species in need of conservation for generations to come."
Funding for the Woodcock Initiative comes from the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), a private, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization, dedicated to the conservation, enhancement and professional management of North America's wildlife and other natural resources. "The Cowl's partnership with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is an excellent example of the type of partnership that we are promoting in Massachusetts and other northeastern states with important woodcock nesting ranges. Recovery of woodcock populations will rely upon private landowners having the knowledge and resources to improve their lands as habitat," says Scot Williamson, Vice President of the Wildlife Management Institute.
In an effort to communicate the importance of forest management for young forest habitat, the Wildlife Management Institute tinkered with Cowl's Lumber popular "got wood?" bumper sticker and produced a new sticker that reads "got woodcock?" listing the project's partners and mission. "got woodcock?" bumper stickers may be obtained by sending a self addressed stamped envelope to the Wildlife Management Institute, 69 Clinton Avenue, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819.