Determining the appropriate response to wildfires, outbreaks of pests and pathogens, and occurrence of invasive species will be a critical component of reserve planning. One objective established above for matrix reserves was: "To the greatest degree possible, allow natural disturbance processes to determine the structure and composition of the forest ecosystem". Given that humans are part of the natural environment, how do we define a natural disturbance, and how do we constrain a natural disturbance such as a lightning-strike wildfire within a reserve so that it does not threaten human life and property outside the reserve?
For planning purposes, a natural disturbance will be defined as an event that would be expected to occur absent direct human actions on the landscape. Natural disturbances include windstorms, lightning-caused wildfire, and outbreaks of native insect pests such as hemlock looper and forest tent caterpillar that have occurred historically in Massachusetts. For each natural disturbance that occurs within a given reserve, a decision must be made as to whether or not the disturbance can be allowed to proceed to any degree without threatening human life and property outside the reserve. Disturbances such as natural wildfires which can clearly threaten human life and property must either be immediately extinguished within a reserve, or to whatever degree possible, be allowed to "let burn" within portions of the reserve if state and local officials feel this can be done without impairing public health and safety. In a fire-adapted forest ecosystem like the pitch pine/scrub oak type found in southeastern Massachusetts, wildfire can be extremely difficult to contain, and prescribed burning may be appropriate to emulate natural processes while insuring public health and safety.
A similar approach should be taken to new, human-caused introductions of insects and pathogens that threaten the economic value of private and public forests outside reserves. For example, exotic insects like the Asian long-horned beetle and emerald ash borer have recently caused substantial loss of standing timber in parts of the United States. In the event that a species like these is discovered within a reserve, actions should be taken to eliminate or at least control the species within the reserve so that it does not spread into adjacent forestlands open to harvesting.
Response to introduction of invasive plant species into a reserve must also be considered. Invasive plants include species that did not continuously expand their range area into Massachusetts, but rather were transported substantial distances by humans and placed into new environments where no natural controls occur to constrain the introduced species. Invasive plant species multiply rapidly and reduce diversity of native plants. Invasive plant species identified in this NHESP publication should be eliminated or controlled within reserves using mechanical procedures whenever possible.
In addition to natural disturbances, which can be allowed in reserves without threatening public health and safety outside reserves, certain human-caused disturbances that have become ubiquitous throughout the landscape will likely be allowed to proceed unabated within reserves. Examples include beech bark disease complex, periodic gypsy moth infestations, and hemlock wooly adelgid.
- The Evaluation of Non-Native Plant Species for Invasiveness in Massachusetts, a report with an annotated list by the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group.
This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Policy, Land and Forest