Mary J. Metzger

Jun 302014
 
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series A Swarm of Drumlins

Pond and Wood NettlesMary J. Metzger

Pond and Wood Nettles


The Devens Regional Household Hazardous Products Collection Center is open to Groton residents Wednesday, July 2, and Saturday July 5, 9 a.m.- Noon. Proof of residency is required, and there is a charge for disposal. For more information www.devenshhw.com

Groton Conservation Trust monthly walk Wednesday, July 2, 6 p.m. at the Bates/Blackman conservation land on Old Ayer Road. One mile hike through fields, pines, and climb to summit of Indian Hill with views of Mount Wachusett and Monadnock. Parking available.

FREE Outdoor Music, Saturdays 6:00- 8 p.m. at the town gazebo behind the library, sponsored by the Main Street Café and the Groton Parks Commission (weather permitting).

  • July 5JD West: Acoustic rock duo performing modern and classic rock.
  • July 12 — Original trio Trusting Fate. Imaginative rock, folk, bluegrass, roots & blues.
  • July 19 — Original Patty Keough & Some Guys from Space (Kenny Selcer, Michael Miller, Phil Punch)
  • July 26 — The Spy Tones: Original music in the style of the classic 60s surf bands.

 

Groton Farmer’s Market Fridays 3 p.m.-7 p.m. starting July 11 at the Williams Barn, 160 Chicopee Rd.

A variety of homegrown products plus these live musicians: July 11-Kenny Selcer, July 18 Howie Newman, July 25 Back to the Garden.

Nashua River Watershed Association offers these Day Camps.Wild World of Water Week for Ages 6-8 (July 8 thru July 11 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)   All Things Animal for Ages 9-11 (July 14 thru July 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) Let’s Build It! for Ages 6-9 (July 28 thru July 31 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) www.nashuariverwatershed.org

Nashoba Paddler, 398 West Main St., Groton, is offering Full Moon Canoeing, Saturday, July 12, 7:30-10:30 p.m. and Family Paddling with Turtles, Saturday, July 26, 10 a.m.- 1 p.m.  Registration is required. http://www.nashobapaddler.com/

Groton  Historical Society’s Talk and Summer Ramble, Tuesday, July 15, 7 p.m. Archaeologist Marty Dudek will speak on Smoke-Out on Smoke Hill and More: Early Industry in Groton at the Boutwell House, 172 Main Street. After his talk, participants are invited to carpool to the Job Shattuck House for a tour of its early architectural details from its owner, and to enjoy Tom Callahan’s traditional and delicious homemade ice cream. Maps for individual rambling will be provided.

Fishing and Birding at pond next door to Groton Senior Center Thursdays, 9-3 pm courtesy of Groton Fire Department. Check in at Senior Center. Fishing license required but free to those 70+. For help with obtaining license online check with Stacy at the center.

The Squannacook River Runners offers member group runs Saturdays, 9 a.m. at Groton Town Forest, and Sundays, 8 a.m. from Groton Town Hall.  www.facebook.com/groups/sqrrgroton/

Groton Trails Committee has an extensive map of many of the trails in Groton that are on public land. www.grotontrails.org/Interactive_Maps.html

In the Area

Fruitlands Summer Concert Series .Thursday evenings on the hillside. Gates open at 5:30 for picnics, concerts begin at 7:15. This is an outdoor venue so bring a blanket or chairs. Handicapped seating is available under the tent. Well-behaved dogs are welcome at the concerts. July 3, American Salute, July 10, From Broadway to Hollywood and the Annual Picnic Contest — Bring the most elaborate picnic and win a prize!

  • July 3, American Salute
  • July 10, From Broadway to Hollywood -Annual Picnic Contest (Bring the most elaborate picnic and win a prize!)
  • July 17, Flying High: The anniversary of the moon landing
  • July 24, Summer Retrospective
  • July 31 The Love Dogs Come and dance to the energetic mix of jazz and jive.

Saturday, July 5, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. The Trustees of Reservations is sponsoring Life on a Saltwater Farm:
Paine House Tours for 17th Century at Greenwood Farm in Ipswich. “Situated on the edge of the Great Marsh, the 1694 Paine House at Greenwood Farm is the site of 250 years of family farming. Local residents set up fish drying stages, pastured cattle communally, and harvested salt marsh hay. A tour through the Paine House will illuminate the unique features of this First Period structure, including an in situ dairy. Trails through the pastureland and the salt marsh are open to all daily, sunrise to sunset.” Information: 978-356-4351  EXT 4049

Full Moon Walk, Saturday, July 12, 7-9 p.m. Join naturalist Cherrie Corey for a sunset/full-moon rise walk through the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord. Meet at the information kiosk. Take Rte. 62 to Monsen Rd.  Follow Monsen Rd. and turn left into refuge driveway when road turns sharply right.  Follow refuge road to the parking lot at the end. $5 donation requested. http://sense-of-place-concord.blogspot.com/

Ayer Greenway Committee Summer Woods Walk and Rock Scramble,  Saturday, July 19, 9 a.m.-noon. Steve Smith will share geologic observations along the Habitat Trail to Porcupine Hill. Meet at the Groton Harvard Road Trailhead (near the Transfer Station). Families welcome, sturdy shoes recommended. 978-821-2916 for information.

Help MassWildlife Count Turkey Families! Sportsmen and — women, birders, landowners, and other wildlife enthusiasts are encouraged to assist the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) count turkey flocks only containing hens and their young poults (broods) this summer. DFW conducts an annual wild turkey brood survey from June through August. A turkey brood survey form has been posted on the agency website. www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/fish-wildlife-plants/turkey-brood-survey.html


Jun 262014
 

Members of the Groton Conservation Commission met representatives of the Groton Conservation Trust, the Groton Trails Committee, and about a dozen neighbors of the Baddacook Conservation Area last Friday, June 20, to discuss concerns with the post-timbering condition of the parcel and ways to remediate and move forward with a management plan.

The 36-acre Baddacook property lies between Martin Pond’s Road and Baddacook Pond, generally north of Route 40 east of Groton center. It is owned by the Groton Conservation Commission, but the Groton Conservation Trust owns the Conservation Restriction on the land. The property includes two distinct areas. One is an old field with an old barn foundation, apple trees, lilacs, and other plantings. The other is a timbered area that winds around several wetlands, vernal pools, and a portion of Baddacook Pond. It is prime turtle breeding habitat, including for the state-listed Blandings Turtle. It is also home to the blue-spotted salamander. It was the second area to be logged as part of the Commission’s sustainable forestry plan.






Timbering near these sensitive areas can be done only in the winter. Last winter’s heavy snow may have hindered some of the log and debris removal operations. The rutted and slash-strewn trails that appeared after snow melt are not conducive for walking in an area used daily by neighbors.

“With the snow cover, these trails looked pristine after timbering,” Takashi Tada, Groton’s Conservation Administrator, told the group.

Darcy Donald, one of the neighbors who has taken a lead role in working with the Conservation Commission, pointed out piles of some logs left in the woods, a high berm between the field and a vernal pool, and silt near a stream crossing. The neighborhood group has been stewards of the land, removing piles of trash and mowing the trail leading into the area.

Olin Lathrop of the Groton Trails Committee said, “All these logs will rot and make interesting soils and places for creatures to live.”

He pointed to a tree that had grown out of a pile of mossy nurse logs left over from the last logging operation over twenty years ago. He was also optimistic that the Trails Committee could come up with a plan to improve and even extend the trails. Unwanted ATV traffic is more problematic, but signs posting the areas as prohibited to motorized vehicles will be posted.

Logging and agricultural use have created a problem with invasive plants that will get worse because the winter’s logging has opened the forest canopy and let in more sunlight. Debris left in the field from past uses and logging, both recent and 20+ years ago, will require cleanup of the field before the land can be converted to a mowed pasture or whatever other use it is put to in the future. The consensus from Bay State Forester Eric Radlof and people at the meeting was that agricultural uses are probably limited to pasturing, not growing crops.

“Invasives will readily move into the more open forest, so a more targeted approach will be needed,” Conservation Commissioner Susan Black, who is also a forester, said.

Radlof, who evaluated the Conservation Commission’s properties for possible logging in 2011, recommended last month that a flail mower be used to knock down invasives and native shrubs which are returning as the field succeeds to forest. Even with herbicides, it may take 2-3 years to get the field ready for a possible agricultural use, he said. Other ideas discussed are the possibility of grazing goats on the property, and the possibility of installing turtle gardens.

Conservation Commissioners hope to evaluate their first sustainable forestry efforts and find ways to better communicate the process before and during timbering. Money received from the timbering will be used to manage conservation properties.

The cutting down of trees to make healthier forests seems counterintuitive, but sustainable forestry is at the heart of a recent report released by the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), “New England Forests: The Path to Sustainability” www.newenglandforestry.org/images/forestry_report/Forestry_Vision_Final.pdf and an earlier study by the Harvest Forest, “Changes to the Land: Four Scenarios for the Future of the Massachusetts Landscape, http://harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu/changes-to-the-land.

Mary Metzger is a member of the Groton Conservation Commission.


Jun 152014
 

Tom Wessels leading a walk through Gamlin Springs with members and friends of the Groton Conservation TrustSusan Hughes

Tom Wessels leading a walk through Gamlin Springs with members and friends of the Groton Conservation Trust

“The central New England transitional forest is diverse as it has over 140 woody species from both the northern boreal white and black spruce forests, and the temperate oak forests to the south, but it’s cultural history is one of sheep fever,” ecologist, professor, and author Tom Wessels told members and friends of the Groton Conservation Trust.

He explained how the woods can hide artifacts left from New England’s first large-scale market farming in a talk Saturday at the Groton School as part of the GCT’s 50th year anniversary celebration.

In 1810, Vermonter William Jarvis was able to smuggle 4,000 Merino sheep out of Spain during the fog of the Napoleonic War. These prized and embargoed animals had been developed for their prolific, fine, non-itchy wool. Two years later, during the War of 1812, tariffs were imposed on all imported British wool. Then the gradual development of power looms in New England’s new mill towns gave further incentive to New England farmers to begin clearing their forests so they could graze sheep. By the 1840s nearly 80% of the land had been deforested, Wessels said.

Wool import tariffs swung wildly and eventually, the price of wool dropped. The overgrazing of 5 million sheep had so eroded New England soils that in the 1840s half the people living in western Massachusetts and Vermont left for the more fertile land of Ohio.

Signs of that boom and bust agriculture can still be found in Groton’s and New England’s woods.

“The 125,000 miles of stone walls in New England were built in about 30 years,” Wessels stated. “There was no longer enough wood for fencing, and overgrazing had exposed the stones.”

The early Fence Warden was a powerful town position during sheep fever times. These officials walked the stone boundary lines and could level fines if walls did not meet a minimum height. They could also bring a transgressor to account for his lack of diligence before a Sunday congregation.

“Grazing sheep could devastate a grain field, so to keep the peace it was important to maintain the stone walls,” he said.

The forests of New England did return. The overgrazed pastures rebounded first with very low-growing nonnative basal rosette weeds that sheep could not get their teeth around. These were followed by nonnative coarse weeds, like thistles, then exotic berry-producing thorny shrubs, like the Multiflora Rose. Trees sprouted in these shrubs, beyond the mouth of grazers.

“If it is a diverse canopy, the area was overgrazed for a long time. One species stands are usually indicative of old hay fields, which were not grazed and also do not have the exposed stones.”

Wessels drew from a book he co-authored, Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England, when he talked about the weird apple trees he discovered early in his career. He found some of these bonsai trees to be over a hundred years old, left tiny by the constant grazing of sheep, but surviving. Most of these apple trees are now gone. Another iconic sign of the early pastures, large horizontal low-limbed pasture trees, will soon follow.

Following the talk, Wessels led a group through the Trust’s Gamlin Crystal Spring Conservation Area.

GCT spokeswoman Susan Hughes wrote in an email, “We took the pond loop on the Gamlin Crystal Springs property. Tom told stories about the varieties of trees found in the woods and challenged us to use our investigative thinking to tell their story. For example, ‘Why does the paper birch shed its bark so easily?’ To help shed lichens so the bark stays white to deflect the sun. ”

“He also helped us identify the previous use of the land. As he said in the talk, about 75% of all NE land was once pasture land. He was looking for a tree that could be dated back to the mid-1800′s to identify original forest land, not used for pasture. It was midway through the walk when we located the remnants of a stone wall, indicating pasture, and then just beyond was a huge, divided oak, with which he could date the right time! So the back half of the property had always been forest land, something we didn’t know about our property.

“Despite the demise of so many beautiful old-growth trees like the American Chestnut and the Elm, he did leave us on a positive note. He said these trees will make their comeback as they are developing resistant varieties now. And that we will be able to manage the many invasive species (not rid ourselves of them) but manage them in a way that our native species can thrive.”

Wessel’s talk was underwritten in part by a grant from the Groton Commissioners of Trusts Fund.


Jun 032014
 
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series A Swarm of Drumlins

The Devens Regional Household Hazardous Products Collection Center is open to Groton residents Wednesday, June 4, and Saturday June 7, 9 a.m.- Noon. Proof of residency is required, and there is a charge for disposal. For more information: www.devenshhw.com.

Members of the Groton Conservation Trust will lead a Conservation Walk Wednesday, June 4, 6-7 p.m. along Baddacook Pond. Meet at the intersection of Martins Pond Road and Floyd Hill Road.

Groton Greenway River Festival 2014 takes place Sunday, June 8, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Petapawag boat launch on Rt. 119. This free family event features live music, nature exhibits, children’s activities, a cardboard canoe race and more. Free parking and shuttle buses are available at Deluxe Corporation, 500 Main St. Groton. More information at www.facebook.com/GrotonGreenwayRiverFestival.

An Introduction to Bee Keeping with John Kelly is scheduled Tuesday, June 10, 7-8:30 p.m. at Groton Public Library. Learn about honey bees, and the equipment needed for their hives. Registration requested, but not required at www.gpl.org.

Groton Boy Scouts Troop #1 will be doing a carwash, Saturday, June 14 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. at the Prescott School Building on Main St. The fundraiser helps cover the general costs of the troop, helping with campouts, food and awards.

Groton Conservation Trust, through a grant from the Groton Commissioners Trust, brings author and conservationist Tom Wessels for a talk Saturday, June 14, 1 p.m. at the Groton School Library Conference Room. As demonstrated in his book “Reading the Forested Landscape, the Natural History of New England,” Wessels interprets land use history by the clues left behind, and will lead a walk after the presentation. Registration is appreciated at this free event. http://www.gctrust.org/.

Nashoba Paddler, 398 West Main St., Groton, is offering Full Moon Canoeing, Saturday, June 14, 7:30-10:30 p.m. A second evening ride, Paddling with Beavers will be held Saturday, June 28, 6-9 p.m. Registration is required for these trips. http://www.nashobapaddler.com/.

Free Shredding Event sponsored by the Friends of Groton Elders, Saturday, June 21, 9 a.m.-Noon at the Main St. Sacred heart Church Parking Lot. All paper records, staples and paper clips allowed.

The Groton Trails Committee and the Appalachian Mountain Club will lead a two hour Guided Walk through Mass Audubon’s Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, off Robin Hill Rd. in Groton Sunday, June 22, 1 p.m. sharp. The sanctuary supports moose, beavers, and porcupines, as well as nearly 100 species of birds and more than 240 plant species. No dogs allowed on this walk.

Beginning Monday, June 23, Squannacook River Runners will host its 20th Annual Summer Track and Field Program for Kids K-8, and an Adult Summer Workout. The eight week program runs Mon. & Wed. 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School. For more information and to sign up visit www.gdtrack.com.

The Nashua River Watershed Association’s website offers an extensive list of hiking opportunities and trail maps at scores of conservation areas in Groton, nearby towns, and Massachusetts. www.nashuariverwatershed.org/recreation/hiking-walking.html .

And outside Groton

The New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) is honoring World Environment Day at its 70th annual meeting, Thursday, June 5, check-in begins 4:15 at the Boston Seaport World Trade Center. Key speaker is Jeremy Grantham, an investment strategist whose foundation focuses on climate change and biodiversity conservation, with an emphasis on international initiatives. NEFF will also launch its new report “New England Forests — the Path to Sustainability.” www.newenglandforestry.org/

Birding at Fruitlands: Nesting Birds Ornithologist Patricia White will lead a free walk on Fruitlands Museum trails to look for nesting birds, Saturday June 7, 6:30 a.m. Dress for the weather and the bugs for this two mile walk over meadows and varied terrain. www.fruitlands.org 102 Prospect Rd. Harvard MA.

Caterpillar Foray at Great Meadow National Wildlife Refuge Concord. Naturalists Sam Jaffe and Cherry Corey will share their knowledge of the hidden larval universe in a trail walk, Sunday, June 8, 1-4 p.m. Ages 7-Adult. Fee; $30 preregistration required at: cherrie.corey@verizon.net or 978-760-1933. Limited to 18. Co-sponsored with Friends of the Assabet River NWR.

Mount Wachusett Spring Ephemerals Hike, Sunday, June 8, 10:30-2:30 p.m. Led by New England Wildflower Society staff. This moderate-to-strenuous half day hike loops from Echo Lake to the summit to learn about the New England landscape. Fee is $21 (members) $25 (non-members). Registration required /www.newenglandwild.org/learn/catalog/fdt1025.

2014 Great American Backyard Campout takes place Saturday, June 28, and is part of the National Wildlife Federation’s annual nationwide event to connect thousands of people with nature and support NWF’s efforts to get kids outdoors. www.nwf.org/great-american-backyard-campout.aspx.

Researchers at Northeastern University are requesting agricultural soil samples for The National Soil Project. This project will measure several markers that represent the sequestered carbon content of the soil, and give a picture of the health of the nation’s soils. www.northeastern.edu/hagroup/national-soil-project/.


May 312014
 

Cheryl Scammell

Cheryl Scammell

“There is a need for natural gas in New England. But not this pipeline. Not this time.” Cheryl Scammell told the Groton Board of Selectmen and more than two hundred people at a Tennessee Gas Pipeline Information Session Thursday evening.

Scammell was the first audience member to speak in the first local public discussion of a proposed 36-inch natural gas pipeline stretching from Albany, New York to Dracut, Massachusetts, and her opposition to the pipeline was applauded by most people at the meeting. The audience, generally, showed a high degree of skepticism or opposition to the “Northeast Expansion,” both to the project and its proposed route. The pipeline would pass through the north side of Groton, traversing public land owned by the Conservation Commission and Groton-Dunstable Regional School District (the high school campus), and private property including some owned by the Groton Conservation Trust.

Residents like Scammell, who live in or abut the proposed pipeline path, first learned about the pipeline when survey requests to allow Kinder Morgan contractors access to private property were left on their doorsteps in February. The company notified the Groton Conservation Commission and Groton Dunstable High School by letter the next week. Town officials tried without much success to get information from Kinder Morgan for several months.

Although town officials shared the information they have received from Kinder Morgan, the parent company Tennessee Gas, there were many more questions than answers posed at the meeting. Board of Selectmen Chairman Peter Cunningham suggested that many questions directed at the panelists, for which they didn’t have answers, should be answered by Kinder Morgan representatives when they meet with the Groton community on June 23, at 7 p.m. in the Lawrence Academy auditorium. Cunningham promised that the Thursday BoS meeting and the June 23 conference with the pipeline company were just the first of many public forums on the proposal. Similar meetings are taking place in communities from the Berkshires to Dracut.

According to its tentative schedule, Kinder Morgan hopes to have all permits in hand and begin construction in late 2016 or early 2017 and have it in service by November, 2018. Before that, the tentative route outlined in the survey form packages landowners and the town received is a preliminary route; a Kinder Morgan spokesman said that many changes are routinely made early in the planning process to narrow down options and determine a more exact route. In the announced schedule, Kinder Morgan would apply for permits with FERC by October 2014; a proposed route is part of that application.

Thursday evening began with presentations from Ken Hartledge, President of the Nashoba Conservation Trust; Kevin Kelly, Manager of Groton Electric Light Department (GELD), and Town Counsel, attorneys from Kopelman & Paige, David Doneski and Jackie Cowen.

Hartledge stated “By the government’s own sources, we have a short-term gas problem and a long-term energy problem that can be addressed with alternative energies and energy efficient conservation measures, without permanently altering miles of core wildlife habitat and outstanding water resources.”

The 129 mile pipeline route planned by energy transporter Kinder Morgan will go through Groton just south of the Pepperell border. An initial 100 foot clearing is required during construction of the 30-36 inch underground pipeline; after that, a 50 foot easement permanently maintained.

State Representative Sheila Harrington suggested the route may have been chosen because the mitigation of green spaces is cheaper than going through more populated areas. She told citizens opposed to the pipeline to express their views to Federal representatives, because after permission is given by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, (FERC) for the project, all the state can do is work with them to mitigate any damages to natural areas.

The Federal agency will do an extensive environmental impact study at that time. According to town counsel, by Massachusetts law, a company can petition for approval to survey without the need of public hearings or notification of property owners. Right-of-ways may be taken by eminent domain if FERC gives approval, and landowners can go to court if compensation cannot be negotiated.

Several residents expressed concern that the $2-3 billion costs of the pipeline, which would be paid for by Kinder Morgan, will be passed on to ratepayers. Kevin Kelly of GELD said that last winter, New England paid three times the price for natural gas last winter than the rest of the country paid, due in part to supply issues with the colder winter. “The price in western Pennsylvania and 80% of the country was 1/3 what we paid,” he wrote in an email. “Direct benefit to Groton ratepayers, if there had been adequate gas transmission this last winter, would have been $500,000 for the 12 coldest weeks.”

“By law, natural gas must first go toward residential heating, so for many of the colder days, gas plant generators sat idle. Oil was cheaper 57% of the days. GELD itself lost $500,000 last winter due to the natural gas situation,” he told the meeting. And he predicted that this coming winter will be more of the same.

“The closing of the Salem Harbor coal generator and the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant this year will mean the loss of over 1.2 gigawatts of power. The 1.6 gigawatt coal plant in Brayton Point is scheduled for closure by 2017. Peak demand in the winter is in the late afternoon/early evening when solar power is not available. Every megawatt of wind power must be backed up with a megawatt of natural gas. We need more natural gas and cost will become lower with increased supply,” he said.


May 312014
 
Needing a little more bridge ... over a deep water-filled ditch west of Dan Parker Road a short distance north of Rocky Hill Road.

Needing a little more bridge … over a deep water-filled ditch west of Dan Parker Road a short distance north of Rocky Hill Road.

Steve Legge, Paul Funch, Dave Minott, Jesse King, and Dave Burnham test the bridge they built in the NEFF Wharton Plantation

Steve Legge, Paul Funch, Dave Minott, Jesse King, and Dave Burnham test the bridge they built in the NEFF Wharton Plantation

Last Sunday afternoon, May 25, volunteer bridge builder Jesse King joined Trails Committee members Dave Burnham, Paul Funch, Steve Legge, Dave Minott, and Olin Lathrop to build a footbridge in the New England Forestry Foundation Wharton Plantation. This bridge now allows easy crossing of the deep water-filled ditch west of Dan Parker Road a short distance north of Rocky Hill Road.

The beavers have been busy raising the water level this spring after the bridge was planned. The west side of the bridge ends in a few inches of water. For now, we put the small trestle there someone had thrown across the ditch a year ago, so it is possible to cross all the way on reasonably solid footing without getting your feet wet.


May 192014
 

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Peter Cunningham Delivers An Arbor Day Proclamation to Friend of the Trees Tom CallahanArt Campbell | The Groton Line

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Peter Cunningham (l) Delivers An Arbor Day Proclamation to Friends of the Trees’ Tom Callahan


The trees we have to use and enjoy are the trees that have been spared and planted by those who have lived before us. Making an investment in the future, as they have for the last 18 years, the Friends of the Trees and the Groton Garden Club held a festive family Arbor Day celebration Sunday, May 18 at the entrance to the Lawrence Playground off Broadmeadow Road.

About 20 official Friends of the Trees, members of the Garden Club, and simple friends of trees attended, and heard that Groton has been selected again as a Tree City USA.

Celebrating Arbor Day annually is one of the requirements for the “Tree City USA” designation given to Groton by the National Arbor Day Foundation and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Urban and Community Forestry Program. There was tree-inspired music, the giving away of Black Hills White Spruce seedlings, and the planting of a tree, a water-tolerant Bald Cypress that should thrive in the high groundwater level near the Broadmeadow wetlands. This species, in its native southern range, reaches maturity in 200 years, with some specimens’ age figured at 1,200 years old.

Nearly all trees have a longer life span than we humans. The trees we plant ourselves, we will mostly witness as saplings. Dying older trees that sprouted long before we were born are often spared the ax, like beloved pets we can’t put down. Their usefulness continues after death though, as snags provide a space for greater biodiversity.

If we can’t see the life span of individual trees, we can barely fathom the life cycle of a forest. It takes about 150-200 years for a meadow in New England to progress to a climax hardwood forest. The middle part of that succession cycle is dominated by white pine. Natural disturbances, like fire and windthrow, reset the cycle, so there are always different age forests that support a variety of plant and animal life.

The greatest disturbance to the New England forest occurred with European colonization. The amazing abundance of large trees must have been a heady sight for the first settlers. They put those trees to use as ship masts, lumber, fuel, furniture, fencing, and even burned them for charcoal and potash fertilizer.

Almost all the original forest was cut down for an even greater treasure, land to be farmed. Less than 1,500 acres of original Old Growth Forest still exists in Massachusetts, in steep mountainous areas that were extremely unconducive to farming. The Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts has some trees that are 500 years old. A stand of Old Growth Forest close to Groton can be found on Mount Wachusett.

Those early farmers may have rued the loss of easy firewood, but when the fertile virgin forest soils played out, their loss was more catastrophic. By the 1850s, New Englanders started abandoning their farms, moving to industrial pursuits and west where there was always more land and forest.

The end of the western frontier came sooner than expected, and at the turn of the century some Americans, led by President Teddy Roosevelt, who was familiar with Western natural treasures, began to consider forest benefits, like erosion control, water quality, and the sustenance of wildlife. Ironically, the last major timbering of Old Growth Forest in the East happened in 1912, when the 300-acre Colebrook forest was felled in Northwestern Connecticut. It had been studied and photographed by Yale ecologist G.E. Nichols, who saw the cut as a catastrophic loss for scientific understanding of the forests.

By that time, coal had supplanted firewood, but forests were still an important resource for timber. Other Americans, like Groton’s William P. Wharton, started to experiment with ways to sustainably manage forests. Noted for his bird-banding efforts at his farm on Broadmeadow Rd., Wharton began buying up adjoining parcels of abandoned farmlands and planting them with pine trees. In 1968 he gave his 722 acre plantation to the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), which he helped to found. He had persuaded the town to establish the Memorial Town Forest in 1922.

Early twentieth century forests were attacked by two different foreign fungi, accidentally introduced in shipments of exotic plants. The chestnut blight went on to destroy what had been a keystone species in the whole Appalachian range, the American Chestnut. Chestnut saplings still spring up from the roots of these trees in Groton, and for the past few decades, successful efforts have been underway nationally to back breed a blight — proof tree. The American Elm was hit by a separate fungus, which caused widespread but not total loss from Dutch Elm Disease.

These setbacks to the restoration of old growth forests were magnified by the Hurricane of 1938. It was an event unprecedented in living memory (an earlier hurricane had destroyed forests in 1815). It blew down every tree of considerable size in New England, including all the old elms along Main Street in Groton. As there were yet no chain saws to use, much of the windthrow lay piled up for the rest of the Depression Era years.

The Federal government bought up some of the timber and used it in the building of Fort Deven. In April 1941, a portion of the downed woods near the Dunstable border started to burn. The fire lasted three days, burning in a circle as wind changes spared Groton Center. A swath of woods was destroyed from the Dunstable line through Westford’s Graniteville and Forge Village, including the pines in the Wharton Plantation, and hundreds of thousands of board feet of cut timber waiting to be moved to mills. The Groton forests started the journey to old growth again.

It’s now been 75 years since the hurricane and fire. As the New England forests came back a new generation began to understand the forests’ role in cleaning the air and water, and the importance of biodiversity. They realized there was a second chance to save the forests. Groton’s Conservation Commission was formed in 1963 and the next year saw the beginning of the Groton Conservation Trust. Over 8,000 acres of forest lands have been protected by these and several other groups in town.

Massachusetts has 3 million acres of forest now, but loses about 40 acres a day to development. There are new threats to its biodiversity. Invasive plants destroy or replace native vegetation, and invasive insects are targeting hemlocks and ash. Global climate warming will mean the loss of species, like sugar maples, that depend on cooler summers. The forest themselves are valuable carbon sinks, storing up to 43% of New England’s carbon emissions, just one of the estimated billions of dollars’ worth of ecosystem services they are providing.

“Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the New England Landscape,” a report published in 2010 and updated in 2012, www.wildlandsandwoodlands.org envisions the selective conservation of 70% of New England’s remaining forests, with sustainable logging encouraged in most areas, and an increase in agricultural land.

In includes this fact: “Eighty-five percent of the region’s forests are privately owned, much of it in small parcels. The single most important action that we can take today is to help those landowners maintain their forested and other natural landscapes through permanent conservation on a collective scale that allows natural and human communities to flourish for the many generations that follow.”


May 112014
 

Monarch butterfly on Tithonia, a favorite nectar plantMary J. Metzger

Monarch butterfly on Tithonia, a favorite nectar plant

Last summer I saw only one Monarch butterfly in my pollinator garden. And that was at the end of September when it should have been making its long migration back to its winter home in the mountains of central Mexico.

The decline in population may be a trend that people are noticing, and can do something about. Not being able to do anything about the weather, gardeners concerned with the butterfly’s survival are trying to make sure there are milkweed plants everywhere along the Monarch’s migration routes. The Groton Public Library will present: Gardening Get Together: Monarch Butterfly Waystations, Tues, May 13, 7-8 pm. Guest speaker Carol Satlar volunteers with MonarchWatch.org and will explain how to help people plant milkweeds, the host plants for monarch caterpillars and nectar plants for adult monarchs.

After adult Monarchs spend the winter there, huddled together in oyamel trees in a tiny 5-50 acre area, they move north, reproducing three or four generations by the time they get to Groton. Last year’s cold spring and summer drought in the Midwest caused Monarch population counts everywhere along the journey north to drop drastically, following a trend that places their numbers 90% lower than the averages in the 1990s.

Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of many flowers, but their caterpillars can find food only on milkweed plants. Changes in agricultural methods have eliminated the milkweed plant that used to be common at the edges of fields.

This year’s Monarch path can be followed on maps at Journey North, www.learner.org/jnorth/, a citizen scientist website that reports the first sightings. Scientists use this spring migration data to explore connections between arrival time and reproductive success during the breeding season.

Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, www.monarchwatch.org, predicts how this year’s population will fare based on his Three Bears hypothesis: “There’s an optimal time of arrival in the northern breeding areas — too early or too late usually leads to lower production. Overall, we seem to be off to a better start than in either of the last two years — too hot in 2012, too cold in 2013 — just right in 2014? Not quite, but there is hope for some recovery.”


May 032014
 

Robert Gosselin was singled out for recognition Thursday evening (May 1) at the Groton Conservation Trust’s Annual Meeting, part of its year-long 50th Anniversary celebration. Gosselin was one of the five original trustees, and he paid tribute to the vision he and Joseph S. Hayes, Richard M. Hinchman, Francis P. Nash, and Melvyn F. Rowan shared when they started the private non-profit land trust in 1964. Over the past 50 years, the trust has become the steward of more than 40 properties totaling over 1,400 acres.

But rather than linger on the past, the keynote speaker at the meeting took guests directly into present-day problem solving — dealing with the state’s invasive species.

“Of the 3,500 vascular plants in New England, 1,000 have been introduced from elsewhere, but only about 100 are considered invasive,” Ted Elliman told the group. Elliman, Senior Botanist with the New England Wildflower Society, identified the most common invasives. These non-native plants spread rapidly and aggressively, displacing the native flora, and persist in the natural landscape. Once established, they often offer no benefits to wildlife.

Some of the plants, like Norway Maple, Burning Bush Euonymus, Autumn Olive, and Japanese Barberry were deliberately introduced as exotic and useful landscaping specimens. Some, like Oriental Bittersweet and Glossy Buckthorn, have been spread by birds, who eat the nutrition-less, and often cathartic berries.

Since 2009, Massachusetts has banned the sale, propagation and importation of all plants considered invasive. This list is constantly updated as Early Detection Species, like Amur Cork Tree, Porcelain Berry, Mile-a-Minute Vine, and Giant Hogweed are just now spreading. Elliman stated that there are even six populations of the southern vine, Kudzu, growing in the state’s warmer coastal areas.
In light of global warming, the state is actively monitoring these new-to-New England invasives as they move farther north.

Methods of invasive plant control include manual, mechanical, chemical and biological controls. A weed wrench is useful in removing the total root systems of plants like Multiflora Rose. Round-up can be used in wetland areas, but only with special permits and expertise to prevent damage to other sensitive native plants. The Galerucella beetle has been used successfully in Groton to help control Purple Loosestrife. Fire is a slow labor-intensive method that works if the entire root crown can be burned. And grazing goats have been used to combat invasives in the Minute Man National Park in Lexington.

A Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts

A Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts

Two websites focusing on invasive plants are provided by The Invasive Plant Atlas of New Englandand the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group. A pamphlet suitable for field use is published by the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, “A Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts” costs $5, and is available through the Groton Public Library’s regional library system.

Information on the Trust’s 50th year celebration activities is on its website, www.gctrust.org .


May 012014
 

Honeybee visiting native New England AsterMary J. Metzger

Honeybee visiting native New England Aster

Ten thousand bees must fly to 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey. You can taste the result of this busy work at a honey tasting at the Groton Public Library, Tuesday, May 6, 6:15 p.m., followed by a showing of More Than Honey: A Film on the Disappearance of Honeybees at 7 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the library and Groton Local with support of the Town of Groton Trust Funds’ Lecture Fund.

The honey is provided by Cambridge-based Follow the Honey, which seeks raw untreated honeys all over the world to foster peaceful economic development, in what the company calls “bees without borders,” or “beeplomacy.”

“More Than Honey” is a 2012 Swiss documentary film about a global story, the world-wide disappearance of European honey bees. Oscar-nominated director Markus Imhoof investigates the mystery of bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which appears to have many interacting causes. Mites, viruses, loss of habitat, malnutrition, droughts, and pesticides are all studied as contributing to the crash in commercial honey bee hive populations across the earth. Since 2006, an average of 30% of U.S. bee colonies have been lost each winter, twice the acceptable rate.

The title of the movie is apt, as bees contribute much more to humans than honey. A third of the food plants we consume need honey bees for pollination, including apples, almonds, strawberries, and flowering fields for livestock grazing. In 2005, before the collapse, the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated the honey bee’s pollination of global crops to be worth close to $200 billion. CCD has led to increased production costs for farmers who struggle to find adequate numbers of commercially rented hives. In some parts of China, pollination of fruit trees now has to be done by hand, due to the loss of bees.

Asian honey bee populations, which cannot be domesticated, have also declined in recent years, but not as dramatically. These native bees yield less honey but are more adapted to the environment. Saving the ancient traditions of honey-gatherers also saves their forests.

In the Americas, European honey bees are not native bees, but they will forage a variety of plants, native and non-native. Gardeners can provide food for honey bees and all native pollinators by not mowing native weeds, like goldenrod, whose nectar supports scores of pollinators. The elimination of pesticide use is also beneficial for all bees and other pollinators.

Register for the program on the Groton Public Library web site.