Sunday, July 25, 2010

Prettyboy Forestry

This blog details the State of Maryland DNR and City of Baltimore study being done at Prettyboy Reservoir (about 11 acres) and the adverse effects on the forest being done just from the study. This US Forestry Service grant funded study is mostly being done in order to measure how much of an effect the deer grazing is on the regeneration of the forest and also includes about 10 acres at Liberty Reservoir (not detailed here). The goal is to have a forest that will regenerate into a healthy new forest. The study sites consists of a small area of Oak forest for thinning (less than an acre), an area of plantation Eastern White Pines for thinning (about 4 or 5 acres), and 2 areas (about 4 to 5 acres) of near clear cutting of the Virginia Pines.

As is detailed below with pictures and text, this goal is being obtained at the sacrifice of count less number of desirable new growth Oak and Hickory trees up to 20 to 40 years old (not even including the ones cut at the Oak tree site). Large Eastern White Pines that were originally marked to not be cut were cut. Lumbering is a major disturbance to birds and other wildlife.  Barred Owls, Scarlet Tanagers and Ovenbirds are just some of the birds seen nesting in this area.  The Audobon society has designated both Prettyboy and Liberty as an Important Bird Area (IBA) on their international inventory of IBAs

They say that on the long run there will be a new regeneration of trees. Well, what about the short run destruction of the forest ecosystem that the lumbering has made to the regenerated desirable trees that were already there?  Since the newly cut desirable trees will sprout new shoots from the stump or roots, the study could end up having a skewed result for higher regenerated regrowth. 

The truth of the matter is that a forest regeneration in the mixed hardwood areas would still  happen from natural thinning. Yes, it would be a slower regeneration, but at least your not disrupting the forest ecosystem to get it. In addition, the deer grazing problem would also have to be resolved. A healthy amount of regeneration can only be achieved by keeping the deer population under control (sorry to all of you deer lovers out there, but the long term health of the forests is important).  I personally love to see deers, but too many of them can get to be a problem.

It has been repeatedly documented that the cleanest and purist water yields from old growth forests.(150 to 200 years old). The hardwood area of the study had about 70 to 80 years of age...halfway to old growth. With hands on forestry management in the mixed hardwoods, we will never get to have old growth forests for our watershed lands.

I can see thinning in the plantation Eastern White Pines and Virginia Pines if it is limited to only areas that have invasive species or is devoid of any new regeneration. If thinning the Eastern White Pines helps avoid disease and insect encroachment as the foresters are saying, then perhaps it should be done. Care should be taken, however, to not disturb any rare bird's nests.

In addition, about 16 years ago, a fire broke out at the site of a large clear cut off of Tracys Store Road. It took 3 fire companies to put it out. I hope the City takes this into consideration if they decide to cut pine plantations on a large scale basis in the future.

 Lastly, there are many areas in the reservoirs that need to be designated as wild lands where it is clearly defined that logging is forever off limits.  There are currently no areas designated by the City for wild land protection.

After this 2 to 3 year study, decisions will be made as to whether or not to implement this hands on forestry management into a wide spread basis at all three reservoirs(Liberty Prettyboy and Loch Raven).  In general, most people would rather have the aesthetics and wildlife of  an uncut forest. About 15 years ago, over 3200 people signed a petition to not cut the trees at the reservoirs. It seems that the only people who were in favor of cutting were timber industry, foresters, government agencies whose budget partially depends on timber harvests (i.e. Currently DNR) and some deer hunters  Lets hope the City makes a truly ecologically sound decision based upon the facts from all sides of this issue. Click on pictures to enlarge.

"Invasive species are treated to allow for native plant regeneration" Really?

A view of the uncut area of regenerated Oaks and Eastern White Pines flourishing under the Virginia Pine plantation next to the clear cut. The pictures of the cut areas of Virginia Pines are seen below. Very pretty areas were made very ugly.

Below are the clear cuts of the Virginia Pines with damaged and killed new growth Oaks and Eastern White Pines. Trees that were marked with orange ribbon were all desireable trees and the ones marked in blue were mostly desireable trees (9/15/10 update the city nows says they were not marked to be saved)  and the ones with orange paint are supposed to have been not cut.  I have about 50 more pictures, but I think I have the situation well documented below. This area had countless number of young Oaks and Eastern White Pines growing under the Virginia pines. The Virginia Pines were only used for pulp.

In the uncut forest next to this cut area, many immature Pink Lady Slipper wildflowers can be found. There are not too many of these wildflowers anymore. 

The picture below shows a clearly marked tree with orange paint that was cut.

Was this oil spill cleaned up or covered up? In addition, any other smaller oil and grease drippings would be impossible to clean up from the forest floor. Do we really want this in a watershed ecosystem?

The carpet of native Crows foot evergreen plants on the left side have been smothered from the discarded tree limbs and destroyed. If done on a wide spread basis, the discarded tree limbs become a fire hazard during dry times!
The right side show the untouched area.

Another shot of the hands off side.

Countless healthy young trees including Oaks, Hickories and Eastern White Pines were either cut, damaged or crushed.  Even the desirable trees originally marked by the forester to not be cut were indeed cut.  This is just not right.

More orange paint trees that were cut are pictured  below

Near clearcuts just don't seem to be the ecologically sound way to go for forestry management at a watershed. There is another orange paint tree that was cut below.

This old maple tree was cut since the foresters wanted oak regrowth. What is so wrong with maples trees? Grows too fast? Seeds aren't any good for wildlife?  Its still a hardwood tree protecting the watershed. Also, it seems the oak trees have had major gypsy moth problems for the past couple decades. Oaks do seem to have better nuts for wildlife, however. Lastly, if they want Oak regeneration, why clear cut 20 to 40 year old Oak tree regenerations that are already there?  This makes absolutely no sense to me and I would consider it an outrage if the City decided to do that on a wide scale basis.


The logging alone damaged the crows foot ever green plants. Why didn't the forester pick a Virgina Pines area that was truly void of new tree growth or native ferns for this study? I'm told that this Virginia Pine area was the only one near the other study plots.  Its too bad they couldn't use another area that had no regeneration or native ferns.  At least opening up the forest floor to more sunlight in a sterile area to prod  new growth would have made a little more sense to me. In addition, if the study plots are 1/10th of an acre each, why were about 4 to 5 acres of Virginia Pines nearly clear cut - way more than that needed for the deer eating part of the study? 9/15/10 update... the city says that is what the study needed to be done correctly.

The Plantation Eastern White Pines was an area of the study in which the forest was being thinned. I found 5 different trees marked to not be cut that were in fact cut. Three of these pictures are below. I'm sure I did not see all of the cut marked trees since I was only was there for 1 day for about 2 hours and the thinned area was about 4 to 5 acres.  The City Reservoir people say that some trees were damaged during the thinning process and thus were cut. This proves how damaging just thinning a forest can be.  In addition, when they start cutting trees that were marked for saving, then they lost control on how heavy the thinning ends up being.  It would have been better for the forest ecosystem to have just left the damaged trees standing and let them die then fall over.( 9/15/10 update..the city says that would have been too dangerous for the loggers). A healthy forest ecosystem with true bird and animal biodiversity needs some standing and fallen large dead trees.

Several areas next to the fire road were scraped clean of trees for this study, including young healthy oaks, in order for the logging trucks to be able to load up. Although grass was planted, I have noticed in other similar areas lumbered 15 to 20 years ago, that these spots do not seem to grow back any trees. It becomes grass, weeds and overrun. The forester concurred that will happen and there is no money available for planting of new saplings.

Finally, the invasive species stilt grass exploded in growth about 3 to 4 years ago in this area of Prettyboy. So far, no tree saplings can grow thru where it grows thickly and it has smothered native plants such as the crows foot on a wide spread basis. It grows in the sun or shade, but it prefers sun. Along with the deer grazing, I consider this invasive species to be one of the major challenges for the City in regards to forest regeneration and the survival of native plants and shrubs.

In 2 to 3 years, the City should not be allowed to do harvesting of live mixed hardwood trees
on a wide spread basis at the 3 reservoirs. The short term damage to the forest ecosystem is not worth the so called long term benefits.  Finally, I think this study is a waste of taxpayer money. Well of course if there is less deer, you will have more new trees regenerating and growing ..Duh! Yes, if the forest floor that is not scraped clean,  gets more sunlight, then there will be more growth (Hopefully not invasive species). Did we really need this study to prove that?

The irony is that in a 2004 Comprehensive Forest Management Plan report headed by a lead DNR forester, the Prettyboy study area (Shamberger Trail) was clearly labeled to be a natural hands off area.  For the sake of future generations, that is why the wildland designation becomes important to have at the reservoirs. 

Disclosure: Photos were takened on 7/22/10. I did not see any no trespassing signs posted (I found out it being closed the next day after talking to the City's watershed people). About a week prior, the ranger had given permission for hikers to go back and walk. The rangers were busy trying to catch the 4 wheel drive truck people who had gone back for a ride on the miles of fireroad.

For pictures and details on an effort to save very large trees and special areas from ever being lumbered at Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy Reservoirs see