Why early successional habitat?
Some people claim there is no need for these habitats or these
species; they sometimes argue that a few hundred years ago before
European colonization, there was very little of that kind of habitat in
Massachusetts. Wildlife biologists – and not just those who work for the
Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) – reply that in
the past beavers created a lot of young habitat in all our river valleys
– we no longer allow them to do that because that’s where most of our
settlements are these species did evolve in New England, they clearly
had habitat somewhere; selecting one period in time is arbitrary –
10,000 years ago there were very few trees but lots of tundra no one is
trying to recreate a landscape of mostly open fields and few trees –
just trying to create some fields and shrub areas. Of courses there are
also other species – especially insects – that need that kind of
habitat, too. David King, an ornithologist, mentioned that at Montague
Plains Wildlife Management Area (WMA) they have found over 150 species
of native bees, including one new species never seen before. Especially
given the decline of (imported) honey bees, these native bees are
essential for pollination.
Among the animals that need shrubland or young forest, are: Eastern
Hognose Snake, Eastern Ratsnake, Black Racer, Wood Turtle, Eastern Box
Turtle, Eastern Kingbird, American Kestrel, Whip-Poor-Will, Black-billed
Cuckoo, Golden-winged Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Gray Catbird,
Broad-Winged Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Northern Bobwhite, Prairie Warbler,
Willow Flycatcher, Alter Flycatcher, Eastern towhee, American Woodcock,
Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Common Yellowthroat,
Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Northern
Harrier, Long-eared Owl, Mourning Warbler, Vesper Sparrow; Southern bog
Lemming, New England Cottontail Barrens tiger Beetle, American Burying
Beetle, Noctuid Moth, Waxed Sallow Moth, and many other insects.
John Scanlon, Forestry Supervisor for DFW, who attended several of
these tours, said whether and how much of this kind of habitat to make
is a cultural decision. He pointed out that before Europeans settled,
beavers created lots of disturbance in the forest and we no longer let
them do that (most of our largest cities and towns are where beavers
used to do much of their work); we do not allow repeated floods or
Scott Schlosserg, a bird ecologist who was on the first tour in
Petersham, talked about the need for habitat for many kinds of birds.
Some birds breed in large areas of grass and/or brush; others breed in
forests but bring their young to these areas to forage for easily
available food like berries to fatten up for their first migration.
According to Schlosserg, there are 35 bird species that regularly use
shrub habitats; most of those birds are declining in numbers at the rate
of 2-3% a year. Included are: Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Mourning
Warbler, Common Yellow Throat; some birds that used to nest in
Massachusetts are already gone (Golden Winged Warbler and Yellow
Breasted Chat are two of them). Currently 20% of this kind of habitat in
Massachusetts is on state land; private land owners don’t generally own
enough land to be willing or able to make these kinds of openings.
To the question of whether birds can use power line corridors,
Schlosserg said some do (he noted Chestnut Sided Warbler and Eastern
Towhee) – especially the very wide ones. But there are not enough of
those wide corridors to provide much habitat. Also, while some shrub
land birds – for example, catbirds – can live in suburbs, many can’t. So
we need to create and maintain some field, shrub and young forest
habitat for wildlife diversity.