DEC to create young forests at Partridge Run

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Partridge Run: A road runs through the Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area, which stretches to almost 5,000 acres with a variety of habitats. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is looking to create a new habitat, young forests, in about a tenth of the area.

BERNE — The Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area, located in the southwest corner of Berne, is host to forests, lakes and ponds, and many different species of flora and fauna. The Department of Environmental Conservation plans to alter the environment there slightly, taking down trees and creating a young-forest habitat in a fraction of the area.

The DEC will host a public meeting with information on the Habitat Management Plan for Partridge Run on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the town of Berne Community and Senior Services Center, the old Grange Hall at 1360 Helderberg Trail.

The agency hopes within a decade to convert about 11 percent of the mostly-forested area into young forest. According to Rick Georgeson, DEC spokesman, this plan was approved in the fall of 2017.

Young forests are akin to a cross between a field and a forest, with young trees, shrubs, and grasses that provide a unique environment for certain plants and animals. The DEC launched its Young Forest Initiative in 2014, with a goal of establishing at least 10 percent of each Wildlife Management Area with young forest habitats.

Partridge Run covers about 4,590 acres and includes various types of habitats, according to its Habitat Management Plan. Only 97 acres, or 2 percent of the property, is young forest. The goal of the decade-long plan for the Wildlife Management Area is to increase that to 11 percent of the property, or just over 500 acres; shrubland would also increase slightly by about 20 acres. The only habitat to decrease will be forest, from 3,941 acres to 3,512; or from 86 percent of the area to 77 percent. The rest of the habitats — grassland, wetlands, and bodies of water — will be unchanged.

The Young Forest Initiative was started by the DEC because young forests are in decline. With humans controlling wildfires and other natural disasters that would normally destroy mature forests, young forests cannot grow anew. According to Georgeson, many species of wildlife require young forests as a habitat, as it provides cover and resources for nesting or food.

The decrease in young forests has caused a number of species to be threatened, such as the ruffed grouse, blue-spotted salamander, and the Karner blue butterfly. The New England cottontail — which, unlike the Eastern cottontail, cannot adapt to grassy suburban area — is expected to go extinct if the young forests it takes cover in continue to decline.

Several species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians that may be found in Partridge Run are listed as species of greatest conservation need, such as the American kestrel, blue-winged warbler, and snapping turtle, according to the plan. Species of special concern include the red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, and Jefferson salamander.

The area is also part of the Helderberg Bird Conservation Area, an area used to protect a diverse range of birds.

According to Georgeson, three species of bird are targeted in Partridge Run as species in need of protection: the ruffed grouse, the American woodcock, and the wild turkey. He added that the new habitat would benefit many other species as well, such as the chestnut-sided warbler, hermit thrush, indigo bunting, wood turtle, bobcat, black bear, and white-tailed deer.

Partridge Run was originally made up of small family farms that were abandoned by the 1930s, according to the plan. After the abandonment of these farms, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted trees there. Later, in the 1960s, trees and shrubs were planted. In 1962, DEC acquired the Wildlife Management Area from the United States Department of the Interior.

Since then, said Georgeson, the DEC has been working on habitat management at Partridge Run. In 2015, the DEC created specific Habitat Management Plans for each WMA as part of the newly created Young Forest Initiative, he wrote in an email responding to Enterprise questions. One project at Partridge Run is nearly done, he said, a seven-acre apple-tree release.

The plan to increase young forest at Partridge Run is split into two four-year periods. From 2017 to 2021, the DEC plans to clearcut 144 acres, 126 acres of which will be converted to young forest and 18 acres of which will become shrubland. Ten acres will have small groups of clearcuts, or patch clearcuts, and 35 acres will be seeded. Seventy acres will have most mature trees removed, known as shelterwood treatments, and 14 acres will have apple trees planted in them.

From 2022 to 2026, seventy-seven acres will be clearcut, and 15 acres will have patch clearcuts. Sixty-four acres will undergo seed-tree treatments, in which all but a few a mature trees will remain to provide seeds. Should this not be sufficient in growing saplings, trees or shrubs may be planted in their place, said Georgeson.

The DEC will use commercial logging and firewood sales to carry out some of these cuts, Georgeson said, other projects may be carried out by DEC staff or private contractors.

To increase shrubland in the Wildlife Management Area, the DEC plans to mow the grassland every two to three years and the shrubs will be mowed every seven to 10 years in order to maintain the appropriate density. Trees will also be reduced in the shrubland on occasion.

Areas like open water and wetlands will be monitored, and invasive species will be controlled if needed. According to Georgeson, monitoring of invasive plants at Partridge Run is ongoing.

Specific areas where such activities will occur may temporarily be off-limits, said Georgeson, though he noted that similar projects have occurred there for decades.

According to the Habitat Management Plan, the DEC aims to continue offering space for recreational activities such as hunting, trapping, and bird-watching, and ensure these are compatible with the planned changes to the area. In fact, Georgeson stated that the habitat management would increase these opportunities.

Plans to increase young forests in Wildlife Management Areas can be found throughout the state, even nearby, such as at the Margaret Burke Wildlife Management Area in Knox.

The DEC presented plans to create 38 acres in the 244-acre preserve on Pleasant Valley Road last June. The presentation, held at the new Thacher Park Center, was poorly attended, most of whom were not Knox residents, but hunters eager for the game that young forests host.

More Hilltowns News