Current Nature: Visualizing Five Years Of Habitat Restoration And Pine Removal

Dr. Sarah T. Bois, Director of Research and Education, Linda Loring Nature Foundation •

The Linda Loring Nature Foundation (LLNF) launches a new visualization tool highlighting 5 years of grassland restoration work through invasive Japanese Black Pine removal. This LLNF Story Map is a communication tool that illustrates the goals and outcomes of a project using maps, photos, and data.

Since 2018, the LLNF has been removing invasive Japanese Black Pines (Pinus thunbergia) to restore the natural wind and salt spray regimes that help shape grassland and heathland habitats. LLNF is using the Story Map to showcase the various conservation goals throughout the past five years. “Before” and “After” photos help visualize the significant changes to the landscape.

Why are we removing pines? Aren’t trees a good thing?

Yes, forests are a crucial line of defense against climate change globally. And our native forest species are important for Nantucket biodiversity.

However, Japanese Black Pine is an invasive tree native to Japan and China. This fast-growing tree was originally planted in the early 1900’s to provide a windbreak. Japanese black pine is susceptible to native pests and the tree can wind up as standing dead soon after reaching maturity. What were just a few trees decades ago has turned into large stands encroaching on sandplain grassland habitat which is host to rare and threatened plants and animals. Managing the trees has been a high priority for LLNF, as these pines can turn into fire hazards, human health hazards as dead snags, and an ecological issue – a threat to native biodiversity.

Photo 1
Before and after restoration of grassland habitat at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation.

Relative to most other habitats, healthy and diverse native grasslands may be more resilient to drought and other severe weather events - which are expected to increase with climate change. In removing this invasive tree, we are mitigating for potential effects of climate change.

Since 2018. LLNF has been awarded more than $211,000 in funding from various state, federal, and private funding programs including the State Wildlife Habitat Management Grant Program, the Robert F. Schumann Foundation, and the Xeric Grassland, Barren, and Woodland Pollinator Conservation Project. These funds have allowed LLNF to hire skilled contractors to cut, chip, and remove Japanese Black Pine debris from the sites. Each winter, crews have worked with LLNF staff to triage that season’s removal efforts. Grant funds also enabled LLNF to conduct pre- and post-monitoring of the cut sites. The new Story Map is a way to highlight these contributions as well as the restoration successes.

Following the cutting and removal of woody debris, the LLNF staff monitor the treatment areas for regrowth. We have used a combination of vegetation transects and photo monitoring to capture the changes post-restoration. Part of the restoration process is to see what plants occupy the areas that are now clear of Japanese black pines.

This project marked a turning point in land management at LLNF. By removing the invasive Japanese black pines, the canopy is opened up promoting growth and expansion of the grasslands and heathland species beneath.

Within the treatment areas, we, at LLNF, have recorded thousands of individuals of the State-listed species of special concern, Sandplain blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium fuscatum). This species requires open, sandplain grassland and heathland habitat. The Japanese Black Pine trees have been encroaching on these populations crowding and shading them out. Other species seen post-restoration cutting include the endangered Northern Harrier, pink lady slipper orchids, and yellow thistle, a watch-listed species.

Photo 2
Removing Japanese Black Pines on the western end of the island.

To date, approximately 25 acres of Japanese black pine stands have been cut, chipped, and removed from across the LLNF property. This acreage does not take into account the “effective area” which includes the surrounding acreage impacted by the removal of the pine stands. We estimate that an additional 100-150 acres of habitat are affected by the removal of these pines. The restoration of offshore winds and salt spray reintroduces these ecological processes that have long been absent across parts of the landscape. The episodic disturbances created by these processes will help maintain the early-successional sandplain grassland habitats.

Ground-nesting native pollinators, grassland bird specialists, and rare grassland plants all benefit from this work. You can follow along with a timeline of LLNF's grassland restoration work on the website. The Story Map will continue to be updated as we continue to monitor regrowth and progress of the restoration.

The LLNF collaborated with Clark University graduate student Anna Bebbington on the Story Map. Her expertise and training were essential. After exploring the Story Map from the comfort of your own home, we invite you to check out the restoration for yourself in person at 110 Eel Point Road.

The bulk of the Japanese Black Pines have been removed from the 275 acre property, but the work isn’t complete. Additional small stands of these pines are slated for the chopping block later this winter. Follow up and continued monitoring will be ongoing over the years.

For more information and a chance to ask questions about the restoration, Dr. Sarah Bois will be giving a talk as part of the Linda Loring Nature Foundation’s Science Pub Speaker series later this month. Register for free here.

Photo 3
Pink Lady Slipper orchid sprouting from a pine cut area in the spring of 2021.
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