Project approved, work to begin soon
The ruffed grouse population in the Appalachian Mountain Region has experienced a multi-decade downward trend based upon a number of indicators including the BBS, CBC and the BBA. The ruffed grouse is a species of conservation concern. It is widely believed among wildlife professionals that the downward population trend is directly linked to landscape wide aging of our forests and the associated loss of ESH that is crucial for ruffed grouse. The decrease in total area of ESH results in the remaining blocks of ESH becoming fragmented. In effect they become islands, so to speak, surrounded by habitat unable to support ruffed grouse.
Critical ESH includes brood cover and habitat with high stem density. The first 5 weeks after hatching are the time when a grouse chick’s survival is most in jeopardy. During this 5 week time period broods spend the majority of their time in brood cover consisting primarily of herbaceous ground cover with significant mid-story stem density. In addition to avoiding predation quality brood habitat has long been recognized as providing grouse chicks with the high protein arthropod diet they need to survive. Although this type of cover is vitally important for chick survival with respect to predation and nutritional requirements it very often comprises < 1% of all cover types in the brood’s home range. It has been suggested by the PGC that brood habitat development may have greater benefit to grouse populations than any other action wildlife managers can take.
This project consists of future build out connectivity and is landscape-scale. Located in the Tioga SF, Dist. 16, the district is situated in the northern Tier of NC PA. It is within the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic provinces. Its predominant forest type is the Northern Hardwoods association. Dist. 16 consists of 161890 AC. most of which are located in Tioga County, PA.
The immediate purpose of this project is to improve/increase critical herbaceous ground cover, brood habitat and establish areas with soft and hard mast species near existing saw timber, high stem density ESH and forest roads. The longer term and overarching purpose is to create these locations as habitat improvement activity centers from which future similar actions can be connected with to grow landscape unit scale habitat improvement. This will be accomplished by following a number of recommendations of both the National Ruffed Grouse Management Plan and of the ACGRP as follows:
A. Enhancing the juxtapositioning and proximity of early successional habitat, food sources and brood cover as they relate to each other long term across the landscape.
B. Promote the establishment of an understory of shrubs and herbaceous food plants.
C. Retention of dense needled conifers for thermal protection
D. Enhancement/establishment of soft and hard mast food sources
E. Renovation of a large (>3 AC) forest openings to create several smaller openings (<0.5 AC)
This site is located in Tioga County, Gaines Township, PA. It is situated in the Asaph Landscape Management Unit, Pine Creek subshed of the Susquehanna Watershed and the Appalachian Glaciated Plateau physiographic province. It is in UTM zone 18 T . Virtually all of it is > 1500 + msl.
The project treatment area is in compartment 3 of the Asaph LMU, and is comprised of several stands as follows:
Stand 1 – This stand is a 90-acre overstory removal, also known as a clear-cut with reserves. This treatment is the final harvest to occur in the process of regenerating a stand. This harvest follows several treatments that were previously implemented to develop a new cohort of desirable tree seedlings. The reserve trees serve no purpose other than aesthetics and amount to roughly 10-20 trees per acre. This area was harvested around 2010 and regenerated well to oak, though abundant maple is also present. This stand was fenced to prevent deer browsing which allowed the oak to develop into a component of the new stand. This stand is typed as a dry oak – heath forest. This forest type occurs on xeric to moderately dry, acidic sites, often on shallow or sandy soils. The determining factor for this type is the presence of the ericaceous shrub layer, which is greater than 30% relative cover. The most common tree in this forest type is Quercus montana (chestnut oak). In this area of Northern Pennsylvania Quercus velutina (black oak) and Quercus rubra (red oak) are also commonly found mixed in the species composition of this forest type.
Stand 2 – This stand is a 190-acre first entry shelterwood harvest. A shelterwood harvest is used to manipulate light conditions to allow for the germination and development of tree and herbaceous plant seedlings. In an oak stand the focus is to remove the low and mid-story trees as well as scattered overstory trees to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor. A shelterwood also introduces disturbance to the forest floor which is necessary to prepare the seedbed for the germination of seedlings. This area was harvested in 2018 and will be continued to be monitored until adequate seedlings have developed to the point at which the overstory can be removed. This stand is also typed as a dry oak – heath forest, the same as stand #1.
Stand 3 – Is a 19-acre portion of a 166-acre overstory removal harvest that was cut in 2013. The remainder of the original harvest area is the proposed Shin Hollow burn unit. This area was omitted from the burn due to logistical issues in holding the fire, the lack of oak seedlings and because of a spring that runs west to east through the block. Like stands 1 and 2 this area is also typed as a dry oak – heath forest.
Stand 4 – Is a 33-acre first entry shelterwood harvest that was conducted in 2016. This area is currently being observed for adequate regeneration to develop. This stand is typed as a red oak – mixed hardwood forest. This is a common forest type in Pennsylvania, occurring mainly on fairly mesic sites. The qualifying characteristic for this forest type is to have Quercus rubra (red oak) as the dominant overstory species with occurrence greater than 40% of the total basal area. Associated tree species in this forest type include Acer ruburm (red maple), other Quercus sp. (black, chestnut, and white oak), Carya sp. (mockernut and shagbark hickory), Betula sp. (black and yellow birch), Fraxinus americana (white ash), Fagus grandifolia (American beech), and Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar). Serviceberry and witch hazel are also usually well represented in this forest type.
Stand 5 and 6 – Is a 368-acre salvage overstory removal that was harvested following a 900-acre wildfire that burned on the district in 2009. Due to the severity of the fire, the overstory was largely killed and a salvage harvest was implemented to recoup the remaining value in the stand as well as reduce overhead hazards in the burn scar. This sale was cut over three years between 2012 and 2015. While some oak has regenerated in the area, the lack of previous treatments that would have resulted in a more desirable species composition negatively impacted the new forest currently occupying the site. As such, red maple is a major component of the new stand in this area. In 2017, portions the site were underplanted with 43,000 conifer seedlings to diversify the new forest. Other post-harvest treatment options are also being looked at to increase the amount of new oak. This stand is typed as a mixed oak – mixed hardwood forest. This type occurs on less acidic, moderately dry soils. The dominant tree species is Quercus alba (white oak) and Quercus montana (chestnut oak), which together account for a great percentage of overstory BA than Quercus rubra (red oak). This forest type commonly includes Betula sp. (birch), Cary sp. (hickory), and Acer rubrum (red maple). Ericaceous species such as laurel, blueberry and huckleberry account for less than 30% of the relative cover in the understory.
Stand 7 – Is a 62-acre first entry shelterwood harvest that was cut in 2013. This is an intensively managed high-quality oak site. This area was treated with broadcast herbicide to remove the red maple competing vegetation prior to the shelterwood harvest. This allowed the acorns that fell and germinated following the harvest to grow uninhibited by the shade that would have been created by the red maple saplings previously occupying the area. A deer exclosure was also built around the stand to prevent deer browse from negatively impacting the new oak seedlings. The area is nearing the point at which the overstory can be removed to release the new cohort of oak seedlings. This stand is typed as a mixed oak – mixed hardwood forest but should be reclassed to red oak – mixed hardwood forest due to the high component of red oak in the overstory.
RX Burn Stand The stand is currently stocked at 10 square feet of basal area per acre, predominately red, white, and chestnut oak. Red, white and chestnut oak seedlings and stump sprouts are very well distributed throughout the stand and range in height from one to four feet. These seedlings have been browsed heavily by deer. Red maple stump sprouts and seedlings are easily twice the height of the oak over the entirety of the burn unit. Mountain laurel, blueberry, fern, and grasses are scattered throughout the stand. Coarse woody debris left from the overstory removal harvest is also scattered across the stand. Within the stand are 3 retired log landings o.35, 0.2 and 0.1 ac in size plus 4400 LF of haul road totaling 1 ac in area. The RX Burn stand is proximate (0-3miles) to a number of cutover areas of varying ages and to the Dominion pipeline. Significant mature oak forest with a substantial horizontal cover component in the form of mountain laurel understory is found within the cruising /dispersal distance of ruffed grouse. In addition, approximately 4.5 acres of pipeline directly adjacent to the burn area was planted with a wildlife seed mix that included; 8 lbs. Crimson Clover, 2 lbs. Medium Red Clover, 3 lbs. White Dutch Clover and 2 lbs. Birdsfoot Trefoil
Temporary Work space Stand
The temporary workspace that was utilized during the Dominion Expansion Project was planted with rows of white spruce and white pine that provide thermal cover. Additional areas, 1 ac in size, that were not planted with conifers are still available for soft and hard mast shrub planting.
Well Pad Stand
This stand consists of an abandoned well pad 1.5 ac in size. It is an open field with sparse and minimally diverse herbaceous cover. In its present state it is expected to be little used by species associated with early successional habitat.
The goals of this project are to:
-Revitalize the heath layer to promote increased available soft mast.
-Increase vigor of Rubus spp. through prescribed burning.
-Approximate the observed response of the oak seedlings in both the Claymine and Goodall Road prescribed burns.
-To maintain oak as a dominant component in the future stand.
-Establishment of hard/soft mast species not/under represented presently
-Create/renovate herbaceous forest openings of optimum size
-Increase/improve the amount/quality of brood habitat
Shell U.S. has provided $25,047 for the this project.
Activities central to the accomplishment of these goals include:
- I. (Phase 1) A 146-acre prescribed fire is being proposed in Gaines Township, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. The entirety of the burn area falls within Compartment 3 of the Asaph Landscape. It is wholly contained in the RX Burn Stand described previously. In 2013-2014, the burn area was treated with an overstory removal timber sale (16-2012BC01).
The burn is being proposed to release the competitive oak seedlings from red maple saplings/poles. It is believed that a burn is the only way to ensure that oak is a component of the next stand at canopy closure. Furthermore, it is the only way to improve the stem form of the competitive oak cohort that has been badly damaged by successive years of deer browse. After the burn construction of approximately 14,000 feet of woven wire fence is planned and funding is requested for this. The fence is necessary to protect the desirable regeneration of hardwood and soft mast species from deer browse. Typically, DCNR funds the construction of woven wire fences. However, due to unforeseen circumstances with the bidding procedure for the 2019 contract, fence construction has been halted. This is necessary to protect the form and vigor of the new oak shoots. Without a fence burning would be pointless as freshly burned projects are a magnet to browsing deer. Everything has been completed for the burn to take place. Pre-burn plot data has been gathered, the fire line has been dozed and all snags have been removed along the perimeter of the burn unit. Due to all the work that has been completed, the cost of the fence should be substantially less as all the prep work was completed by district staff.
While the oak is commercially important it is equally important in its role as the most significant hard mast wildlife food crop in NC PA for many species including ruffed grouse. Acorns are the most nutritionally significant food available for ruffed grouse in the Appalachians.
Looking at the results of the Claymine overstory removal burn conducted on the district in 2016 and the Goodall Road prescribed burn conducted on the district in 2017, the oak can be expected to respond rapidly to the burn. New shoot growth on the Claymine oak seedlings reached nearly 3 feet tall during the 2016 growing season, and similar results occurred at Goodall. A lesson learned from the Claymine fire is that despite an intense burn with a fairly long residence time, red maple failed to be completely killed by fire. However, it substantially weakened it and allowed the oak to once again become competitive within the stand.
In addition to establishing the oak group as dominant within the stand there is also the opportunity to improve forage and brood cover, for ruffed grouse and other species that utilize ESH, given the proximity of the project area to the Dominion Pipeline.
A number of other brood cover establishment/enhancement opportunities exist including three retired log landings (0.35, ,0.2 and 0.1 ac),an abandoned (oriskany?) well pad (1.5 ac), a little used road (4400LF totaling ~1.5 ac). These features all can be enhanced to benefit ruffed grouse in several ways including, planting of forbs, creation of clumps/hedgerows of shrubs, creating a feathered edge at the interface of the herbaceous openings and burn/forest etc. The intention here is to create what the “Ruffed Grouse Management and Natural Gas Development” Marcellus Shale Electronic Field Guide, PSU describes as ideal brood habitat i.e. “a combination of dense small (< 4.5 in dbh) woody stems and adequate herbaceous cover”.
- (Phase 1) The 3 retired log landings in the burn stand will be planted with the brood cover herbaceous seed mix specified in the following pages. These sites should be treated with herbicide application, to eliminate competition from existing herbaceous species, if deemed necessary. Planting should occur in the spring before the completion of fencing.
III. (Phase 1) The 4400 LF of haul road in the burn stand will be planted with the specified brood cover seed mix. Planting should occur in the spring after the burn.
IV (Phase 1) Several hard and soft mast species are being considered for the temporary work space planting, they are Allegheny Chinquapin, American Hazelnut, Washington hawthorn and sweet crabapple. The area to be planted is 1 acre in size and 400 seedlings are to be installed on a 10 x 10 spacing. This should occur in the spring following the burn.
- (Phase 2) Coincidentally, there is a component of scrub oak proximate to the old well pad, outside the burn area, and a limited presence of this species within the area to be burned. This creates an opportunity to renovate/establish a scrub oak component within the project area. A 6-7 ac area near the well pad will be monitored for visible scrub oak restoration resultant from the fire. If significant response if not evident herbicide application followed by scrub oak seedling planting should occur
- (Phase 2) Following the completion of the controlled burn and fencing a 30 ft. x 1000 ft. herbaceous brood cover border is to be established around the perimeter of the well pad. This should utilize the brood cover seed mix specified below. This border area is ~ 0.69 ac.
VII. (Phase 2). The remaining 0.81 ac of well pad open area could be planted with scrub oak in cribs or herbaceous mix appropriate for grouse brood cover. This should occur > 2 years post fence installation.