|a finished section
I am embarking on the fifth year of my woodland restoration project. My house sits on a bit over 10 acres, about three of them lawn and ornamental gardens. The remaining seven acres is woodland, and much of the woodland is part of the “resource protected area,” RPA, of the Chesapeake Bay.
When we first moved here we did not worry about dead trees, as it was all part of the natural process of renewal. A healthy forest has living trees functioning as part of a balanced and self replacing ecosystem that is a complex mix of trees, understory shrubs and groundcover. In a healthy woodland the process of natural succession occurs over time. Small saplings develop and will become the next generation of trees as the older ones die out. Benign neglect had been my rule for managing the RPA that protects the stream.
However, about a decade ago, I noticed that something had
gone seriously wrong with the forest. The woodland was being destroyed by invasive
insects, invasive vines and an explosion of deer and wildlife consuming the
native understory. Though I have seen them munch the kibble we put out for the cats dumped in our woods, deer prefer to eat native plants. They
devour the saplings of the native trees,
but pretty much leave the autumn olive and other invasives alone. When a gap
appears in the canopy, there aren’t young trees in the understory waiting for
their chance to grow in the sun, but rather, invasive vines and shrubs waiting to take over the landscape.
The woodlands are necessary for a functioning ecology. RPA’s
in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act are vegetated areas along water bodies,
such as lakes, streams, rivers, marshes or shoreline. RPAs are the last line of
defense for the protection of water quality. These buffers stabilize shorelines
and stream banks, filter pollutants, reduce the volume of stormwater runoff and
provide critical habitat for aquatic species and wildlife. Trees and shrubs in
riparian buffers reduce erosion, improve air quality, and provide shade in the
summer, windbreaks in the winter and even store carbon.
About a decade ago the number of dead and dying trees had
increased dramatically due to the emerald ash borer and it became obvious that
the invasive vines, autumn olive and Japanese honeysuckle were choking out the
natural renewal process. So, with guidance from the Forest Service and the
Chesapeake Bay Act guidelines I began a project to restore my woodlands.
First I called the
Virginia Department of Forestry to ask for advice. I did not know at the
time that Prince William County had its very own forester. An Urban and
Community Forestry Specialist from the Virginia Department of Forestry came out
and inspected the woodland and made some recommendations. He felt that
with removal of the invasive vines and the hanging dead trees the wood might
begin to renew itself. He put his recommendations in a report for me to submit
to Clay Morris, Natural Resources Section Chief, Environmental Services
Division of Prince William County Public Works to approve the work in the the RPA. Though the RPA covers just 2/3
of the woodland, I am treating all the wooded area in the same way. My
proposal to Prince William County was strictly by the book in what is allowed
in an RPA.
It is slow work and expensive. Every winter a small crew hand
cuts the invasive vines and then comes back in the spring to paint the cut
stems of the invasive vines with herbicide. We are now in the fifth winter of
my RPA and forest restoration process and are really beginning to see progress.
I use "we" very loosely, Wetland Studies and Solutions is doing all of the actual
labor, my husband and I are simply paying them and directing the sections to be done. Here
are a few pictures of the progress.
This first picture is a section of the woodland before work began to remove invasive vines and plants in this area two years ago. It
shows the trees covered in invasive vines. The vines were killing
what life remained. We began by cutting the largest sections down with a chainsaw.