Sunday, February 4, 2024

Restoration Continues in the Woodland

path within the woodland

First it snowed then snowed again. Next was rain and even more rain. January had been a tough weather month in my garden. But finally, late last week, the woodland restoration work for the year began. Quite appropriately Friday was Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil, the renowned groundhog predicted an early spring is on the way.

As I’ve mentioned, 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. The number of dead and dying trees had increased dramatically due to the emerald ash borer and a number of years ago it became obvious that the invasive vines especially the autumn olive and Japanese honeysuckle were choking out the natural renewal process.

After a couple of false starts and outrageous advise to plow down the woodland and vines, about six or seven years ago I consulted with an Urban and Community Forestry Specialist from the Virginia Department of Forestry. He came out and inspected the woodland and made some recommendations.  He felt that with hand removal of the invasive vines and the hanging dead trees the wood might begin to renew itself. Removal by hand is slow and expensive work. It takes years and years and must be continued.

The Forester put his recommendations in a short 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 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 hand removal of invasive species. So, five years ago with the guidance from the Forest Service and the Chesapeake Bay Act guidelines I began a project to restore my woodlands.  

On Thursday and Friday, the Wetland Studies and Solutions  team was out continuing the slow work of first tagging, cutting and then removing the invasive species in the woodland. On Friday, Clay Morris from Environmental Services Division of Prince William County Public Works came out to view our progress and I walked him around inside the woods, down the hill towards the creek, through the mud where there is a seep above Chestnut Lick creating vernal pools.

A seep is the low pressure twin of spring and occurs where groundwater discharges to the surface. In my case the groundwater is appearing where the hill cuts down to the creek. Usually, seeps are merely wet areas with vernal pools , and springs have flowing water. On Friday, while walking with Clay for the first time I saw the water flowing out of the ground. Groundwater discharge provides a constant supply of water to the seep.  Flows at many seeps persist even through the driest summer months. I did not see my own seep in August of last summer during the very dry two months, but there was lots of ground cover growth.

Typically, with seeps, the soil  remains saturated year round even during droughts. Seeps are often the headwaters of perennial streams and have traditionally been used as sites for the construction of spring boxes for household water supplies. Groundwater in our region is typically about 50 degrees Fahrenheit  and varies only a few degrees from this temperature. The constant gentle flow of water at this moderate temperature typically allows early spring development of grasses and sedges. This early spring vegetation can be an important source of food for wildlife. 

Both seeps and springs are considered types of wetlands and are an example of the hydraulic balance- groundwater flowing and surfacing on land. Sometimes springs and seeps flow after a deluge of rain, but here it was still flowing a week after the last rain in wet January. Typically, I do not walk the woods in winter, so I never looked before.  "Seeps and springs provide water to headwaterstreams, ultimately providing the water flow to create larger river systems." (Chestnut Lick is a headwater stream to Bull Run.) Seeps and springs create vernal pools that are also essential during the cold winter months because their movement often keeps water from freezing. This serves as a refuge or drinking water source for wildlife. So at least the deer and wild life have something to drink while consuming my garden and the cat kibble we put out for the strays dumped in our area.

Clay Morris seemed pleased with the progress we were making and was willing to allow a covered structure for sitting at the edge of the woodland to possibly intrude slightly into the RPA. I did not want to have to delineate the RPA and just wanted the covered seating at the end of the woodland trail. Clay saw no problem with that plan since the covered bench structure we plan is small. Frankly, it was very nice to have someone appreciate the very expensive restoration work we’re doing.  

After walking Clay through the woods, I checked on the progress of the Wetland Studies and Solutions team. We discussed the plans for this year’s work. I wanted to extend the path to the creek. We are going to end it at the vernal pools. It should be passible in the summer. Typically Virginia vernal pools have three phases each year: it is inundated in the winter with the vernal pool holding onto the water from for a month or two, it dries slowly during the spring, and it dries completely during the late July and August. In the wettest years it can hold onto the water for most of the year. The vernal pools have an entire ecology that is just beginning to be studied.

After Clay left,  my landscaper came by to discuss additional work. He has less work in the winter and his guys provide cheap labor ($30-$40/hour). This labor is only cheap compared to Wetland Studies and Solutions, but it's important that people are paid fairly.  Next week the landscaper will have his team remove sections of the old farm fence and work on the woodland path. This year he will be laying landscaping fabric the lower section of the path from the big tree at the bottom of the hill (just shy of the vernal pools) and up the hill to the turn in the path. Then they will cover the fabric with wood chips. We'll see how this goes and if it works out.

The vernal pools in front of the creek

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