The EIC is responsible for planning and implementing habitat management and ecological restoration initiatives within the Environmental Study Area (ESA).
Starting in the early 2000s, it became clear to our staff that the continued existence of healthy native habitat in the ESA was in peril. We determined that we were at risk of passing on a legacy of severely degraded ESA habitat quality to future generations. This culminated in the development and implementation of a formal ESA habitat management plan in 2015. The plan includes three overall management goals:
Goal 1: Maintaining and/or enhancing native species diversity and abundance
This involves assessing, prioritizing, forecasting, and managing threats posed by habitat disturbances that cause damage to native plant communities within the ESA. These stem from two main causes: overbrowsing by White-tailed Deer and the spread of invasive plants. In the ESA, deer show a strong preference for feeding on native plants. As the deer wipe out the native wildflowers, tree seedlings, and saplings from large habitat spaces in the ESA, invasive plants quickly move into those disturbed areas and take over. This severely compromises several important ecological benefits associated with the ESA, including:
- Short and long-term regeneration of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, and sedges
- Critical function of native trees and shrubs in producing insects needed by almost all local songbird species to raise their young, and as fuel for a host of migratory birds that stopover in the ESA in spring and fall.
- Diversity of native plant/pollinator associations
Goal 2: Habitat improvement
To improve habitat quality in the ESA, we actively implement invasive plant control efforts wherever needed. After clearing a space of invasive plants, we monitor what native plants come back on their own and continue to remove invasive plant seedlings and resprouts. In areas where invasive plants have seriously degraded a habitat space over many years, we often facilitate the return of native plants by planting native trees and shrubs and/or spreading the seeds of native grasses and wildflowers.
Goal 3: Restoration of ecological processes that have been damaged or lost
Natural habitats depend upon various important natural processes that are integral to their overall health. In this aspect of our ESA habitat management, we primarily focus on the following:
- Guiding toward healthy trajectories of native habitat succession, a process by which natural communities replace (succeed) one another over time. Invasive plants, in particular, can severely disrupt this important process.
- Maintaining or remedying soil chemistry and nutrient recycling necessary for sustaining native plant communities, including the importance of mychorrizal fungi. Several invasive plant species we manage in the ESA negatively affect soils and soil chemistry.
- Maintaining and/or improving the varied and often complex “faunal associations” between native flora and fauna. Invasive plants “unstitch” these associations in a habitat community by wiping out or reducing native plant diversity and abundance.
Our habitat stewardship efforts also seek to sustain important values relating to ESA visitor experiences, including:
- Local availability of contiguous and varied native habitats;
- Habitat visibility and aesthetics;
- Sense of place and local natural heritage;
- Access to observing, enjoying, and learning about local biodiversity.