By MaryCatherine Karcich, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – The city of Marlborough was recently named a recipient of the Wildlife Habitat Management Grant award. Funds from the award will benefit 20 wildlife habitat improvement projects throughout 19 Massachusetts communities.
MassWildlife received $500,000 from Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. After going through a competitive application process, the money was distributed to owners of conservation lands throughout the state to conduct wildlife habitat improvement projects.
With the help of the Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT), the City of Marlborough is looking to focus on the Desert Natural Area. According to Conservation Officer Priscilla Ryder, this region was identified as an area of concern, and MassWildlife was encouraged to bring it back to life.
A 14-acre space within the Desert Natural Area was once forested with undesirable trees that weren’t suitable for wildlife habitat. The trees were killed on site, but there wasn’t enough money to remove them. Funds from the grant will pay for their removal to allow for mowing, which is to begin around the end of February or beginning of March. The idea is to get this step completed before things start to thaw and move around. Mowing will take about five days.
Clearing this site will contribute to an even bigger goal: to restore and protect the declining pitch pine-scrub oak forest. Several rare species and endangered species, as well as different insects and plants, rely on this habitat for survival. Ensuring they have a healthy environment to thrive in adds value to the landscape.
“Keeping these pockets of important habitats that are declining really has an important biodiversity benefit,” Ryder said.
The restoration process relies heavily on controlled burning, a method used to assist in bringing pitch pine-scrub oak back to life. It will help maintain the open landscape that these species need for survival. The plants are also dependent on fire to rejuvenate.
Controlled burning is contingent on multiple details including the right people, the right equipment and the right conditions. It also involves hearing from different specialists to provide their expertise.
The Desert Natural Area was burned once in 2014, and the city of Marlborough and SVT are looking to perform another burning within the next several years.
The benefits of burning are understood and recognized through public education including flyers, info sessions and workshops. Individuals from different Massachusetts conservation programs have also expressed support for the project.
“This is exactly the kind of stewardship that is needed in Massachusetts if we are to save our natural heritage statewide and regionally,” said Russ Hopping, ecology program director of the Trustees of Reservations.
Additionally, the city of Marlborough plans to continue its invasive species control to prevent invasive plants from crowding out native species.
To learn more about controlled burning or the project itself, visit www.svtweb.org/.