restoring ecosystem health

The Fund for North Bennington launched its ecosystem resilience project by adopting new management plans for The Mile-Around Woods and for its forested land east of Lake Paran. This page provides a summary of The Fund’s work in 2022 to support sustainable fields and woodlands, and to educate the public about ecosystem resilience.

Above, areas south of the Mile-Around Woods where thick hedges of tangled invasive plants were located before the “Brontosaurus” (below) reduced them to mulch.

Mulching of invasives hedges and impenetrable honeysuckle.  Over a two-week period this fall, two-million feet cubed (a volume comparable to 50 railroad cars) of mature invasive plants were shredded by the Brontosaurus (above) near The Mile-Around Woods and east of Lake Paran. This was the first step to restore an ecosystem with the plant, shrub and tree diversity needed by our local wildlife.  Tick habitat was drastically reduced and the no-waste method resulted in organic matter that will break down to benefit the soil and limit erosion.  

This first step in controlling invasives was an important (albeit expensive) one: halting new seed production.  In 2023 The Fund will take on the challenging next step: a multi-year effort to stifle the long-lived seed bank in the soil while encouraging growth of native flowers, shrubs and trees.

The “Bronto” converted densely tangled hedges of mature invasive shrubs into piles of mulch. Photo above was taken of what was an invasives hedge south of The Mile-Around Woods. This quarter-mile hedge was leveled in three hours.

New native shrubs and trees in place of invasive.  Native species were planted for a second year in the vicinity of The Mile-Around Woods.  Two Conservation Districts (Poultney/Mettowee and Bennington) placed 390 bird- and pollinator-supporting shrubs (plus 26 oaks) along a marshy area north of The Woods and along a woodland border running north to south.  Additional shrubs were added in the Monarch Meadow, south of The Woods, to augment the natives planted there last year.  The plantings include buttonbush, gray dogwood, nannyberry, red osier dogwood, swamp white oak, silky dogwood, silver maple, bur oak, and swamp white oak.

Continuing success for the endangered grassland bird-nesting field: In its third year of conservation, up to a dozen bobolink male territories produced a flock of 50-75 individuals at the endangered grassland bird-nesting site.   The fields were managed to protect nestlings and were rich in the weed and grass seeds needed to fuel the long migration to South America for the winter. 

Ephemeral flowers in The Mile-Around Woods: A well-attended tour of the beautiful, varied and short-lived blooms in The Woods was led by local experts this spring.  Each attendee was given a guide to 20+ native species and learned to recognize the increasingly numerous invasive plants that are threatening this unusually rich flush of flowers. Attendees also pitched in and pulled enough invasive garlic mustard to fill nine large garbage bags.

This Fall the Mile Around Woods was appreciated as a field station by students in a Bennington College course and as a resource for science and art field trips for Village School of North Bennington classes.  The mulching “brontosaurus” was quite the draw for the 5th grade.

Rare native plants identified:  A local botanist noted two rare native plant species on land owned by The Fund.  One of these has been found in only two other Vermont locations. The two species have been listed with the Native Plant Trust and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Natural Heritage Program. The plants will be protected in accord with state standards. 

Backyard woody invasives control demonstration.  A free workshop was held in October on methods for controlling buckthorn and other woody invasives at home. Attendees learned about the “buckthorn blaster”, how to identify local invasives and the best approaches at different seasons throughout the year for limiting them. 

Application for VT State funding: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has made healthy forests a high priority for future years, encouraging science-based approaches such as those outlined in The Fund’s conservation plans.  The Fund has completed the steps necessary to apply for funds from NRCS, and plans to submit an application by the end of the year. NRCS funding will be critical for the long-term success of our management plans.

Next steps:  The mulching of mature invasives accomplished this summer was a key, but in some ways easy, first step in the 10-year plans.  As the sun shines on that soil for the first time in years, plants will come roaring back.  It will be exciting to see what species arise that have been smothered by the invasives for years. Many that are expected to return will provide a broad variety of food and shelter.  Unfortunately the invasives will also come roaring back and, for the next few years, hard work will be needed to control them.  If the re-sprouts cannot be halted, the mulching will have been a waste of time and money. Every method to manage the re-sprouting population will be employed as recommended by the Vermont Land Trust and other experts in conservation. (This is the time for those recommending invasive control by hand pulling to volunteer early and often!) 

More about The Fund’s conservation work may be found here.