Written By Stefni Krutz.

Posted on April 1st, 2020.

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This high-grade harvest has a silver lining.

Our woods were high-graded before we purchased the property. High-grading is the practice of “taking the best and leaving the rest”. In addition to this, there were holes knocked in the rock walls across the property for equipment to go through and a series of deep ruts in the clay on the skid trail across the hilltop.

High-grading is a despicable but all too common practice. The forest should be tended, not merely rended (torn up) during an entry. Forest harvests are a valuable tool for regenerating desirable species, encouraging specific wildlife species, and maintaining healthy forests. However, the least valuable trees and some of the best should be taken during a harvest, thus generating income while also constantly seeking to create a better timber stand that will provide forest benefits and future income. The exact balance of what is taken, what is left behind, and in what amounts is something that a forester can help decide.

Rutting displaces soil from its original location. From a water quality and aesthetics standpoint, skidding logs should be minimized when soils are saturated to decrease the chance of excessive rutting and soil compaction. Rutting and soil compaction can channel surface runoff and associated sediment toward stream channels. Vegetation doesn’t regrow very well on compacted soils and if ruts are bad enough, they can impede access.

In the fall and winter, I thought of the ruts as more of an eye-sore in need of remediation and a potential breeding ground for mosquitos. It turns out they were also a breeding ground for other things I hadn’t considered.

The ruts on our hilltop retained water through the winter and in the spring they hosted the eggs and larvae of salamanders, toads, and more species of invertebrates than the mosquitos I’d expected. The concave ruts from skidding had formed a type of wetland called a vernal pool. Vernal pools are small, shallow, ephemeral (short-lived) water bodies. They typically occur in forests and provide breeding habitat for amphibians and invertebrates.

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The ruts in winter.

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From ruts to vernal pools.

Even intentionally creating vernal pools is challenging. Food webs within and around them are complex and recreating the necessary ratio of wet to dry pool time is difficult and often fails. The success of a created vernal pool must be measured on a multi-year scale, so it will require yearly monitoring to see if this event is a mere flash in the pan or a lasting legacy.

Vernal pools are hard to create and I certainly can’t advocate their creation by rutting and leaving. But if high-grading and rutting must exist, as they do on our land, at least it can create wildlife habitat.

Tune in next time for Vernal Ruts: Spotted Salamander Egg Masses. To learn more about New York’s vernal pools, check out this guide developed by the New York Natural Heritage Program. For tips on finding vernal pools on your property, check out MyWoodlot.com: https://www.mywoodlot.com/item/find-my-vernal-pools.


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