Stewardship Story: Saving Shrublands at Westchester Land Trust’s Frederick P. Rose Preserve

Brendan Murphy Tuesday, 21 August 2018

5.0/5 rating (2 votes)

The Westchester Land Trust’s Frederick P. Rose Preserve in Waccabuc, NY is a diverse place. Within its 112 acres you’ll find woodlands, old fields, wetlands, rock formations, stone walls, and the ruins of 19th-century farm buildings.

These sights make a pleasant visit for those who hike or horseback-ride the 2-mile trail here. But one of the preserve’s most important areas for wildlife isn’t quite as picturesque. It’s a small shrubland, the last on the preserve, and the Westchester Land Trust wants to save it.

“The shrublands that many species of bird and other wildlife depend on are disappearing here,” says Dr. Shaun McCoshum, Preserve Manager and Educator with the Westchester Land Trust. “There’s chiefly highbush blueberry, and also maleberry, winterberry, and dogwood.”

Why are the shrubs disappearing? Two reasons. First, the shrubland is small, only a couple hundred feet across. As the trees around the shrubland grow, they cast a lot of shade on the shrubs. Without the sun, the shrubs begin to decline. Second, the preserve has a lot of deer. The deer eat any new shrubs that try to come up, so the old shrubs can’t reproduce.

To save the shrubs, Westchester Land Trust decided to decrease the shade and install a deer fence. They started by cutting down some shade-trees along the shrubland’s edge as well as a few that had come up in the shrubland itself.

The cutting let more sun reach the shrubs, but that light wouldn’t do the plants any good unless the deer were kept out of the area. They built a tall deer fence made of strong plastic netting. Wherever possible, they used existing trees instead of installed steel posts to save time and money. Check out this My Woodlot activity for more deer fence installation tips, and links to suppliers.

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Mature blueberry bush with lower branches completely browsed off from deer. Now behind the fence, it will resprout and spread.

Shaun said that deer fences are a great project for anyone looking to help wildlife. He offered these design and installation tips:

  1. Timing matters. “Installing the fence in the winter minimizes wildlife impacts. It’s also easier with the cooler temperatures because it’s hard work!” One caveat is that digging the fence post holes needs to be done when the ground isn’t frozen.
  2. Use an “infinity knot.” Guidewires above the fence help keep the fence upright. Typically, the fence gets attached to the guidewire using zip ties. Instead of simply cinching the zip tie, use an “infinity knot” (pictured below) to make the connection. It gives a stronger, longer-lasting connection.
  3. Get help. Installing a deer fence is a big job, and it’s a lot easier with a few people. On the Frederick P. Rose Preserve, barberry bushes had to be cleared with loppers and hand-pulling. The guidewire installation can be tricky too, as Shaun discovered. “You want two people on the guidewire,” he said. “It comes off a large spool, so the wire is corkscrewed.”

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A zip tie “infinity knot” holds the fence to the guidewire.

The Frederick P. Rose Preserve’s fence has only been up for a few weeks, but the results are already visible. New sprouts dot the exclosure. The blueberries are sure to make a full recovery.

It’s not just the wildlife that will benefit from those blueberries. “Who doesn’t want blueberries?” asks Shaun. We know we do.

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