Between one-third and one-half of South Kingstown Land Trust’s properties are forested (depending on whether forested wetlands are counted), and environmentally responsible and beneficial management of healthy forests grows from three major goals: habitat conservation, recreational use, and silviculture –the care and cultivation of forest trees. Approaches to management depend on the individual parcel’s size, forest type, accessibility, and presence of rare or endangered species and habitats. Operating with state and federally approved forest management plans, and grant funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), SKLT has three principal forest improvement projects:
Browning Woods/Kenney Properties. This 260-acre forest preserve is the subject of three wildlife enhancement projects through the cooperation of the Natural Resources Conservation Service WHIP and CSP programs. In this large mixed hardwood area two small forest clearings are being created to improve age diversity of the forest, to release a small hemlock stand from overgrowth and competition from hardwoods, and to enhance the diversity of wildlife habitats. In addition, six acres are being thinned as part of forest stand improvement efforts, while fifty-eight acres are being set aside to protect rare plant and reptile habitat.
Yawgoo Pond Area. This 63-acre area is the site of two forest stand improvement projects covering 34 acres. These activities remove undesirable growth in overstocked areas, leaving mature and healthy pine trees and opportunities for pine restocking. The effort also leaves significant numbers of old snags for wildlife nesting and healthy hardwood recruits. A 200-foot-wide buffer protects the Yawgoo Pond shoreline from erosion and sedimentation.
Thewlis Woods. This forested 28-acre site, located in an urbanized setting in Wakefield, is managed more as an open-space park with trails through stands of white pine, American beech, and scarlet and black oaks. Many of the trees are mature and along the boundaries have threatened to fall on neighbors’ yards during wind storms. Our forestry efforts have focused on removing overhanging trees. As in all of the above projects, SKLT includes an important recreational component, the creation and upkeep of hiking trails, which also serve as means to monitor and manage the success of management practices.
Looking to the future, one of South Kingstown Land Trust’s most ambitious forestry projects is the reestablishment of a blight-resistant strain of the American chestnut in the Eastern Forest of North America. At our new orchards at Hollis Tucker Farm we are collaborating with the American Chestnut Foundation, the URI Master Gardeners Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (NRCS), the South County Garden Club of Rhode Island, and the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in a region-wide program to selectively breed strains of 96% American – 4% Asian seedlings which will retain American chestnut growth habits while incorporating the Asian resistance to chestnut blight. If this effort is successful, the eminence of a one-time dominant and extremely valuable tree of eastern North America may be restored.