A significant wildlife habitat restoration project continues to progress on the 25,000-acre Clermont Tract in southern McKean County.
Spearheaded by the Wildlife Management Institute and aided by funding from the PA Wildlife For Everyone Endowment Foundation, 12,400 seedlings were planted in 2015, the project's sixth year.
The planting is part of a long-term effort to improve wildlife habitat and monitor wildlife populations, specifically the American Woodcock and other young forest species.
The entire property was recently acquired by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, providing for long term protection of this area.
Wildlife habitat in the area was dramatically altered due to logging and primitive agricultural practices across northern Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s and again early in the 20th century.
Cutover, upland areas eventually regenerated into black cherry dominated northern hardwood forests. However, several thousand acres of wet meadow sites never fully regenerated.
Woodcock favor wet, brushy habitats for feeding and nesting.
Beaver and deer populations in the area in the latter half of the 1900s complicated the regrowth of woody vegetation on these sites. Young forest species such as deer, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse and American woodcock flourished in the early years following the large scale cutting. Eventually, these species declined dramatically.
Wildlife needs both young and old forests for habitat. When older trees are cut, thousands of young trees replace them. Young forest provides food and shelter for many wild animals, including some species whose numbers are in decline.
Commercial forestry allowed certain species to thrive and now many forest tracts are ready for harvest again. Foresters managing for a stable diverse forest are now creating a variety of habitats to benefit wildlife species ranging from white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse to woodcock, snowshoe hare, Appalachian cottontails and rare warblers.
Seedlings planted in this habitat restoration project over the past five years, especially in 2013 and 2014, are now showing enough growth to reach maturity. Native shrubs, Juneberry, American Mountain Ash, Common Arrowwood, Elderberry and Wither Rod Viburnum are also beginning to grow.
Seedling planting, fencing and adequate deer harvests will help restore a lot of this area to its natural conditions for both wild plants and the native wildlife it supports.
In the past year, new locations, known locally as Hoffman Farm, Jacobson Farms, Hagman Farms and Larson Farms, were added to the planting areas. These old farms were all abandoned in the 1930s or earlier and due to deer browsing, many openings remained void of woody growth.
In recent years with a reduced deer population, some Cherry, Birch and Maples along with the native Juneberry have started to repopulate these old fields. This year, a variety of seedlings and shrubs were planted in these locations to complement the natural cycle.
Work on Clermont Tract in 2015 also included:
- Layout of sites for five fenced enclosures to protect planted and natural native seedlings;
- Obtaining fencing from the Game Commission for delivery to a portion of the project area;
- Preparing fenced sites and scarify soils with a bulldozer loaned by the Game Commission;
- Flagging seedlings for future inspection;
- Traveling through the project area to document snowshoe hare populations and collect hare and rabbit pellets to investigate the possible existence of the Appalachian Cottontail; and
- Applying lime to selected seedlings from prior years' plantings.
Funding for this year’s work was provided by a grant from the Ruffed Grouse Society’s Drummer Fund and a local donor. RGS volunteers also donated a significant amount of time in establishing the tree and shrub plantings.
Now that the property is part of the Elk State Forest, the Wildlife for Everyone Foundation will be coordinating all future work with the Forest District.For more information on programs and activities, visit the PA Wildlife For Everyone Endowment Foundation website.