By Bill Kunze
Heritage Conservancy, the non-profit land trust that owns and manages the Fuller-Pursell Preserve in Springfield Township, recently felled hundreds of dead ash trees on the reserve and some in the community may not understand why we took this action.
The forest at Fuller-Pursell contained 3,000 or more dead ash trees – victims of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has killed tens of millions of trees in the eastern United States.
Dead ash trees have been known to fall over or drop large branches at any time, even in the absence of strong winds, causing serious injury or death to people walking near them. Landowners and communities across our territory are taking on this challenge. In Fuller-Pursell, which is regularly visited by many visitors, many hundreds of these dead trees were in close proximity to the trails.
As a result, Heritage Conservancy has preemptively felled approximately 860 trees to ensure the safety of visitors, as well as the staff and volunteers who tend to the reserve. The vast majority of these were dead ash trees. Some were other species that were also dead or diseased, or that stood in the way of safely felling the dead ashes. We have felled no more than 2,000 other dead ash trees on the reserve that pose no threat to people on the trails.
This is not the first time such a shift has occurred in the Fuller-Pursell forest, and it likely won’t be the last. A century ago, the American chestnut, the dominant tree in many of our forests, disappeared because of chestnut blight. The forest here recovered from the shock as well as from the loss of its ash trees.
The sight of these felled trees can be unsettling to people. We understand. You see the reserve at the time of year when such a change is most evident. When the trees sprout and the wildflowers bloom this spring, we hope you’ll experience the sanctuary differently than you might see it now. Faster than one might think, the untidy collection of branches and tree trunks that humans see, which began to decompose before we cut them down, are being decomposed by insects, fungi and other microorganisms.
And that is actually good for the forest. Large debris debris on the ground benefits forest health and the felled trees will contribute to the forest ecology at Fuller-Pursell by acting as “nurse logs” to regenerate other species, provide habitat for wildlife and direct nutrients back into the soil.
As we focus on the long-term health of the Fuller-Pursell forest, the felling of these trees is only the first step in a larger forest restoration initiative that Heritage Conservancy will undertake. First, we will leave the felled trees on the forest floor to provide the above services. This spring we will start placing around 900 seedlings of other species in protective tubes or cages to ensure they grow and eventually replace the missing ash in the tree canopy. We will also be planting more seedlings to join the 1,000+ trees we have planted here over the past decade.
Bill Kunze is President of the Heritage Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organization based in the community of Doylestown.
preservation of monuments,
township of Springfield,