Working for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s Science and Stewardship Department, we spend a large portion of our time maintaining and restoring Foundation properties as favorable habitats for rare plants and animals through prescribed fire, sheep grazing and mowing to name a few techniques. Nantucket is home to very unique sandplain grassland habitats and supports the highest percentage of rare species in Massachusetts.
A great benefit of Foundation property is that, even though all of our properties are privately owned, we are able to make them available for public use in ways that are in harmony with our mission to protect and restore the unique habitats and plants and animals on this island. Nantucketers have a strong appreciation and respect for the natural beauty that makes Nantucket so special.
Occasionally and unfortunately though, we have to care for neglect on our properties caused by visitors. Usually this is on a small scale: removing trash and landscaping waste piles from the Head of the Plains or cleaning up pallet piles from the Middle Moors before they can be used for bonfires.
And occasionally we find very blatant misuse of NCF properties that requires very time intensive work to restore.
This summer, in early July, a new trail appeared overnight at our Tupancy Links property in an area that never before had a trail. The new trail was a very consistent width of dead plants (apparently killed overnight) indicating that someone likely illegally used herbicide to create this path. This new trail, approximately 1/2 a mile long!, was in a previously and very purposefully undisturbed area of the property and, unfortunately, the time intensive restoration of this site is now up to NCF staff.
Why do we care? Tupancy is already very heavily used by dog walkers and the public, what does one more trail hurt?
There are a few major reasons, the first being that this is private property and alterations, particularly using herbicide, is illegal. Unregulated herbicide use can be harmful, not only to native species like the Northern Harrier but also particularly in areas where dogs and children have open access. The second is that, our Foundation staff puts a lot of careful work into deciding how our properties can best be used so that the public can enjoy them while also protecting natural habitats and plants and animals that we are responsible for. Tupancy is very intensively used in some places so we have purposely not put trails in other areas to avoid disturbing rare plants and maintain areas of continuous open space. Imagine what this island would look like if everyone decided to create trails wherever they wished. NCF staff puts a lot of time into carefully considering the location of trails and property access and blatant disregard for our hard work is pretty upsetting!
How will we restore this impacted area? Kelly, Danielle, Karen and Jen (Science and Stewardship Staff) spent time this fall collecting seeds from the native grass, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). We then raked up all of the dead plant material in a section of the new trail, disturbed the soil a little bit to promote germination and laid down a thick cover of little bluestem seeds. We fenced off the areas we seeded to prevent anyone from walking on this area while the seed germinates. Little bluestem grass establishes and grows quickly when planted in either the fall or spring. We also fenced off an area of the herbicided trail and did not seed it which will allow us to see what might happen to this trail on its own without seeding. Because herbicide was used so extensively here, we are not sure if native plants will be able to easily re-establish.
We will keep monitoring this trail and working on more restoration and seeding in the spring. The size of this disturbance means it might take us quite a while to successfully restore this site.
NCF has been able to protect and maintain large areas of Nantucket but we can’t be everywhere at once, so we need your help! Please, if you see activities on any of our properties that seem unusual or not in keeping with our mission to protect Nantucket’s natural spaces, contact the Foundation office (508) 228-2884!!
The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org