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Slash Wall: Cutting edge forestry practice comes to Rhode Island

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A slash wall forestry practice in Rhode Island.

Tucked away in the rural community of Foster, Rhode Island, is a patch of forest dedicated to conservation education. The Rhode Island Forest Conservators Organization maintains a demonstration woodlot where private landowners can see tried-and-true forest management practices at work.

RIFCO’s most recent project, you might say, is more cutting edge.

“We did a three-acre habitat cut, around which we are establishing a slash wall to limit deer browse impacts,” said Marc Tremblay, RIFCO Outreach Director. “A slash wall is a curtain of limbs and treetops, what we refer to as logging slash, in a perimeter form surrounding a clearing.”

The slash wall is at least ten feet wide and five or six feet tall, wide enough and tall enough that deer won't jump into it. “It could be used in place of eight-foot-tall deer fencing, which is rather expensive to install. We're hoping that the slash wall practice will be an affordable way of using the material on site to limit the browse of oak and maple in these habitat clearings,” said Tremblay.

The slash wall complements other forest management practices designed to benefit wildlife at the demo site. “We established five acres of forest stand improvement thinning as part of our management plan to enhance bird habitat. It's forestry with Rhode Island birds in mind,” said Tremblay.

A slash wall forestry practice in Rhode Island.

Historically, this land was once cleared farmland. At each end of the habitat cut are towering old pasture oaks that provided shade for cows that grazed this land. After the cows were gone, the forest regenerated.

“At that time, there weren't the deer that we have now, so the oaks were able to establish themselves,” said Tremblay. “Here it is 2020 and we have a maturing stand of mixed hardwood trees.”

“The woodlot is a mixed hardwood wood lot, which is pretty typical of this part of the state,” said Chris Modisette, State Resource Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which helped RIFCO develop their most recent forest management plan and implement various conservation practices to improve the health and vigor of their 40 acre property.

The slash wall was built by a logging contractor using a grapple skidder -- heavy equipment capable of moving felled trees around a site -- and a dangle head processor, a track machine with a processing head that fells, delimbs, measures and cuts the trees to length.

“We have an opening at one end where people can get in to see how things are going for future management, and to maybe cull out a deer that managed to get in there and now can't get out. That's a possibility,” said Tremblay. A scattering of oaks and hickories were left in the three-acre clearing for seed sources. This site will re-vegetate.”

This slash wall will last for only a few years until the regenerating stump sprouts and saplings grow to a height where the deer can't chew the tops down. The wall will slowly decompose to a point where it will be a pile of sticks rotting into the ground.

“Hopefully, this will help limit deer browse damage in the future and allow the native tree saplings and shrubs to fully occupy the site,” said Tremblay. “That will provide scrub shrub habitat for a number of years and will eventually develop into new forest down the road.”