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Fire sparks new life on an old farm

Conservation Showcase

East Quabbin Land Trust, Frohloff Farm | Prescribed burn

The barn at the East Quabbin Land Trust's Frohloff Farm in Ware, Massachusetts.When the East Quabbin Land Trust purchased the 90 acre Frohloff Farm in Ware, Massachusetts in 2010, the first order of business was to get a forest stewardship plan. The farm hadn't been managed as farmland in many years and invasive species like glossy buckthorn, multiflora rose, bittersweet, and honeysuckle, were taking over.

“We purchased the property for a variety of reasons,” said Cynthia Henshaw, EQLT Executive Director. “We were interested in seeing agriculture continue, but also for wildlife habitat and water supply. We’re directly adjacent to the Ware River and there's priority habitat for wildlife including the wood turtle.”

Cynthia Henshaw (left) discusses the Frohloff Farm conservation plan with David Bacon, Soil Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.David Bacon, Soil Conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, helped the land trust get financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to implement their forest management plan. The plan called for commonly used conservation practices that would restore native pitch pine, oak savannah bluff and low bush blueberry heath ecosystems by clearing land that had been reforested with white pine and gray birch, and by controlling invasive species.

The “Early Successional Habitat Development” practice involves cutting or mowing existing vegetation so that more sunlight reaches the soil, allowing desirable species to grow without competition of large shade-producing canopy plants.  The “Brush Management” practice removes undesirable invasive species through cutting or spraying, which helps desirable, native vegetation to thrive.

The prescribed burn at the East Quabbin Land Trust's Frohloff Farm in Ware, Massachusetts.A key component of the plan was opening up the forest canopy with fire. The EQLT contracted with the professionals at Northeast Fire and Forest Management to conduct a prescribed burn. They also enlisted the expertise of the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Bureau of Forest Fire Control to assist in this process.  The prescribed burn was conducted in June 2016 and results were seen within weeks.

Dave Celino, DCR’s Chief Fire Warden, explained that fire used to be a natural part of the ecosystem. “It burns off the mulch layers. The natural grasses respond very favorably to fire. It's an immediate injection of potash into the soil and it provides openings,” said Celino.

“Why do we want to kill a certain amount of trees in the in the canopy? Well, there's a positive effect: they become wildlife condos. In the fire business we call them snag trees but they become great wildlife habitat nesting trees,” said Celino.

Henshaw said that the burn was a very controlled, very professional and very impressive process. “We had some pretty good flames here and good heat,” said Henshaw. “This fire burned much better than they expected. This was an early-season fire, so it was very green.”

A pitch pine sapling after the prescribed burn at the East Quabbin Land Trust's Frohloff Farm in Ware, Massachusetts.“One of the principal reasons for burning is to promote the pitch pine and oak communities. Those species do really well under burns because their seeds can fall onto barren, mineral soil, where they can re-sprout without competition from white pine and gray birch,” said Henshaw. “So, seeing new pitch pines come up, seeing the scrub oak continue, seeing the little bluestem grasses flourish, that's a success because with those plant species will come all the invertebrates and all the animals that use those.”

The East Quabbin Land Trust owns about a thousand acres in a dozen central Mass. communities. “We work very hard in our planning to promote public use and access, good stewardship and forest management, and agriculture,” said Henshaw. “Working with NRCS over the years has really made a huge difference. It makes it possible for us to do this kind of work.”