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A symphony of songbirds at Red Apple Farm

Conservation Showcase

Bill Rose | Red Apple Farm | Phillipston, Massachusetts

Bill Rose and Jessica Cox discuss his forest management planEarly one morning, in the summer of 2018, Bill Rose was walking through a forested area of his family’s farm in Phillipston, Mass. The area had been clear cut as part of a forest conservation project. With just six to 10 trees per acre left standing and scattered brush piles everywhere, the land looked very different than before the cut.

But, it wasn’t what he was seeing that got Rose’s attention. It was what he was hearing. He whipped out his smartphone and started recording video, narrating as he scanned his surroundings. “I'm down here on the brand-new oak regeneration cut. And, with this brand-new cut, I think you can hear what it does: I'm bringing all the birds in. What a symphony, huh?”

“It was just amazing,” Rose said later.

Jessica Cox, Soil Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Worcester County, Mass., worked with Rose on the early successional habitat project, for which he also received financial help through the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

The clear cut area at Red Apple Farm.“Early successional habitat is a forest management practice that involves an extremely heavy cut. It removes most of the trees. It opens the forest floor and allows a dense young forest to come back, which helps wildlife,” explained Cox. “On this property we did oak regeneration. That was because Bill was interested in songbirds and other small wildlife.”

Born on the farm in 1934, Rose left for college and went into forestry. When he came back to Red Apple Farm after his father passed away, he wanted to keep the farm going and manage the land to help wildlife for future generations. “I'm the third generation, my son is fourth. He runs the farm now and he's got four kids,” said Rose.

“There are a lot of birds that require open, or combination open, forest,” said Rose. “But, there are also quite a few species that need heavy dense young growth – brush, young trees – for nesting, perching and protection.”

Cox explained that young forest is important in New England because there's a lack of it. “A lot of our forests are older, so we're trying to create more young forest to allow different types of wildlife to come back,” said Cox, adding that wildlife that need young forest includes American woodcock, golden-winged warblers, and New England cottontail.

“I’d like to see if we can get back ruffed grouse,” said Rose “This dense regrowth will help ruffed grouse because they need a place to hide from hawks and owls. They need a combination of open fields and thick dense young growth. That's the best protection they can get. Same with rabbits; they can hide there. A good briar patch is good for everybody, you know?”

Rose has completed four forest management projects on 120 acres, some with NRCS assistance, some without.

“It's always great to see that projects are doing what they're meant to do,” said Cox. “It might be two or three years down the road before you see results.”

Rose urges other forestland owners to contact NRCS for help. “It's worth looking into. It can help you make the decision to keep your land open for wildlife and for your enjoyment: hiking, hunting and snowshoeing or whatever other sports you like to do,” said Rose.