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The need for management to conserve unique & important forested ecosystems

From the desk of Emery Gluck: retired DEEP forester

My name is Emery Gluck. I was a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) forester for 41 years. I am commenting on a recent the proposal of the CT Council of Environmental Quality that CT DEEP forest management activities go through the CEPA process.

The Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) provides a declaration of state policy and establishes a process by which state agencies must identify and review their proposed “actions which may significantly affect the environment”. A CEPA assessment is required for each state agency action or sequence of actions undertaken by a state department, institution or agency that could have a major impact on the state's environmental, social, and/or economic resources.

In the past I have done two CEPA scopings for prescribed burns. The extra work wasn’t too much as I only had two comments to address.

However, I am extremely concerned that the scoping process would elicit so many negative comments from the public that it would greatly impact how much imperiled pitch pine and diminishing oak forests the CT DEEP Forestry Division can restore.

Pitch pine/scrub oak barrens are one of CT’s 13 imperiled ecosystems as it is estimated that over 95% of them are lost. They host several state-listed Lepidoptera. (Lepidoptera is an order of insects that includes butterflies and moths.)

These forests are not sustaining themselves under current natural conditions as their mortality rate is very high and almost no new pitch pine or scrub oak are seeding in.

This is because they are very intolerant of shade and much of CT’s forests had major increases in density in the last 150 years mostly due to the lack of fire.

Crowded forests predispose pitch pine to mass attack by the southern pine beetle which has had a many-fold increase especially on the state’s largest pitch pine sandplain at Hopeville Pond State Park where live tree cutting to free up the overcrowded pitch pine could prevent an epidemic outbreak. Hopefully an environmental review process, if required, will not hinder their timely removal.

Oak forests are extremely important to bird populations because oaks overwhelmingly host the most species of Lepidoptera which birds use to feed their nestlings. Most oak forests in this area are in the process of being replaced by shade tolerant birch, beech and maple as the historic conditions that created shade sensitive oak forests about 100 years ago are no longer occurring.

An average of over 30,000 acres of CT’s forest which is 1 1/2 times the size of the average CT town or about 1 in 50 acres of forest, reportedly burned annually from 1905 to 1925. Severe fires and harvests provided crucial disturbances needed for many of today’s oak and pitch pine forests to establish. Today’s few fires are usually too low in intensity to create new oak and pitch pine forests. Thoughtful tree cutting and prescribed burns have successfully sustained numerous acres of these declining ecosystems.

Even unintentionally restricting CT DEEP Forestry’s natural disturbance model of management will gradually decrease diversity and resiliency in the state forests, which is of great concern for these forest habitat types.

This photograph is of a prescribed burn, where flames stay low and controlled, after a timber harvest at Hopeville Pond State Park. In this pitch pine habitat there is an urgent need for management to sustain the species and ecosystem. [photo credit: Emery Gluck]

In this video, see a controlled burn in lebanon, CT from March, 2022. [video credits: Emery Gluck, Steve Lowery, Mike Cronick, Joel Stocker]

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