Forest/Watershed Health Challenges
Forest and watershed health is a reflection of how the parts of these complex systems are functioning as compared to some perceived ideal conditions. In trying to evaluate overall watershed health, we often look at pieces of it such as streams (both flow and water quality), possible sources of contamination, reservoir and pong characteristics, plant and animal communities that are found within it, and how outside influences like climate change, weather events, insects and diseases may affect them. At Providence Water, having a healthy and well-functioning forested watershed translates to cleaner source water which is easier to meet mandated Drinking Water Standards.
Climate change has been in the news lately and it has been on Providence Water's radar for a while. With much uncertainty, about all we can plan on is that things will change and be different in the future. Work is currently underway on a Watershed Climate Change Adaptation Plan. While this plan will address many larger issues, there are things being done now to help mitigate and adapt to possible changes.
Some examples would be:
- Removing undersized culverts and seldom used access roads and replacing them with some swales that will not get plugged.
- Favoring species of trees that are expected to do better as warmer temperatures and summer droughts become more common.
- Planting tree seedlings that are found more to our south that should be more accustomed to the anticipated weather conditions.
Exotic invasive insects and diseases have been, and will continue to be, a threat to the forest. These pests, such as the gypsy moth, Dutch elm disease, and chestnut blight, were introduced from other parts of the world in the early 1900's and have impacted forests (in the case of chestnut essentially removing it from the landscape). More recent introductions include the Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, and the southern pine beetle. The southern pine beetle is native in the southeast U.S. but has made its way to parts of the northeast and survived possibly in part due to warmer winters. With changing climate, the range of both native and non-native forest pests will likely expand.
Non-native invasive plants are becoming more common and spreading, some of which have been around for many years. These plants are usually from other parts of the world and grow aggressively, spread rapidly, and crowd out native plants and flowers. White-tailed deer avoid browsing on these plants, instead preferring the natives that they have evolved with over the centuries. If there are few or no native seedlings and saplings and the forest canopy is disturbed, invasive plants can quickly occupy the site making it difficult, if not impossible, for the natives to grow there without intervention.
Overabundant white-tailed deer are inhibiting the regeneration of native seedlings, particularly some hardwoods, that are necessary fore the forest to sustain itself. A deer management program that includes controlled hunting is intended to reduce these impacts. Forest fragmentation, when larger tracts of forest are divided or have parts of them developed, can reduce the watersheds ability to filter water, especially during the more frequent large rain events predicted during certain times of the year. Providence Water continues to purchase critical parcels when it can and participate in programs with private landowners to protect land in the watershed. Another avenue available for protecting land is purchasing development rights from a willing seller either on its on or partnership with other agencies.