Thursday, July 9, 2009

Clearing Cedars

Many people have asked me why I try to change conditions at Blue Jay Barrens. Wouldn’t it be better to just let nature take its course? Those who practice restoration ecology have written volumes on this subject and I won’t begin to debate management philosophies here. I’m interested in protecting rare plant and animal species and the best way to do that is to provide the conditions those plants and animals need in order to survive. Without management, most of these open areas would cease to exist. There’s no shortage of people who manage their land to the detriment of rarities, so I don’t think it’ll hurt if I do the opposite.

At Blue Jay Barrens, the areas that are best suited to open environments are threatened by shading from the growth of Eastern Red Cedar. So I cut cedars. A few years ago, the open area in this photo looked like that area in the background.

This area was the same way. Cedars were cut, dragged away and piled. I never cut large areas at one time. I would cut a bit one winter, then watch the area the next growing season to see how it was responding. Sometimes I would observe for two or three years before going back and enlarging a particular opening.

How did I decide where to stop cutting? I tried to identify areas that would most benefit by clearing and established defined boundaries for each season, but sometimes I was stopped by the weather, or my job, or a new baby, or a broken tool. Sometimes I would stop because I found something that I thought might suffer if I continued cutting. I was stopped at one point when I found the dried stems of a native honeysuckle, shown in the picture with some Dwarf Hackberry. The honeysuckle is the darker green plant with the rounded leaves. I’ve been waiting years for it to actually flower so I can identify it, but between browsing deer and cold winters I’ve yet to see a bloom.

I don’t clear all of the areas. Another of my management goals is to maintain native diversity on the property and these groves of scraggly little cedars are part of that diversity.

I’m still learning about the plants, animals and ecology of these areas and I have a feeling that there’re some special things going on here that I have yet to discover. Some of these stunted cedars are decades old and I think that should earn them a share of the available space.

An area like this could take dozens of years to grow to the point of actually shading out all of these plants.

I know what I could expect if I cleared this area. I’ve had ten years to study what happened when I cleared the area beside it. I still have time to decide if it should be left, cleared or maybe thinned a little bit.

Here’s the brush pile ready to receive new material. You can see how some of the big stuff got stuck in the tree as the pile started to rot down. I like to use a couple of big cedars as a support for the pile. The support allows me to pile the cut trees a few feet higher than would be possible otherwise. This pile ended up being about 12 feet high and rose to a point on the tree just above the top of this picture. You can see some stubs where I cut off branches while standing atop the pile. It’s quite a balancing act climbing up the side of a brush pile with an eight foot cedar balanced over your head. Probably not an OSHA approved activity. When I finished in this area, I stuck a cedar in the top of the pile like a mountain climber would plant his flag. It’s funny, some of the things you do when no one else is around.


  1. I've been trying to clear some new property I bought and find your insights interesting. What do you do with the stumps? Leave 'em? Pull 'em? or grind 'em?

  2. I always leave the stumps. Pulled stumps cause too much soil disturbance and I risk getting some invasive weed species moving in. Usually I cut the stump down to ground level so they're not an obstacle. If I can't cut low, I leave a couple of feet sticking up so I can see it and not fall over it or hit it with a mower.