Cedar removal is going to be a top priority work activity this winter. In preparation, I’ve been going around to assess the condition of the brush piles and determine the area necessary to allow the cut cedars to bring the piles back up to their original eight foot height. I’ve built enough brush piles that there is now one within dragging distance of all potential cedar clearing areas. This particular pile was built in February 2004 and contained mostly medium sized cedars of 10 to 12 feet. Cedars of that size take a while to decompose, so this pile is still about a third of its original height.
Here’s the cedar that stands above that brush pile. Using a large cedar to give stability to the pile allows me to build a higher pile and reduce the ground area actually covered by brush. Supporting a large pile of brush doesn’t seem to have any negative impacts on the health of the cedar.
The piles support a wide variety of wildlife species. Each has been penetrated by at least one burrowing animal. There are only a couple of species that actually excavate, but there are many more that are ready to take over a burrow after the builder has moved on.
My 2004 clearing activities were concentrated on the upper slopes of the hill. I knew that I would eventually be working to clear more of the hillside, so I established the brush pile all the way at the bottom of the hill. After nine growing seasons, my cedar dragging corridor from work area to brush pile is just as open as the day it was created.
The upper slopes show a good mix of vegetation despite being stunted by lack of rainfall. The biggest surprise here was the number of Spiranthes magnicamporum orchids that bloomed within a few years of clearing.
In a couple of places I just created openings so I could see how the vegetation responded to increased sunlight. There was nothing unusual in most places, but the diversity of species increased dramatically.
Several large slabs of limestone bedrock project from the hillside. An area of vigorously growing tall grass develops down hill from each slab. Rain water falling on the slabs runs off, giving a small area an increased amount of water. Plants growing near the rock benefit by this added moisture. It’s the same effect you get at the edge of a driveway or sidewalk where water flows off into the lawn.
Uncleared areas show very little ground cover. Shade and dry soil make it tough for much of anything to grow here. Removing the medium sized cedars should increase sunlight penetration by 30 to 50 percent. That should be enough to make a difference in the plant composition on the ground.