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Hundreds of trees will be cut in CT state forest. But it's not all bad news, wildlife officials say

Trees that contain no leaves or growth in a season where they should be flourishing are deemed dead. On June 22, 2023, CT DEEP hosted a forest tour to discuss the specifics of Timber Harvest W-458, view defoliated sites, discuss current forest health conditions and learn more about the crown assessments DEEP Forestry is conducting to guide forest management decisions of affected sites.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
These trees should be growing and flourishing, but have been declared dead. State officials hosted a forest tour on June 22, 2023 to discuss the specifics of Timber Harvest W-458 in Housatonic State Forest. Trees will be cut due to a devestating spongy moth outbreak.

Nearly 250 acres of trees will be cut and harvested from Housatonic State Forest later this year in an effort to revitalize a portion of Connecticut’s northwest corner that has been devastated by the invasive spongy moth caterpillar.

That insect defoliated hundreds of oak trees, leaving them dead or dying following outbreaks in 2021 and 2022.

The Sharon Mountain block, a roughly 3,500 acre region of the state forest, was particularly hard hit. Oak trees are a first-choice food for spongy moth caterpillars, and this area is full of them due to Connecticut’s historic iron industry, state officials said.

About a century ago, the area was owned by The Salisbury Iron Corporation. To produce charcoal for the iron ore industry, the company repeatedly clear cut and burned thousands of acres of forest.

That clear-cut land was ideal for oak tree saplings, which “thrived in that full sunlight” and the fire regime the land was put through, said State Forester Jeremy Clark.

Fast forward to today, and Clark said Sharon Mountain became a monoculture of mature oak trees – basically an open buffet that was extremely vulnerable to defoliation by the spongy moth caterpillar.

The sick trees will be cut to keep hikers safe and eliminate a potential fuel source for future wildfires. But the forest will also benefit, state officials said.

Removing the dead and dying oak trees will create blocks of young forest, which will increase wildlife diversity.

As part of CT DEEP's management process, trees marked in red are scheduled to be taken down due to it's decay, or it's potential harm to other life around it.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
As part of CT DEEP's management process, trees marked in red are scheduled to be taken down due to its decay, or its potential harm to other life around it.

"We're going to add towhees, whip-poor-wills, chestnut sided warblers, you're going to actually have an increase in populations of those birds here,” said Pete Picone, a wildlife biologist.

The oak timber harvest should also increase the number of sugar maples, aspens and tulip poplars on Sharon Mountain, since those trees would no longer be blocked from the sun by towering oaks.

“By having a diversity of age classes, we're going to have forests which are going to be resilient” to a wide variety of environmental conditions and stresses, said Jeff Ward with The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

The timber harvest is expected to begin in November or December. Any money made from the sale of the timber will be used to pay for trails and roads in Connecticut state forests.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.