Grassland Management for Threatened Species

written by Doug McRae
The acquisition and wise stewardship of biologically important properties is a land trust’s greatest responsibility and we take this very seriously, which is why all of our holdings have management strategies that guide our actions.
Our flagship property, the Lone Pine Marsh – Braham Tract, has seen great changes since we acquired it nearly a quarter century ago. The original purchase by our founder, Murial Braham, was essentially the large cattail marsh only. A subsequent purchase allowed us to take control of the adjacent cornfields and begin the conversion to habitats more suitable to our biodiversity goals. While the marsh habitat itself hasn’t changed significantly, the surrounded lands are now unrecognizable from their corn field days.
Some areas along the western boundary regenerated naturally and have since filled in with alder and birch, while others areas were planted with hundreds of trees. Those earliest plantings now constitute a 20 year-old forest that connects to the existing forest along the southern boundary. This spring we had two Grade 9 classes from Cobourg plant 200 more trees in this area to fill in some gaps that didn’t take in the first planting.

The two fields north of the marsh are being managed as grassland habitat to provide a nesting place for Bobolink and Meadowlark, both listed as Threatened under Provincial and Federal legislation. At present we have about 8 pairs of Bobolink and one pair of meadowlarks nesting here. To improve their chances of breeding successfully we do not permit hay to be cut from the fields until August, well after the young have fledged.
We suspect that the area could support greater numbers if we undertake some management efforts so we are presently investigating our options regarding improving the quality of this habitat through reseeding the fields to benefit grassland birds, butterflies and other pollinators.

Another issue we have looked at is the thin line of conifers that were planted along the west side of these fields, and in an east-west line dividing them. These trees were planted about 15 years ago before we had defined our grassland management strategy and unfortunately they are now starting to get to a height where they will negatively impact grassland birds that prefer wide-open spaces. Short shrubs like the dogwood and sumac that are currently there are not a problem, however a wall of tall trees will be. Once the spruce and pine get much taller they will reduce or eliminate the suitable grassland habitat.
After much discussion and consultation with the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT holds an easement on this property) and others, we have decided to cut the row of planted conifers. While we generally don’t like to remove trees (besides invasive species which we remove regularly) this is a necessary action for the long-term health of our grassland habitat.

Lone Pine Land Trust

Lone Pine Land Trust is a non-profit charity based in Northumberland County.