It takes a village—and many shovels—to bring the Windsor Grasslands back to life

Last week in Windsor, on the open land surrounding the recently closed state prison—and newly designated Wildlife Management Area—a group of conservation-minded young people and other members of the community, under the guidance of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (FWD), planted over 850 trees and shrubs in an effort to restore its natural habitat.

The FWD acquired the property in 2017. And while an official long-range management plan is in development, according to FWD biologist Chris Bernier, a sizable portion of the land—”a main block of grassland fields in excess of 100 acres”—requires an interim strategy to tackle invasive plant growth, improve soil quality, and make it more tenable for native species to reestablish and flourish.

That includes the birds. “The fields are managed mainly for birds. That’s the focus of those fields,” says Bernier, who calls it one of the most unique habitats in the Upper Valley. “It’s very popular for birding, with everything from grasshopper sparrow and golden-winged warbler to Northern harrier and ruby-crowned kinglet.”

Keeping the birds singing in those fields demands an aggressive response to the spread of poison parsnip, a noxious invasive that is, unfortunately, quite well-established here. “Only way to deal with it,” Bernier says, “is to mow it and mow heavily.”

And tactfully. So as not to displace the birds during an eradication process that could take years, fields are mowed on a rotating basis, not all at once.

This season’s work on the Windsor Grasslands culminated last week in the planting of hundreds of trees and shrubs, with a particular focus on low-lying wetland areas. “We want to outcompete the invasives with natives, to take control of the site as quickly as possible, for the benefit of water-flow quality into Hubbard Brook,” Bernier says.

Fruiting shrubs like serviceberry, black chokeberry, red osier dogwood, and sumac, along with alder and willow, went in the ground.

But not all in one day. A team of young people working for the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps spent a week on the property, even setting up camp in order to make the most of their days pulling weeds and cutting back the fields’ edges, putting in trees and shrubs and then tidying up the planting site.

Bernier is impressed with how well the young workers endured. “A lot of those days were cold and rainy, and they just kept at it. They were a great group of kids.”

Last Friday, community volunteers were invited to join in, and several people turned out to help plant 25 disease-resistant elm trees as part of an extensive restoration effort by the Nature Conservancy in Vermont.

Another way to support the health of the Windsor Grasslands and other Wildlife Management Areas in Vermont is by purchasing a commemorative 
Vermont Habitat Stamp—a new FWD program that feeds the Species and Habitat Conservation Fund. And for every dollar donated, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service matches it with three dollars. Last year’s Habitat Stamp sales of $100,000 ended up totaling $400,000 to go toward maintenance of these protected lands.

Bernier says that while hunting, fishing, and angling licenses traditionally have funded land management, the Habitat Stamp “is an opportunity for anyone to donate. Because habitat management benefits all citizens—not just hunters but anyone who enjoys wildlife.”

This article and "The Lowdown" are a production of Story Kitchen Creative.
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