Stewardship

Proper environmental stewardship of Plummers Hollow depends on the control of two keystone species: white-tailed deer and human beings (photo by Bruce Bonta)

Proper environmental stewardship of Plummer's Hollow depends on the control of two keystone species: white-tailed deer and human beings (photo by Bruce Bonta)

Growing Future Old-Growth

Our over-all goal for the property is to preserve as many elements of biodiversity as possible, and to recover currently extirpated species. For the wooded portions, this amounts to managing for future old-growth. It turns out that this may also be the best thing we can do to combat global warming. See Dave’s blog post, Growing an Old-Growth Forest, for more on our thinking about this.

Deer Management Program

Control of the whitetailed deer population is central to our management goal for the property. See the new Caring for Deer and Forests website for background on this issue. We have two deer exclosures in our forest which we maintain as a way to measure the success of the deer hunting program; the largest is 2.81 acres and includes several habitat types. Dave summarized the situation in Shooting Bambi. Marcia has written about our exclosures several times for her column in the Pennsylvania Game News: see Latham’s Acre and Turtle Woods Wildflower Sanctuary, Part 2.

The property has been posted for Hunting by Written Permission Only since 1992, when we acquired the last, 120-acre parcel in the hollow allowing us to consolidate ownership of the watershed. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, we have found that a few, really good hunters are able to take off many more deer than the throngs of people who used to hunt here in the past. Our hunter program has been a success in almost every way:

  • We’ve come to know and befriend a group of folks who love spending time in the woods as much as we do. Most of them are highly competent naturalists, and we’ve gained invaluable information about wildlife in Plummer’s Hollow from them — not to mention a lot of great stories
  • Each year, our hunter friends kill roughly three times more deer than the average for the county (or in recent years, the wildlife management unit)
  • We have seen a number of positive signs that deer browse levels are returning to a more sustainable level, such as increased hemlock, white pine and rhododendron sprout recruitment and the spread of deer-sensitive wildlife species to new areas
  • Our hunter friends help us create and maintain trails and parking areas
  • They also helped us build the large deer exclosure mentioned above

Deer Harvest Chart

The Pennsylvania Game Commission began the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) a few years ago in response to complaints from landowners like us, from farmers, suburban homeowners, automobile insurance companies, and other interested parties that there were too many deer. DMAP permits landowners to distribute additional coupons to take antlerless deer on their property, generally one coupon per fifty acres, unless the landowner makes a case that more than that are needed. In 2006, we made that case, and submitted the following document.

Deer Management Plan

Forest Stewardship Program

In 1994, we submitted a ten-year Forest Stewardship Management Plan under the federally funded Forest Stewardship Program. Our consulting forester, Jack Winieski, was responsive to our interests and we enjoyed learning from him how to translate our ecocentric philosophy into the language of his profession. Jack had some excellent suggestions on ways we could better meet our objectives: for example, allowing the field (which we wanted to keep open as old-field habitat) to acquire ragged edges instead of the straight lines that were easier to mow along.

Bruce and Marcia were active in the Pennsylvania Forest Stewardship Program’s Volunteer Initiative Program (VIP) through much of the 1990s, hosting the annual meeting in Plummer’s Hollow in 1999. However, we became concerned about the influence of the timber industry over the program, especially after the VIP was merged with the industry-funded Ruffed Grouse Society‘s COVERTS program (grouse flourish in recently timbered forests) and then came under the aegis of Penn State’s increasingly regressive School of Forest Resources (no disrespect to the many fine people still in that school). We continue to feel that the Forest Stewardship Program could play a valuable role in the conservation of private forest lands, if only its leaders were a little more innovative. The emphasis on getting those who are going to cut trees in any case to hire consulting foresters and solicit for bids is entirely appropriate. But timber harvesting is not really a viable long-term way for most smaller forest owners in Pennsylvania to cover the cost of property taxes, let alone to benefit wildlife and biodiversity. Other options, such as the sustainable cultivation of high-value forest herbs (goldenseal and ginseng) and specialty mushrooms, for example, should be promoted much more aggressively.