Restoration of Atlantic White Cedar Trees at Copicut Woods

Contact Information

Linton Harrington
South Coast Outreach and Education Coordinator
508.636.4693 x104
lharrington@ttor.org

Fall River, MAFebruary 20, 2013 – Since 2010, The Trustees of Reservations have been working with volunteers and members of their Youth Conservation Corps on a special project at Copicut Woods in the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve to plant Atlantic White Cedar (know in shorthand as “AWC”) trees as part of an Copicut Cedar Restorationongoing cedar swamp restoration project. The project’s purpose is to prevent the disappearance of the cedar swamp, a rare habitat, and to maintain the biodiversity of the region. Atlantic White Cedars have declined over the past century because of logging, an overall loss of wetlands, and the absence of once common disturbances such as wildfires, which help open up the forest canopy so younger trees and new seedlings can grow. Cedar swamps are important because they act as a natural filter by removing pollutants from water, prevent flooding by absorbing large amounts of runoff, and provide habitat for several rare species. Because AWC, a typically southern species, can survive in the harsh Northeast climate even as it warms, restoring AWC at Copicut Woods is part of The Trustees’ larger effort to restore habitat and create resilient landscapes that can withstand the effects of our changing climate.

The unusual Atlantic White Cedar – which is actually not a cedar but part of the cypress (Cupressaceae) family related to the bald cypress swamps of the Deep South -- needs direct sunlight to become established. Without a disturbance such as a wildfire, hurricane or nor’easter to open up the forest canopy, the cedars will gradually be replaced by Red Maple, which is shade tolerant and can easily grow in the understory. If the Red Maple, also known as Swamp Maple, overtops and shades the cedar trees, then the rare cedar swamp will be replaced by a common maple swamp. Why does the loss of cedar swamps matter? Linton Harrington, The Trustees South Coast Outreach & Education Coordinator, offers some insight.

“There are certain rare species that depend on American White Cedar for habitat, such as the Hessel’s Hairstreak butterfly (which uses AWC as it sole host species), Four-toed Salamanders, and many birds such as Cedar Waxwings and Parula Warblers,” says Harrington. “Because the Bioreserve was established to protect biodiversity in the region, it is important that we do our part in Copicut Woods to keep certain species from disappearing altogether. In addition, cedar swamps are unique and beautiful spots that offer a glimpse of what was once a common wetland community.”

The Trustees’ Youth Conservation Corps – made up of high school students from Fall River, New Bedford, Westport, and surrounding communities – has been involved in this important restoration project since 2005, helping to grow cedars from cuttings collected from mature cedars in the Bioreserve and establishing them in the organization’s tree nursery at Fall River’s Watuppa Reservation, also in the Bioreserve. This past summer, the Bioreserve Youth Corps crew worked one day each week to transplant trees from the nursery out into the swamp. So far, 160 AWC saplings ranging from 6 to 12 feet tall have been transplanted from the tree nursery into a two-acre clearing created adjacent to a mature AWC swamp of around 200 trees – many of which are 60 to 80 feet tall and close to 100 years old.

One of the Youth Corps supervisors, Chancery Perks, actually started growing many of these trees back in 2006 when he was still in high school at Bristol County Agricultural High School and was a Youth Corps member himself. Last summer, he supervised and worked alongside a new generation of Youth Corps members, digging up the trees that he had helped start six years earlier, and transplanting them in the cedar swamp where they will make their permanent home.

This cedar swamp restoration is a successful work in progress, thanks also to the many other groups that have been involved the project including: the Durfee High School Green Team; Trips for Kids New Bedford; UMass-Dartmouth Sustainability Office; SouthCoast Serves; and many (many!) individual volunteers and student interns.

In addition to the challenges of planting trees in a swamp, where there are more roots than soil, volunteers have had to install a solar-powered fence to prevent browsing by the large deer population. However, the hard work has paid off. Thousands of AWC seedlings are now starting grow on their own from the seeds dropped by the transplanted trees and the existing cedars. In the coming years, The Trustees hope to engage more people in the project by expanding the restoration area and experimenting with different methods of controlling deer browsing and encouraging natural regeneration. As a wetland species that thrives with periodic disturbance (and whose range extends south to the Carolinas) Atlantic White Cedar is a tree that, with a little help, could one day thrive in the warmer, wetter, and stormier New England climate of the future.

For more information about the cedar swamp restoration project at Copicut Woods and to find out how you can get involved as a volunteer or to apply to the Youth Corps program contact Linton Harrington at 508.636.4693 ext. 104 or lharrington@ttor.org.

More About The Trustees of Reservations
The Trustees of Reservations is the nation’s oldest statewide land conservation organization founded by open space visionary Charles Eliot in 1891 to “hold in trust” and care for properties, or “reservations,” of scenic, cultural, and natural significance for current and future generations to enjoy. Supported by more than 100,000 members and donors and thousands of volunteers, The Trustees own and manage 109 spectacular reservations located throughout Massachusetts and work to promote healthy, active, and green communities. Accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, The Trustees are an established leader in the conservation and preservation movement and model for other land trusts nationally and internationally. One of the largest nonprofits in Massachusetts, The Trustees employ 150 full-time, 49 regular part-time, and 400 seasonal staff with expertise in education, cultural resources, land protection, ecology, conservation, land management, and planning. To find out more or to become a member or volunteer, please contact www.thetrustees.org.