Natural Resources

MATSELL BRIDGE NATURAL AREA NATIVE VEGETATION RE-GENERATION CONIFER SALVAGE PLAN

Total Acreage of Plan: ~ 56.5

SITE LOCATION: The site is located in the eastern part of Linn County at the Matsell Bridge Natural Area. Buffalo Township, Section 26 & 35, T85N,R5W, Linn County

SITE DESCRIPTION: Matsell Bridge Natural Area consists of nearly 1800 acres of a mixture of bottom and upland hardwoods, scattered with open grass lands. The area has several small prairie remnants, and plantings of native prairie. Historically, the site was open with scattered trees (most likely Oak) see attached 1930’s aerial photo. The most common soil type in the specific area of this plan is Chelsea loamy fine sand. This soil type is excessively well-drained (sandy), and rolling with slopes from 5 to 18%. The native vegetation on this soil type was most likely scattered trees and prairie (open savanna). The focus of this plan is based on the condition of 5 specific stands of conifers. The stands range in size from 1.5 acres to 25 acres. All the stands were planted with nonnative conifer species that are now showing varied signs of decline, and provide little value to wildlife. Two additional stands of conifers located at Matsell Bridge Natural Area are not addressed in this plan and would be left as they are. One is a stand of white pine which are native to portions of Iowa and the other is a stand of red pine that borders a large parking area.

OBJECTIVES:

• To provide the public a variety of recreational opportunities such as hiking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, bird watching, and hunting, while maintaining and enhancing biological diversity and wildlife habitat.

• To preserve and promote native habitat and vegetation whenever possible.

• To restore native landscapes as part of our natural heritage when possible.

• To utilize merchantable (saleable) trees in selective conifer plantations while they are still viable, and not yet a detriment.

• Re-establish a mix of native prairie and upland hardwood (oak-hickory) vegetation.

SITE CONDITION:

Stand 1: The stand is a 32.7 acre stand of mostly Scotch Pine ranging in diameter (measured at 4.5 feet from the ground) from 6 to 8 inches.. Scotch Pine is an imported tree from Europe primarily used for Christmas trees. This stand is in severe decline with greater than 50% of the stand already dead.   Scotch pine is extremely susceptible to pine wilt, which is very prevalent in this stand. Pine wilt is a fatal disease that will continue to devastate the remainder of the stand. A multi use trail that runs through the area requires considerable maintenance each year, due to fallen trees. The presence of dead trees in the stand has allowed enough sunlight into the understory for invasive species, such as bush honeysuckle and autumn olive to grow. Some sapling oaks have established, mainly on the edges of the stand.

Recommendation: Remove the stand of trees, salvaging the remaining live merchantable trees by obtaining bids for removal as pulp wood. If the area is harvested some small pockets of dead trees could be left for cavity nesting trees and general wildlife habitat. After pines are harvested, remove and treat non-native invasive species such as honeysuckle and autumn olive. The area could then be planted to prairie and scattered native hardwoods (black & bur oak, shagbark hickory). This would return the area to a sustainable native Iowa plant community. As stated above some Oaks are already attempting to repopulate the area. The restoration of native plant communities would greatly benefit wildlife by producing both cover and diverse food sources.

Stand 2: The stand is a 7 acre very dense stand of Jack Pine planted 4 feet apart within the rows and 7 feet between rows. Jack Pine is scrubby short-lived pine that grows to a height of 15’ to 40’ and is not native to Iowa. The stand does not appear to have ever been thinned, with interior trees considerably suppressed. The live trees in this stand generally only have 10 to 20% of their crowns still green, except for those trees on the very edge. It appears that the tree growth in this stand is very stagnating, and any type of thinning at this stage would not create a growth increase. If this stand is just left alone the trees will continue to decline in health and eventually die.

Recommendation: Remove the entire stand while the trees still have some salvage value by obtaining bids for removal as pulp wood. The area could then be planted to prairie and native Oaks, which would return the area to a native Iowa plant community. The area to the west of the stand already contains some remnant prairie species, indicating that prairie was present in the past. The area to the east of the stand is a native hardwood stand, which should allow some oaks to re-establish naturally along the edges of the area.

Stand 3 & 4: These stands are a 2.3 and a 3 acre stand of Red Pine. The stands were planted in 1947 and thinned in 1970. The pines in this stand are pole sized trees with only 10 to 25% crown remaining. The stand shows sign of Canker and tip blight which is causing some dieback. Several trees in the stand have already died. The trees are at the appropriate stage to be harvested for either poles or pulp wood and range in size from 8 to 16 inches in diameter. If no action is taken the stand will continue to decline. There is no understory or ground vegetation in the stand, which makes it of little use for wildlife.

Both stands are surrounded by mixed oak timber, which indicates that oak timber would be the native vegetation. The stands do have some esthetic value for the multi use trails that dissects both stands, however as tress die this will be reduced.

Recommendation: Since the stand does have some aesthetic value one option would be to leave it as is. With this option you are sacrificing any merchantable value for recreational and aesthetic value. A second option would be to selectively harvest the smaller and declining live trees to allow remaining trees room to grow. However this option could expose the stands to more wind potentially causing damage to remaining trees. The third option would be to remove the entire stand of trees while they still have value as poles or pulp wood. The area could then be re-established with native hardwood trees. The restoration of native hardwoods would greatly increase habitat benefits for wildlife by increasing mast producing trees and a herbaceous understory.

Stand 5: The stand is a 21 acre very dense stand of White Spruce planted 4 feet apart within the rows, and 8 feet between rows. Little to no sunlight reaches the ground, resulting in a total lack of understory or ground vegetation. White Spruce is a non-native species not adapted for Iowa’s hot humid summers. This makes the trees susceptible to fungus infections common to Spruce in Iowa. While the crown remaining is less than desirable, it should be sufficient enough to respond to management that would improve the stand.

Recommendation: The stand should be thinned by removing every other row.

This would allow the remaining trees adequate sunlight and room to grow. It would also promote good air circulation, reducing the occurrence of fungal infections. Thinning would also allow herbaceous vegetation to grow between the rows, making it more attractive to wildlife. The trees removed could be salvaged for pulp wood, which would negate any cost for stand improvement.