How do you take a forests' temperature?
The goal of FoHVOS' Deer Management Program is to restore the health of the forest. For many years, an overabundant deer herd severely browsed native shrubs and tree seedlings that would have made the the forest much more lush and diverse. The ultimate goal is to restore this lushness and diversity, but this will only occur after the deer herd is reduced and time has passed to allow plants to grow. It is likely that this will take more than a decade to be fully realized. So how will we know if our Deer Management Program has been working in the short term? Do we need to make any adjustments to the Program?
FoHVOS will be answering these questions in a simple, inexpensive, and scientifically rigorous technique dubbed 'sentinel seedlings'. The technique involves the principles of any complex scientific experiment, but will provide a clear and simple way to monitor our success at achieving a healthy forest. Staff and volunteers help plant hundreds of seedlings of red oak and green ash trees throughout our Preserves. Seedlings are planted in December and we return in June to measure how many were browsed by deer. In a healthy forest, we would expect to see less than 5% of the seedlings browsed over six months. It is possible that we will not reach this 'ideal' condition for some time, but we should be able to measure decreases in the number of seedlings browsed from year to year if our program is being successful.
The bedrock of a healthy forest is the continuing production of new tree seedlings that will become the canopy trees of the future. A forest that cannot produce seedlings is 'feverish' and our monitoring program will 'take its temperature'.
FoHVOS is participating in a larger study using this technique at nearly two dozen sites across New Jersey. It is hoped that results of this work will inform deer management goals beyond the borders of our Preserves to make all of the states forests healthier.