Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a forager.
When I walk in the woods, I not only see natural beauty and an intricate ecological system, I also see food. I love to eat beechnuts from the forest floor in fall, collect fiddleheads for a salad or stir fry in the spring, and am happy as a chipmunk in a woodpile to find a patch of wild raspberries in summer. I don't know enough about mushroom species to feel safe in my selection, so I leave them be. But my fascination with wild foods gives me an appreciation for all that the woodlands provide. The birds, squirrels, deer and insects compete with me for the bounty of the forest, but I am happy to share.
The forest provides food and shelter, synthesizes oxygen and provides its own natural fertilizer to feed the soil. It is complex yet amazingly simple and self-sufficient. And perhaps we don't appreciate all that the forest does for us. Besides providing firewood, shade, shelter and a place for recreation, it is also an intricate part of the watershed system. Leaves damper the impact of falling rain and roots cling to the soil, reducing the runoff and erosion from a sudden downpour. The shrubs, plants and tree roots act as both a barrier to moving water and a filtration system, allowing moving water to slow down and enter streams and creeks slowly, without adding silt and pollution to the water.
Forests are an intricate part of the watershed system.
Photo by John Jablonski III
With a little planning and preservation, a forest or woodland can last for centuries, with older pioneer species such as birch or poplars being replaced by more advanced species such as maples or oaks as soil improves from the addition of leaves and natural composting. Selective thinning of trees helps open up the crown to allow in more light and help young trees push up through the understory. Harvesting dead trees for firewood makes space for new growth. Leaving a few for woodpeckers and squirrels is a good practice, and the dropping limbs add to the forest floor's material to be recycled into nutrients.
If you have wooded property and need advice on how to manage it to create a sustainable forest, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy will be glad to meet with you and discuss management for the protection of the watershed. We can offer ideas on how to create a permanent legacy of conservation through the creation of conservation easements which allows full use of the forest while protecting it from destruction. Our conservation team can offer assistance in protecting your streams, creeks and ponds and in reducing erosion and runoff. We'd be glad to walk in the woods with you and even find a few snacks along the way. Give us a call at 664-2166 or check out our website at www.chautauquawatershed.org to see all we offer to protecting out local waters.