Nature center nearing completion of six-year habitat restoration effort

Stonington - The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center is closing out a six-year federally funded project to restore the shrub land, grassland and meadow habitat around the center and Denison Homestead properties along Pequotsepos Road and Mistuxet Avenue.

Restoring the early-successional habitat is contributing to the center’s efforts to continue to provide quality habitat for a diversity of birds, including American woodcock, blue-winged prairie warbler, Eastern towhee, brown thrasher, New England Cottontail, hognose snake and other old field species known to inhabit the preserve now or in the recent past, the center said Monday in a news release.

The $26,000 Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program grant awarded to the nature center in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service was used to fund the clearing of 3 acres of invasive vine and shrubs around the Denison Farm fields on the west side of Pequotsepos Road. The grant also covered the clearing of about 6 acres south of the center’s meadow, accessed by a blue-blazed trail known as the “Meadow Loop.” During the past 25 years, trees had overgrown much of this former shrub land.

Shrub land and grassland birds and animals have experienced dramatic population declines throughout the region, largely due to loss of habitat. The goal of the project was to return the area to a combination of shrub land and meadow by removing most of the taller trees and invasive species, leaving existing high-bush blueberry, red cedar and other old field species.

In June, a representative of the NRCS toured the property to gauge success. Javier Cruz, a district conservationist at USDA-NRCS, was pleased with the new growth of native plants such as milkweed and the relative lack of invasive species such as autumn olive, purple loosestrife, porcelain berry and bush honeysuckle, the nature center said.

The preserve is connected to other large open spaces, including property owned by the Avalonia Land Conservancy. Many of the birds and other wildlife found at the property need large unbroken habitat. Restoring the early-successional habitat around the Denison lands, and working at the local, regional and state levels to protect remaining farmlands and open space adjacent to DPNC will help our efforts to continue to provide quality habitat for important native species, the nature center said.

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