CAPE ELIZABETH — The town has started work on a shrubland management project in Winnick Woods, off Sawyer Road, to restore the habitat for wildlife and diversify the landscape.
Workers are removing most of the trees greater than 15 feet tall and woody stems greater than two inches in diameter. The work is being done while the ground is frozen to help reduce disruption of the soil, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said.
“We started last week, but the ground was getting really soft because it was so warm and we slowed up,” O’Meara said. “One of the positive by-products of cold snap is that will be able to start up again.”
The work, which is on 12 acres of a 71-acre parcel, is supported by the Wildlife Management Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who provided $2,500 and $17,500, respectively. The institute also provided expertise needed to jump-start the project, which was shelved after it was first proposed in a 2006 Winnick Woods Master Plan.
“This shrubland management project really just kind of sat there until the Wildlife Management Institute came in,” O’Meara said.
In addition to outside group donations, the town is donating in-kind services, she said, such as time from Conservation Commission member Mike Duddy, who is a state-licensed forester, a designation required for the work.
The woods, which provide habitat for birds and other wildlife, including the endangered New England cottontail rabbit, would revert back to a wooded-wetland combination without a targeted management, according to the Winnick Woods Master Plan. Appropriate wildlife habitat would be lost.
Although part of the goal is to restore the habitat for animals, O’Meara said the project’s overriding mission is to create a variety of landscapes.
Typically, similar projects to restore habitat make an effort to remove invasive species and return the land to its natural state. But in the case of this section of Winnick Woods, the town wants something different.
“The trees are not being removed because they are invasive,” O’Meara said. “They’re being removed because we want to manage a shrubland instead of a forest.”
In the spring, the town will evaluate the property again and could decide to begin removing invasive species, such as burning bush and bittersweet, she said. The initial plan for the woods was not to remove the invasive species, because in some cases they can provide necessary food for wildlife.
An adjacent 10-acre parcel, owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service and managed by the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, is also part of Winnick Woods, but has been farmed more recently, making it more of a shrubland than a wetland like the other parcel, according to the woods master plan.
Together the two parcels make up a habitat suitable for the cottontail, O’Meara said, which was part of the stipulation for the Fish and Wildlife funding.
Cape Elizabeth has started removing trees larger than 15 feet on a 12-acre portion of Winnick Woods to encourage shrub growth.