As we mark Climate Week in Massachusetts, it is important to note that part of the Department of Fish and Games’ (DFG) efforts is to create climate-resilient habitat that supports our state’s native wildlife. Additionally, by protecting land and improving habitat through active restoration and management, we can enhance outdoor recreation for the public while also working to combat the impacts of climate change.
For instance, resilient forests are better at providing habitat and storing carbon, despite increases in drought, wind, pests, and pathogens. A resilient landscape can include a variety of forest types, different forest ages, wetlands, shrublands, barrens, and grasslands, that together provide habitat for all wildlife.
As we all know, forests are home to a wide variety of species offering critical habitats and ecosystems. They provide nesting sites, cover from weather and predators, and deliver food. But not every forest species is looking for the same kind of forest or the same age of forest. Some wildlife seeks forests filled with oak or cherry trees, others prefer spruce and fir, and still others prefer aspen.
The age and size of trees also matters; young forests with dense seedlings, saplings, and shrubs provide more nuts, seeds, and insects than mature forests. Even birds that nest in mature forests seek out young forest to fatten up before migration. Unfortunately, most of the commonwealth’s forests are about the same age, with very few being biologically mature and few others that are young.
Much of the Massachusetts landscape today is a product of human land-use, and we have lost a large amount of our native grasslands, floodplains, and barrens to development. Our forests are recently regrown from abandoned farms.
Formerly, natural processes such as flooding, wildfire, and major storms created dynamic wildlife habitats. But our built environment greatly restricts what nature can do on its own. Human needs require flood control, fighting wildfires, and cleaning up after hurricanes and other major storm events.
We need to protect homes and businesses and work together to create diverse wildlife habitat on public and private land. DFG does this by conserving land and coordinating active habitat restoration and management. Additionally, we protect thousands of acres a year from development and manage more than 225,000 acres of wildlife lands open to the public for hunting, fishing, trapping, nature study, birdwatching, and hiking.
Through MassWildlife’s Habitat Program, DFG seeks to maintain and restore native habitats and natural communities to support the Commonwealth’s diversity of birds, mammals, and species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act through active land management, biological monitoring, and applied research. Depending on the type of land and the wildlife being cared for, this includes cutting trees, mowing old fields, using prescribed fire, and controlling invasive plants.
For example, we create young forests by cutting enough trees to get light to the ground to grow new trees, shrubs, and other plants. This provides homes for species that nest in young forest, creates food sources for even more wildlife, and adds dense cover for protection. The more resilient forests we create today are better able to withstand climate stressors tomorrow, such as drought, wind, pests, and pathogens. Significantly, we are better able to keep storing carbon in the face of these stressors.
During Climate Week, it gives us all a moment to reflect on how our landscapes can assist us in addressing the impacts associated with climate change, as well as how we can manage these properties to ensure a more resilient commonwealth. Restoring and managing wildlife habitat on state-owned wildlife lands is an important start. However, most forests in Massachusetts are privately owned, and we rely on and partner with land trusts, private landowners, conservation organizations, and others to help ensure that all wildlife have an appropriate place to live as we work towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Only by working together can we achieve our climate goals, which include maintaining healthy habitats for wildlife to flourish.
Ronald Amidon is the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.