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Forest Management at Ludlow Reservoir – Frequently Asked Questions

Forest Management at Ludlow Reservoir - Frequently Asked Questions

Update 12/21/19:  Public access and hunting beyond the 1.75-mile mark on the paved trail is prohibited until further notice as forest management activities continue into 2020. 

Forest Management at Ludlow Reservoir

In 2016, a gypsy moth infestation was discovered in the Ludlow Reservoir watershed forest, resulting in irreversible and eventually fatal damage to a large number of oak trees. In response, the Commission developed a comprehensive plan for forest management activities which were implemented in 2018 and ongoing into 2020. Forest management activities have included tree harvesting within the Ludlow Reservoir watershed forest.

Watershed forest land at Ludlow Reservoir in the fall.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is forest management?

Forests are managed for a variety of reasons. The Commission manages watershed forest lands for the purpose of source water protection and has adopted forest management practices that promote water quality protection.

The Commission works with licensed consulting foresters that are experts in the field. All forest management plans are required to be approved by regulatory agencies, such as the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

What is a watershed forest?

The Ludlow Reservoir was built in the 1870s, and now serves as an emergency backup water supply for the Commission’s public water system. The primary purpose of the 1,400 acres of forest surrounding the reservoir is to protect water quality by acting as a natural buffer from surrounding development, and as a natural filter of potential contaminants.

A forest that is diverse in age and species provides the best water quality protection. A good watershed forest is biologically diverse (i.e. numerous species), structurally diverse (i.e. wide range of tree ages), and able to naturally regenerate itself. These qualities make a forest more resilient to stressors such as disease and invasive pests, thus supporting water quality protection.

What are gypsy moth infestations?

Gypsy moths are an invasive species that was accidentally introduced into the environment in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1869. Since then they have been a reoccurring and spreading problem in northeast hardwood forests. Gypsy moths feed on the foliage of mature trees, stripping the trees’ ability to photosynthesize and generate the energy needed to heal and grow. Successive defoliations may kill trees outright or leave them susceptible to secondary pests and pathogens.

The last gypsy moth infestation at Ludlow Reservoir was in the 1980s. Gypsy moths prefer oak trees, a significant part of the forest cover in the Ludlow Reservoir watershed. In 2018 the Commission’s consulting forester documented that trees affected by successive gypsy moth infestations did not regenerate with a second set of leaves, and reported that mortality of a large number of oak trees is imminent. (Read the foresters report to the Commission).

What are the goals of tree harvesting in response to gypsy moths?

There is no known method to reverse gypsy moth damage. Tree harvesting serves the following goals:

  • To promote greater species diversity including trees and shrubs that need to grow in full sun
  • To remove trees that pose a public safety hazard
  • To capture timber value contained within trees fatally affected

What is the timeline for the planned tree harvesting?

Tree harvesting began in 2018 and continued through 2019.  While the majority of trees designated for removal have since been harvested, there is on-going forest management activities expected to last into 2020.

How was the tree harvesting managed?

A licensed forester conducted an evaluation of each stand of trees identified as suitable for harvesting and marked each tree to be removed or retained. The goal of this careful selection is to beneficially shape future forest conditions to protect water quality. In some cases, other issues may also be addressed, such as thinning of over-crowded white pine trees.

The Ludlow Reservoir watershed land is also protected by a conservation restriction held by the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, which requires an approved forest management plan. The plan was approved on November 6, 2018. Cutting plans for the tree harvest are guided by the Ludlow Reservoir forest management plan, and were approved by the Department of Conservation and Recreation on November 20, 2018. The forest cutting plans were also reviewed by the Ludlow Conservation Commission and the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). A Massachusetts Licensed Forester supervised harvesting activities on behalf of the Commission.

Why not just let nature just take its course?

In many areas, it will.  Trees will die and decompose in place in areas that are not suitable for tree harvesting such as in wet areas or where the land is too steep. The look and composition of the forest in those areas may change significantly from what it is today. In the other areas, harvesting will be utilized as a strategy to promote the full spectrum of tree and shrub diversity including trees and shrubs that need to grow in full sun.

How will this impact public recreation at Ludlow Reservoir?

Since 2018 tree harvesting activities have required the periodic closure of Ludlow Reservoir to recreational activities. The Commission expects that these periodic closures will continue through 2020, as the remainder of the project is completed.  Notice of closures will be available through signage at the reservoir area as well as on the Commission’s website.

The landscape and tree canopy at Ludlow Reservoir has changed significantly now that the majority of tree harvesting is complete, and may be noticeable to visitors. In some areas along the recreational path, taller oak trees have been removed resulting in much more sunlight on the path. The terrain also looks more disturbed. In areas where harvesting will not take place, more dead trees will be visible as the forest cycle progresses. The impacts of harvesting will become less visible over time as the forest continues to grow.

Who can I contact to ask questions?

If you have any questions about the forest management plans, tree harvesting plans, or closures of the Ludlow Reservoir, please contact Jaimye Bartak, Communications Manager, at jaimye.bartak@waterandsewer.org or 413-452-1302.

The public was invited to Ludlow Reservoir to participate in a forestry tour and learn more about tree harvesting. The tour was lead by a consulting forester.