By Eric Aldrich
The dry ground crunches as Tom Chase walks into the brushy scrub oak woods, one of the parcels on Martha’s Vineyard known as Watcha Woodlands.
“For the Vineyard, these are huge tracts, and they will look even larger after we restore them to their native heathland,” says Chase , the Conservancy's director of conservation strategies in Massachusetts. If protected, the Watcha Woodlands will give us a unique chance to connect conserved lands to the south shore—from the nearly 1,000-acre Long Point Wildlife Refuge/Watcha Homer Preserve to the 5,000-plus-acre Manuel Correllus State Forest in the center of the island.
“Protecting the Watcha Woodlands is about connectivity within a large-scale vision,” Chase says. “It’s an example of our long-term commitment to conserving the landscape, sometimes by filling in the small puzzle pieces to complete the big picture.” This connectivity is becoming increasingly important as climate changes and species shift about. Moreover, restoring this fire-suppressed woodland will enhance connectivity by providing the rare coastal heathlands native to this part of the Vineyard.
The Watcha Woodlands are an area of transition, where fire-dependant scrub oak woodlands meet lush meadows, and provide a wide diversity of plants and wildlife. The woodlands also have a “frost bottom,” a narrow valley that pools cold air and concentrates the sun’s heat, resulting in remarkable temperature extremes—sometimes even frost in early summer. A wide array of moths and butterflies can be found in the scrub oak woodlands here, including many rare species, like the imperial moth and woolly gray moth.
We're making some progress. In January, we finalized the purchase of 36 acres between the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest and Long Point Wildlife Refuge. We also acquired partial ownership in 80 additional acres nearby, with the intent of protecting more than 200 acres over time under the name Watcha Woodlands.
With your help, the Conservancy will protect and restore the Watcha Woodlands, adding to additional conserved lands nearby. Restoring the land’s native sandplain flora could help moth populations, along with birds, such as prairie warblers, black-billed cuckoos and red-eyed vireos.May 16, 2012
Eric Aldrich is a marketing specialist for The Nature Conservancy.