By Roberta Baumann
If all goes as planned, 30 acres of land at the Holy Wisdom Monastery in the Town of Westport will be restored to the ecological community there 150 years ago.
The monastery has announced that it is restoring an oak savanna, removing trees and invasive species, while reintroducing burr and white oak trees.
The sisters at Holy Wisdom, a retreat and meeting center and Benedictine monastery on Hwy. M, have long had a mission of caring for the earth, and for the last 20 years, have worked to restore prairie on their lands.
“They have restored 126 acres of prairie,” said Greg Armstrong, director of land management and environmental education at Holy Wisdom. “More recently, they developed a master land management plan, and that plan calls for restoration of all the kinds of natural ecological communities.”
Armstrong said when settlers arrived in the 1840s, savannas were plowed over for crops and grazed by cattle.
Previously, fires through the woods stopped other trees such as maples and black walnuts from growing there. Once settlers prevented fires, they were allowed to grow, and their canopies kept sun from shining through, discouraging grasses from growing.
“When the settlers came, they stopped the fires…and all the tree seedlings grew up and shaded out old savannas,” Armstrong said.
Many of the burr oak and white oak trees have survived, Armstrong said, with some more than 100 years old.
“We’re going in and removing from this savanna all of the inappropriate trees from this community,” Armstong said.
Buckthorn, honeysuckle and other “weedy shrubs” have been removed, he said.
A horse drawn logging operation conducted by Adaptive Restoration LLC has begun to remove maples and other canopy trees this fall.
“When they get in there and then cut down those trees, you can see it already. All of the sudden you can walk through what had been an enclosed canopy woodland. All of the sudden, there’s the sky. It’s going to change the ecology of that community dramatically,” Armstrong said.
For the next few years, efforts will be spent removing weeds and saplings that grow from the seed bank that has accumulated over many years.
“There will be light on the soil. A lot of that stuff will kind of germinate and start growing,” Armstrong added.
The restoration will be a long-term process, he said.
An inventory of the existing old savanna species will be done next summer, Armstrong said.
“That’s one of the miraculous things,” Armstrong added. “They had cows milling around there for decades. It’s amazing how many of the things have been able to survive.”