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Why Silver Maple Forest Must Be Saved
Cambridge Chronicle Wicked Local
published March 23, 2013
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COLUMN: Why the Silver Maple Forest must be preserved

Wicked Local Cambridge

Posted Mar 23, 2013 @ 10:04 AM

Cambridge –

Just as the climate has warmed more rapidly than expected, so has the loss of wetlands and their forested buffer zones disappeared, piece-by-piece, especially in Massachusetts.

Approximately 40 percent of the 13-acre Belmont Uplands silver maple forest is proposed for removal, a stand that makes up the only forested area of the DCR publicly owned Alewife Reservation region, binding wetland to upland and providing an ideal environment for plants, animals and birds. Not only will trees be lost, but also many environmental services that the trees provide to the fuller reservation and watershed.

The "Uplands," once the Hill family's historic Belmont farm, formerly within the Cambridge boundary on flat rich land, where Belmont notable Lydia Ogilby collected arrowheads and watched pheasants, is a fragment of what was once the "Great Swamp," named by Harvard ornithologist William Brewster. It stretched from Fresh Pond to the Mystic River.

"The forest now makes a climate and wildlife contribution far beyond the percentage of the total preserved land mass of which it is part," said Charles Katuska, PWS Forest specialist. "It is essentially a pure stand – very unusual for silver maples, which usually occurs in mixed hardwood stands along active flood plains. As a pure stand, it is unique in this part of the country. There is nothing else like it in anywhere in eastern Massachusetts. It averages 40 to 50 feet in height and is fully stocked, rich and dense with trees at 80 to 100 square feet of trees per acre of coverage."

Because the forest is block shaped, rather than long and narrow, it is especially valuable as habitat and refuge. Forest interior species, such as thrushes, warblers and squirrels, thrive in this unique core habitat. Silver maple itself has specific habitat value as a critical food source and as provider of large nesting cavities not represented by other woodland tree species. Other area-sensitive species such as red-tailed hawk, peregrine falcon, great horned owl, beaver and coyote benefit from the Uplands shape due to the larger ranges their survival requires.

The forest also serves as storage for heavy metals such as lead, zinc and copper. It traps soil-based pollutants through both adsorption of particles onto the forest soil and absorption of pollutants through uptake into the trees. Lest anyone think a forest like the silver maple stand is too small to matter, these trees can store up to 150,000 pounds of carbon per acre of forested land. The trees and porous soils also reduce the rate and the volume of storm water runoff.

"Wetlands such as those found in the Alewife Reservation are a key part of the hydrologic cycle and have significant impacts on both water quantity and quality. Wetlands slow down and absorb storm water runoff, then gradually release the stored water over a prolonged period. The resulting reduction of peak flows helps to reduce flooding downstream, a serious problem at Alewife. The slow movement of water through wetlands allows physical, chemical and biological processes to improve water quality by retaining and removing environmental contaminants." – Department of Conservation and Recreation, Alewife Reservation and Alewife Brook Master Plan, June 2003.

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