Within the next few weeks, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation will be initiating a project to remove non-native, invasive Japanese black pines (Pinus thunbergii) within a 2.03-acre management unit in the Middle Moors along Altar Rock Road, immediately to the northwest of Altar Rock. This work will improve habitat for rare plant, invertebrate and animal species, eliminate the source of future infestations within adjacent conservation properties in the Middle Moors area, provide improved access and visibility for hunters, birdwatchers and the general public, and reduce fuel loads by removing dead and dying trees to lower wildfire risk on the property. Work associated with this project will be implemented by the Foundation’s Properties Maintenance team and is being supported by a generous grant from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Habitat Management Grant Program.

Japanese black pine has been designated as a highly invasive, non-native species on Nantucket by the Nantucket Invasive Plant Species Committee ( Black turpentine beetles (Dendroctonus terebrans) have infested many of the trees within the proposed treatment area. The boring of these beetles inevitably girdle and kill the tree. The adjacent area and pine understory consists of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica), little bluestem (Schizchyrium scoparium), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolia), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and various species of graminoids and forbs associated with sandplain heathland habitat. The presence of these species indicates that this rare habitat type was likely present prior to the establishment of the Japanese black pine infestation. The removal and off-site disposal of these Japanese black pines will open up pockets of habitat expected to provide colonization and expansion sites for the establishment of adjacent sandplain heathland plant species.

The work will be accomplished byremoving two tall, dense stands of Japanese black pine trees totaling 0.47 acres as well as numerous outlier individuals within the 2.03-acre treatment area, which encompasses the population extent of this non-native, invasive species in the immediate vicinity of Altar Rock. Chain saws (for mature trees) and hand loppers (for smaller saplings) will be used to cut all Japanese black pines as close to the soil surface as possible. All cut materials and woody debris will be sectioned and hand carried to a wood chipper, chipped into an adjacent dump truck, and removed and disposed of off-site to minimize potential for re-establishment via seeds and cones. Any Japanese black pines that re-sprout in subsequent growing seasons following initial treatment will also be removed. Seed and/or propagated seedlings of locally collected, native, common sandplain heathland-appropriate species will be planted within areas of exposed bare soil to facilitate the restoration process during the upcoming growing season.

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation owns a total of 3,398 acres of protected conservation land within the Middle and Eastern Moors area. The Foundation’s properties in this vast area are directly contiguous and predominantly consist of scrub oak shrubland, pitch pine woodland, sandplain heathland and coastal shrubland. All of these habitat types are vulnerable to becoming infested with Japanese black pine, which thrives in early successional upland communities such as those listed above.

There are few locations within the Middle Moors area where Japanese black pine trees have become established. Therefore, preventing the further encroachment and establishment of this species within this conservation area is a very important management priority. Although the size of this proposed treatment unit is very small compared to the size of the adjacent, larger conserved property, now is the time to undertake the “early detection, rapid response” strategy regarding this invasive species, before it becomes a larger and much more costly problem in the future.   

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us now!