Cleared Acreage In Falmouth To Help Protected Species

Cleared open space at Crane Wildlife Management Area will eventually be the largest native grassland in the state.
ANDREA CARTER/ENTERPRISE - Cleared open space at Crane Wildlife Management Area will eventually be the largest native grassland in the state.

Visitors to Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area since March may have noticed a change in the landscape.Thirty-five acres were recently cleared of trees to reclaim a natural habitat, a sandplain grassland,
which is home to many birds and insects protected by the state.

“I was curious to know what happened,” said Jennifer A. Perrin, who lives on Falmouth Sandwich Road in Mashpee and often walks her dogs at Crane. “The change was shocking.”

Walking through the cleared area, one can see a scattering of roots and tree limbs that used to line paths through the conserved land. The recent clearing brings the total area dedicated to the project close to 200 acres.

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“Eventually it will be the largest native grassland in the state that is not associated with an airport,” said Tim Simmons, a restoration ecologist with the Massachusetts State Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

When the state purchased the land in the 1950s from the Charles Crane family, the landscape had been altered by agriculture. There was a small grass strip airport, tomato farm and extensive grazing by cattle.

Pitch pine trees filled in the area after the ranch and farms closed down. 

“There was an artificial density of pitch pine,” Mr. Simmons said. “This is typical of what you get when you release an area from agriculture.”

Invasive plant species such as Asiatic bittersweet vine, honeysuckle, and porcelain berries had also overrun the area, Mr. Simmons said.

The state plans to plant native grasses, such as the endangered sandplain gerardia, which has bright pink flowers, and other plants to create a mosaic of shrub and grassland. The area will be managed with mowing and periodic fires, a practice the state has used for 18 years, Mr. Simmons said.

Scientists are already seeing results. There is the largest number of grasshopper sparrows, 10 pairs, and sandpipers seen there in the past 20 years.

The hope is that certain insects will return as well, including the state-protected frosted elfin butterfly, and two threatened moths, unexpected cycnia and plain euchlaena.

“We think the state’s efforts to reclaim the sandplain grasslands is definitely going to benefit the wildlife there,” said Lucy C. Helfrich, director of programming at The 300 Committee Land Trust.

The effort is also significant because it creates a habitat link between Crane and the Coonamessett Reservation, due south across Route 151, which is also sandplain grassland, Ms. Helfrich said.

Crane is a popular site for recreation, including hunting and hiking. Each year the land is stocked with pheasant and quail.

“People are attracted to the area because it is open and large,” Mr. Simmons said. “It’s a hard experience to come across these days.” 

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