Marshes, tidal creeks and mudflats- some key factors that make up Great Bay. But did you know there is one crucial habitat that you may not have heard of? Appalachian Oak Pine Forests! These areas are located in southeastern New Hampshire and the Connecticut River Valley, where dry and warm weather allow specialized adapted trees to grow, trees that are usually found in Appalachian states such as Alabama, Kentucky, or Maryland. These areas are usually nutrient poor, sandy, or contain bedrock tills. Some of these trees include black oak, scarlet oak, chestnut oak, white oak, black birch, aspen, pitch pine, sassafras, maple, yellow birch, and many other shrubs and understory species.
These forests are essential to the environment and the wildlife within it, as it provides an abundance of food, shelter, and other necessities to our New Hampshire wildlife. They support the entire food web, as insects burrow within the bark of trees, while the nuts and berries from the trees attract all species ranging from ruffed grouse, turkey and black bear to squirrels, mice and chipmunks. This then attracts predators like bobcats and foxes that feed on the small mammals, or even birds of prey like hawks, owls, or osprey that will subsequently find nesting and perching sites in the tree canopy. Near bodies of water in these forests, the white pines provide critical nest and perch sites for bald eagles, great blue herons, and geese. They are also home to hognose snakes, whip-poor-wills, silver-haired bats and other species of concern, making it extra crucial that we protect them and spread awareness of their importance.
These areas face some challenging threats, the most relevant being increasing development leading to deforestation and consequent habitat loss. In addition to development, hundreds of years ago when these forests were harvested, each tree was harvested at the same time, leading to all the same age and maturity in tree species currently. This is detrimental as some animals prefer or even require certain varieties of tree maturity. For example, usually only trees of around age 100 or older are mature to form dense cavities within it, cavities that many nesting birds or mammals require for raising young or for shelter, while some young trees have foliage that some species prefer. This causes a more uniform landscape that removes species diversity and by limiting diversity within these forests, it will affect the food chain and overall health of the ecosystem. For all of these reasons, it is always recommended to consult land management experts or licensed foresters before cutting down or harvesting blocks of trees in your forests.
Due to the important and unique qualities of these forests, it is crucial that we strive to protect and conserve them!