Restoration of Stebbins Refuge Continues

The Nature Conservancy floodplain ecologist Christian Marks with several disease-tolerant American elms prior to their recent planting as part of the Stebbins restoration work. (Photo from The Nature Conservancy)

LONGMEADOW, MA – Restoration work that began last summer at the Fannie Stebbins Refuge along the Connecticut River in Longmeadow continued this spring, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Thanks to a $400,000 grant in 2017 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is a division of the US Dept. of Agriculture, more than 8,000 shrubs and trees will eventually be planted at the refuge, making it the largest forested floodplain in the Connecticut River Watershed. The project is expected to take 3-5 years to complete and will result in the restoration of 223 acres on the refuge. In May 2018, a contractor finished a phase that includes the planting of nearly 6,000 trees, shrubs, and ferns, including about 40 disease-tolerant elm trees.

American elms are planted at the Stebbins Refuge. (Photo from The Nature Conservancy)

Restoration work includes reforesting the area as well as managing invasive plant species on the land, which is owned by four separate entities: The Nature Conservancy, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, and the Town of Longmeadow. The refuge, which was established in 1951 by the Allen Bird Club, provides habitat for many rare plant and animal species, including bald eagles.

Karen Lombard, Director of Stewardship & Restoration for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, told the Longmeadow News that the overall goal of the project is to “provide good habitat” at the refuge and to maintain the floodplain. One exciting component of that restoration is the planting of about 40 disease-tolerant elm trees.

“What’s cool about those is they’re part of a longterm project,” Lombard said. “They’re created by cross breeding, which ultimately results in the elms being resistant to disease.”

Lombard noted that along with the elms, there are about 30 other species being planted at the refuge, including white pines, sugar maples, cottonwoods, hickory, sycamore, cherry, and basswood, dogwood shrubs, and hazelnut shrubs.

“The refuge is a destination for people in the Greater Springfield area,” Lombard said. “There’s all kinds of birds there – bald eagles, wood ducks, warblers – it really has a diverse habitat in a small space. It’s just really a great habitat along a really important river that we want to see restored.”

– By Jeff Hanouille