By Aubrey Franks, Invasive Species Management Assistant
Located on the northern edge of the Alleghany Plateau, lies a wildlife management area with multiple forest types, marshes, streams, grassy fields, and is home to one of New York’s threatened species. Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 5,100-acre wildlife management area that was purchased under the Federal Resettlement Administration in the 1930s and was then turned over to the DEC for management. Rattlesnake Hill is used for many recreational activities such as, hiking, birding, hunting, foraging, fishing, and trapping. The WMA is host to many important species; for instance, the wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea), several other bird species, and the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). The namesake for this WMA comes from the timber rattlesnake, a threatened species in New York, that has been seen in remote locations throughout the area.
In 2016, a habitat management plan was created to improve the WMA to help facilitate wildlife adaptations to be resilient to climate change. Part of this plan is to encourage young forest growth to help support timber rattlesnake reestablishment. Timber rattlesnake uses young forests for basking, and this habitat is where their prey comes from. This is where the issue of invasive species comes in. Woody invasives like honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) can prevent native saplings from growing due to decreased light availability, and the invasives taking up too much space. Without invasive management the young forest regeneration would be stunted, or outright not happen.
Earlier this summer, the WNY PRISM Crew (Crew) worked alongside the DEC to remove invasive shrubs and trees such as honeysuckle, autumn olive, multi-flora rose (Rosa multiflora) and common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). The 1-mile project site was cut using various tools including loppers, hand saws, brush cutters and chainsaws, the last two being operated by the DEC. Once the shrubs were cut, the stumps were treated and the cut material was hauled into piles to avoid mowing obstruction.
Invasive shrub removal.
Stump of common buckthorn containing a hidden mickey.
While there the Crew enjoyed seeing some of the local flora and fauna that the WMA hosts. The Crew saw wood thrush while working and witnessed a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) soaring as the crew drove to the site. Brightly colored eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) were scattered all over the site. In terms of flora, the crew got to enjoy seeing, and eating, ripe lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) and some wild strawberries (Fragaria spp.). It was a treat to see Ghost pipe (Monotropa uniflora), a parasitic plant, growing along the forest floor.
Ghost pipe emerging from forest litter.
Understanding a project’s purpose really puts the importance of invasive species work into perspective. Without this management the young forest regeneration wouldn’t be possible, which would stunt the WMA’s resilience to climate change. More specifically, without management the reestablishment of the threatened timber rattlesnake would be less effective and harder to achieve. The timber rattlesnake is not only an ecologically important species, but also historically important due to it being a symbol for the American Revolution. Hopefully with the management efforts of the DEC and WNY PRISM the timber rattlesnake’s population will increase, and the WMA will be more resilient to climate change.
The WNY PRISM Crew Standing in front of the Rattlesnake Hill management sign.