Part of monitoring restoration and recovery is keeping our eyes open for signs in nature that something is changing. Over the last several years, volunteers have observed the gradual demise of numerous Sitka spruce trees around the edges of the salt marsh. This change appears to have started prior to the 2018 culvert removal and could be natural succession as younger trees continually try to establish themselves a little too far into the marsh, and eventually fail. Dead trees, both standing and fallen, are an important component of marsh ecosystem, providing nutrients, habitat, and structure as they create pools and trap sediment. However, this process may be accelerating due to specific changes in the local environment over the past decades.
Thus, the question of why so many Sitka spruce in the salt marsh are dying intrigues us. Is it a sign of climate change? Is it saltwater encroachment that started with the 2012 culvert removal at the mouth of the estuary? Is it “drowning” from increased freshwater run-off as mature forest is cut in the watershed to make room for Kingston’s growth? Less salt-tolerant plants, such as cattails and soft-stemmed bulrushes, also appear to be increasing along the marsh edges and perhaps advancing into the marsh, supporting the idea that an increase in fresh water may be involved.
To better understand the reasons behind the Sitka spruce mortality and its implications for salt marsh recovery, Stillwaters will be surveying the size and health of Sitka spruce along the marsh edge and determining the quantity and salinity of surface water and pore water (water in the soil) around them. We are also planning a long-term experiment that you can participate in. Next spring we will plant 100+ Sitka Spruce seedlings around the marsh edge, monitor their survival and growth over the years, and relate their successes and failures to the levels of inundation and salinity that each experiences.
You can take part in this experiment and help maintain the forest around the marsh. Please participate in Stillwaters’ Sitka Spruce Tree Drive. For every contribution of $50, we will plant a Sitka spruce seedling in either your name, or a name of someone you would like to honor. These trees, alive and dead, will enhance the salt marsh environment for generations to come and hopefully provide some insights into the changes to we are observing along the path to recovery for the lower Carpenter Creek watershed.
Thank you from all of us at Stillwaters and our wildlife friends, too!
Terry Pereida; Administrative Director
For the Staff and Board
P.S. – All Sitka Spruce Tree Drive sponsors will receive periodic reports on the project!