Date of this Version
Quabbin Reservation, a 22,662-ha watershed management area located in west-central Massachusetts, is experiencing moderate to severe browsing pressure by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on much of the reservation's forested land. In many areas, park-like habitat exists where natural regeneration of the dominant mixed oak (Quercus spp. ) forest has been severely repressed, or outright eliminated, due to repetitive browsing by deer. Understory composition is now dominated by patches of blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), huckleberry (Gayl ussacia baccata), thick carpets of hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), and grasses. Managers are concerned that as the forest ages without replacement, and transition from forest cover to predominantly herbaceous cover continues, the potential of significant site disturbance from other natural causes (e.g., fire, wind throw, insect or disease outbreak) may accelerate this process. Because the reservation protects a major portion of the watershed for the 10,117-ha Quabbin Reservoir, loss of forest cover may potentially jeopardize the supply of potable water for the 2.4 million residents of metropolitan Boston and other eastern Massachusetts communities. A 3-year decision-making process that incorporated research studies, user-group workshops, and open public participation has produced a management plan that seeks to reduce the effects of deer browsing on natural regeneration, yet fulfills existing mandates that regulate use and protection of the reservation. Although this plan has yet to be implemented, it proposes the control of deer numbers, use of electric fencing, creation of a "nature preserve," and modification of existing forest management programs as means to re-establish natural regeneration and ensure protection of water and habitat quality.