The Plight of the Ash Trees

Though endowed with incredible natural beauty, Upper Bucks County has extremely limited public space for its residents to enjoy. For this reason, Heritage Conservancy’s ~100-acre Fuller-Pursell Preserve in Springfield Township is a true community asset and is one of our most-visited preserves.

Fuller-Pursell provides a place where both local residents and distant visitors can go for a great short hike. The rolling topography and turns of the trail lead to great views and surprises around each bend. You can see native brook trout cruising the stream for food or spy a pileated woodpecker working the trees in search of grubs. Marvel at red squirrels and chipmunks zipping around caching acorns for the winter and, if you’re lucky, hear or even see a great horned owl laying claim to the forest.

The stream running through the preserve is one of many tributaries of Cook’s Creek, one of two streams in Bucks County to be considered of exceptional value or “EV.” Over the summer, wild and vocal immature Homo sapiens can be found in the creek, either exploring under rocks for salamanders and crayfish or simply trying to cool off. Other wildlife in and around the stream include minks, belted kingfishers, cerulean warblers, wood ducks, spotted sandpipers, and Baltimore orioles. Wildlife, like children, love to be around water!

In most years, one of the best times to visit is January through February, specifically around dusk; this is mating season for the great horned owls, and they are incredibly vocal. Their deep, resonant hooting carries for quite a distance, and if you are close enough, you can almost feel it in your chest.

This winter, however, a special project is taking place at Fuller-Pursell. Heritage Conservancy staff have recently identified hundreds of dead ash trees at Fuller-Pursell, killed by the emerald ash borer. This non-native invasive insect has caused the death of hundreds of millions of ash trees across the eastern half of the United States. We are particularly concerned about 300 dead trees that may fall across or drop large branches onto the trails, creating a serious risk of injury or death to people walking there. 

To ensure the safety of people visiting Fuller-Pursell, yesterday December 19th, we began taking down the dead trees that create a safety hazard. We are not taking down all the dead ash trees on the preserve, only the trees that create a danger for visitors. Dead, standing trees are an essential component of any forest, as they attract numerous insect-eating birds, particularly woodpeckers, and become home to cavity-dwelling animals like birds, squirrels, raccoons – even bears, if large enough!

We will work as quickly and safely as possible to reopen trails as they become clear, and we ask for everyone’s patience and respect for trail closures while this necessary work is happening. As soon as we can safely do so, we will reopen all the trails so you can go listen to the owls!

After the dangerous trees are down, we will move them off the trails and leave them on the ground for wildlife habitat and to return nutrients to the soil. We will begin work to rejuvenate the forest at Fuller-Pursell in the spring. First, we will locate and place deer-resistant cages around 600+ seedlings of other tree species on the preserve to help ensure they grow to replace the missing ash trees in the forest canopy. After that, we will erect a deer exclosure to help with forest regeneration and install a meadow to increase habitat for bees, butterflies, and other threatened pollinators. We will also update our forest stewardship plan to chart a healthy and vibrant future for Fuller-Pursell in light of the changes the forest has experienced. 

So, the next time you visit Fuller-Pursell, the forest may look very different to you. Remember that Heritage Conservancy is in the “forever business,” and this is just the first step in our long-term effort to ensure that the forest there will survive and thrive, even as the changing world we live in throws more and more challenges its way.

Taking down the dangerous dead ash trees will cost $30,000; implementing the entire effort to rejuvenate the forest will cost at least $100,000. We want to give a special thank you to our private supporters from the Upper Bucks Community Fund for their generous support of this project. If you’d like to help ensure that the forest at Fuller-Pursell survives and thrives, click here.

Bill Kunze, President and Chief Executive Officer.

Jim Drennan, Land Conservation Manager.