Pennypack Initiates Cutting-Edge Deer Research
Over the last 30 months, Pennypack’s stewardship staff and the biology faculty at Bryn Athyn College have been working collaboratively to develop a better understanding of the aspects of the lives of the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) living in the Pennypack Preserve, including the density of the herd and the movement patterns of its members.
Deer Numbers and Densities
Damage to native vegetation, a lack of natural regeneration of forest trees, and continuing high numbers of deer killed on local roadways all testify to the fact that deer are abundant in the Pennypack Preserve. But just how many deer are there? Using automated infrared cameras, the researchers have begun to estimate the density of the deer herd. The scientists have placed cameras throughout the preserve in a variety of habitats and have been using proven wildlife biology protocol to evaluate the information. Data collection is ongoing, and densities are not yet available.
Deer Movement Patterns
Much is known about the typical movement of deer in rural and agricultural landscapes where most deer research has been conducted. Biologists know much less about the movement of deer in urbanized natural areas like the Pennypack Preserve. The researchers’ second goal is to understand better how the preserve’s deer move—both within the natural area and between the natural area and neighboring properties. To achieve this goal, the research group has been trapping deer and fitting the animals with collars that electronically transmit the animals’ location every five minutes. Computer software that accompanies the collars allows the researchers to plot highly detailed maps of the animals’ movements. To date, the group has tracked sixteen deer for periods of up to three months. Some patterns are already obvious. For example, the bucks moved more frequently on a daily basis than did the does. In addition, human automobile traffic has an effect on deer movement, with deer moving more freely when human traffic is lighter.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has issued a deer trapping permit that will allow the researchers to continue their work through 2010. Those interested in the deer research can get detailed and up-to-the- minute information (including real-time deer movement plots) by linking to the Bryn Athyn College Deer Research Website
This research is supported by the Grant Doering Research and Study Fund, an endowed fund established specifically to foster cooperative research between the Pennypack Trust and Bryn Athyn College. The college has also provided additional support for the project.
Porcelainberry Flats: Rescuing a Neglected Corner of the Preserve
The intersection of the Creek Road Trail and the Papermill Trail is the crossroads of the Pennypack Preserve. This intersection has also been at the crossroads of the Trust’s restoration efforts. In 1993, we planted 400 trees downstream of the Papermill Bridge. In 1999, we planted 1,225 trees upstream of the bridge. Just recently, in 2008, we invested $100,000 in restoring Crossroads Marsh, the ecologically precious wetland that has nearly disappeared under silt and muck. Except for occasional Free-A-Tree forays, though, the Trust’s stewardship staff focused its restoration efforts elsewhere as non-native porcelainberry vines overwhelmed the few trees still living in this untended corner of the crossroads. In fact, the Trust’s staff even gave this troublesome corner its own name: Porcelainberry Flats.
Porcelainberry Flats receives the outflow from Crossroads Marsh directly across Papermill Trail. As a result, its center is perpetually boggy. That’s great for the spring peeper frogs and other amphibians that breed there in great numbers in the spring, but it presents real restoration challenges. Nevertheless, the Trust developed a plan to rehabilitate the site. During the winter of 2009-10, the stewardship staff controlled porcelainberry vines and multiflora roses on the drier land alongside the Creek Road and Papermill Trails with a combination of mechanical and chemical treatments. Then, in April 2010, with the help of over 250 Upper Moreland School District sixth-grade students who each volunteered about one hour, we replanted the area with native trees and shrubs that thrive in moist soil. Each new plant was surrounded with a wire mesh cage supported by wooden stakes to prevent deer damage.
The Trust plans to allow the wettest sections in the center of the Flats to continue their natural development as a shallow wet meadow dominated by native rushes and sedges, with buttonbush shrubs ringing the edge.