On November 5, 26 volunteers from four organizations converged on JK Black Oak for the monthly work day. Joining Loudoun Wildlife volunteers were volunteers from the Banshee Reeks chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists, Lucketts Ruritans and the Tuscarora High School Key Club. The unseasonably warm weather made for a very pleasant day to be working outside planting trees, building metal tree cages, removing old plastic tree cages and installing our first deer exclusion fence.
This work day marked the beginning of several habitat restoration projects at JK Black Oak funded by a generous grant from Microsoft. The grant will enable us to purchase the required materials to build three deer exclusion fences and protect over 100 trees from deer with metal cages. The first deer exclosure is 25 by 25 feet, the smallest exclosure. Under the leadership of Gerco Hoogeweg, six intrepid volunteers measured the area, determined where the posts should go and used a motorized post pounder to hammer metal post sleeves into the ground. This was a challenge in the dry, hard ground. It took two people to operate the pounder efficiently. Once the sleeves were in the ground, placing the posts was easy, and we started to construct the actual fence. We followed the recommendation to cut the fence in smaller sections for ease of hanging it up as well as maintaining the fence when tree branches fall on it. To allow access by small critters, we ensured that the fence was four to six inches above the ground. One of the biggest challenges was to construct the gate. We learned that it would be better to do it in advance in a workshop where you have all possible tools readily at hand. Doing it on a forest floor covered in leaves is not the most efficient way. After almost four hours of work, the first deer exclusion fence was installed. The second deer exclosure will be installed on the December 3 work day.
Another group of volunteers, led by Lisa Treichel, planted 26 trees and shrubs around the parking area and the forest edge. We planted oaks, Black Locust and Common Elderberry. Volunteers not only dug the holes, planted, and watered the trees but also built metal tree cages. These metal cages are four feet tall with a diameter of at least two and a half feet. Using large metal cages has the advantage that trees enjoy longer protection from deer and thus have a chance to grow. The lack of native understory at JK Black Oak is caused by deer browse . As part of the Microsoft grant, tree seedlings that emerge in the forest will also be protected with metal tree cages. Allowing young trees to grow and flourish is a way to sequester carbon, which in turn can help with combatting climate change.
The third group of volunteers, led by Jay Frankenfield and Allison Gallo, had the daunting task of removing the degraded plastic tree cages from the 2019 tree planting area and picking up the pieces of plastic strewn around the area. Many of the cages had completely fallen apart, scattering unwanted plastics into the environment. In addition, many of the cages were torn away from their supports by deer knocking into them or bucks are rubbing their antlers against the posts. Some of the trees were severely damaged and are not likely to survive. Volunteers removed over eight trash bags full of plastic from the area, with more cages to be removed later. In the spring of 2023, we will determine which trees survived, and they will get a new metal cage to protect against deer.
To protect the environmentally sensitive habitat and rare species, JK Black Oak Wildlife Sanctuary is not open for general public access.