Johns River Watershed, Coos County, New Hampshire

About the Johns River Watershed

This sprawling region of uplands, rolling hills, wetlands, rivers, and ponds lies in the sparsely populated White Mountains of northern New Hampshire. The Johns River is a major tributary of the Connecticut River. Some of the land in the watershed is farmed, but the vast majority is forested with northern hardwoods, with many acres of aspen and birch, conifers such as spruce and firs, and extensive alder flats. The region provides a rich habitat for wildlife, including large and small mammals and a variety of breeding and migratory birds.

At the watershed’s eastern boundary is the Pondicherry Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, whose 5,600 acres ring pristine Cherry and Little Cherry Ponds. Volunteers and biologists have documented 236 bird species on the refuge, with 137 species confirmed nesting. Private lands around the refuge, along with the nearby White Mountain National Forest, provide more wildlife habitat.

Photo of Johns River Watershed

The Johns River Watershed includes some of the best woodcock habitat in New Hampshire.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

Wildlife Management Institute biologists are assembling a constellation of projects in the area to create habitat for woodcock and other animals that need brushy forest. Several private landowners, including a large forest-management company, have signed on; WMI continues to negotiate with and advise other landowners who have also shown an interest in creating young-forest habitat.

Pondicherry Division, Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge

In 1972 the National Park Service designated this area as a National Natural Landmark, and it became New Hampshire’s first Important Bird Area (IBA) in 2004. As recently as the early 2000s, much of the acreage was owned by forest product companies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began buying land, and today manages around 5,600 acres in cooperation with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. The refuge has three developed trails and is open during daylight hours year-round.

Pondicherry’s diverse habitats include ponds, streams, wetlands, and boreal and mixed forests. Openings exist in the form of old log landings and fields left over following gravel extraction. Black bear, moose, bobcat, coyote, fisher, marten, river otter, beaver, and snowshoe hare live there. The 236 observed bird species include waterfowl, waders, raptors, and many songbirds.

Much of the forest was logged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before USFWS bought it. Today, several thousand acres of young forest, in different stages of regeneration, checkerboard the refuge. Woodcock, ruffed grouse, and many other birds, as well as mammals, thrive in these brushy habitats. Around 400 acres are in alder stands, a key shrub species for timberdoodles.

As of 2009, the USFWS is developing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). One focus of the plan is to create and renew habitat for priority species in Bird Conservation Region 14 (the Atlantic Northern Forest), including the American woodcock. A 15-year Habitat Management Plan will evolve out of the CCP.

Management practices that would benefit woodcock and other young-forest wildlife include keeping a substantial portion of refuge lands in an early successional state; maintaining and improving timberdoodle roosting habitat (such as fields created by earlier gravel extraction); and mowing grassy areas to keep them functioning as singing grounds and courtship areas.

Funding and Partners: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

Wagner Forest Management

Wagner Forest Management manages approximately 5,000 acres of woodland on the lower slopes of Cherry Mountain and on valley bottomland near the headwaters of the Johns River. Working with the Wildlife Management Institute, Wagner has mapped out these lands in a grid of 5-acre blocks. The company will cut all of the blocks over the next four decades to spur the regrowth of aspen. (Wood harvested during the winter of 2008-2009 was chipped and sent to a local biomass electricity-generating plant.)

Photo of newly harvested block creating early successional habitat for woodcock

A newly harvested block on Wagner-managed lands, with Cherry Mountain in the background.

Much of a 1,700-acre area is being managed using a four-block system, with cutting every ten years, so that after 40 years there will be at least four different age and size classes of aspen. As log landings are created, they are mowed periodically to keep them open and functioning as woodcock singing grounds. Woodcock also use the cut blocks as singing grounds, until the dense regrowth of aspen shoots transforms the blocks into brood-rearing and feeding cover; in the latter part of the 40-year cycle, the blocks will become more-open nesting habitat. Other parts of the area are being managed under a six-block system, with cutting every seven years, so that after 42 years the woodland will have six different age and size classes of regrowing hardwoods.

Some areas on the parcel will be managed for softwoods, which provide shelter for woodcock and other wildlife during spring snowstorms and heavy rains and snowfalls in early autumn. Alder flats and wetlands on adjoining private lands supply additional habitat.

WMI biologists have begun collecting woodcock population data on both of the Wagner-managed parcels. As cutting proceeds, the growth of the timberdoodle breeding population will be charted in the cut-over areas.

Funding and Partners: Wagner Forest Management Ltd., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

Pine Knob Farm

This 950-acre tract lies in the towns of Bethlehem (Grafton County) and Whitefield (Coos County). Landowners Dave and Tanya Tellman are conservationists and tree farmers. As participants in the Coverts Project sponsored by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, the Tellmans advocate “promoting wildlife habitat and forest stewardship through volunteer education and outreach.” They were named New Hampshire Tree Farmers of the Year in 2007, and they welcome tours and workshops on their forested acres.

During winter 2008-2009, the Tellmans made five 2-acre clearcut openings in their woodland, strategically located to increase forest diversity and to provide brushy, young-forest habitat for woodcock and other species such as ruffed grouse and chestnut-sided warblers. After a commercial logger took the overstory trees, an operator using a machine with a brontosaurus cutting head chewed down the remaining branches and stumps.

In five to ten years, the Tellmans plan to cut five more units near those opened up in 2008-2009.

Elsewhere on their property, since 1992 the Tellmans have cut 15 to 20 acres specifically to create early successional habitat. They have harvested timber on another 150 acres, making strip and patch cuts that also benefit young-forest wildlife.

Funding and Partners: Dave and Tanya Tellman, New Hampshire Fish and Game (Small Grants Program), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

Goodson Property

On this small private tract near Whitefield, N.H., the landowner created a 1.5-acre opening in a stand of mature gray birch and aspen. After the trees were harvested during the winter of 2008-2009, a brontosaurus cutting device removed limbs and stumps to clear the land. Another 2 to 3 acres are scheduled for cutting in the near future. Mowed and pastured portions of this and nearby properties provide woodcock with singing grounds and roosting areas.

Funding and Partners: Marjorie Goodson, New Hampshire Fish and Game (Small Grants Program), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

For more information, contact WMI biologist John Lanier at P.O. Box 253, Colebrook, NH 03576, phone 603-237-8715, ursush@directv.net. Contact Dave and Tanya Tellman at Pine Knob Farm, 122 The Lane, Whitefield, NH 03598, phone 603-837-9764. Learn about the Pondicherry Refuge at http://www.fws.gov/r5soc/come_visit/pondicherry_division.html.