Kirk Orchard Unit, Green Ridge State Forest, Allegany County, Maryland

About the Kirk Orchard Unit

This 505-acre tract in Allegany County, western Maryland, was a commercial orchard before being acquired by the Green Ridge State Forest in the late 1970s. Since then, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has managed portions of the area to keep it in a shrubby stage to benefit wildlife that needs young-forest habitat.

In 2008, a formal plan was drawn up to actively manage the Kirk Orchard as an Early Successional Wildlife Habitat Focus Area – the largest tract of public land in Maryland managed specifically for this important habitat type.

The Kirk Orchard Unit is bounded on the east by Purslane Run and on the west by Big Run. Trees include apples left over from the orchard operations, as well as oaks, red maple, black cherry, hickory, persimmon, and white and Virginia pine. Over the years, old fields and road edges have been kept open through mowing and brush-hogging. Some fields have grown up in native shrubs, in competition with alien plants such as ailanthus, autumn olive, multiflora rose, barberry, and honeysuckle.

A good road system gives access to Kirk Orchard, a popular hunting destination. Deer, bear, cottontail rabbits, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, and a range of songbirds, reptiles, and amphibians are found there. Spring seeps provide moist soils where woodcock feed on earthworms.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

photo of habitat managed as woodcock singing grounds

Woodcock use grassy roads as singing grounds on the Kirk Orchard tract.

The Kirk Orchard tract is divided into eight management units based on their soils, slopes, and vegetation. Managers will employ a variety of strategies and techniques to make these tracts more useful to woodcock and other species that need brushy, shrubby habitats. Between May 2008 and February 2009, the following work was done:

On 28 acres, aerial herbicide spraying killed pole-stage, commercially non-valuable trees so that an existing understory of shrubs would grow in thickly.

Four 5-acre blocks of Virginia pine were clearcut to regenerate the conifer stand. The clearcuts provide temporary woodcock roosting habitat and singing grounds.

On two stands, about 100 semi-open acres were brush-hogged to keep them functioning as singing grounds and roosting areas.

About 6 acres of field borders were pushed back to expand singing-ground habitat and to put sunlight on shrub species important to woodcock, including hawthorn and dogwood.

A 2-acre patch clearcut was made in a 50-acre wooded stand. Each year, managers will supervise the cutting of an additional 1 to 3 acres, with the work to be done by students participating in a forestry summer camp sponsored by Allegany College of Maryland. Ultimately, the stand will be put into a 40-year cutting rotation, keeping it in a young-forest state.

Managers will evaluate hardwood stands at lower elevations for possible commercial logging. Some of the sites have deep, rich soils that should spur a dense regrowth of saplings and seedlings following logging, which will create good woodcock feeding habitat.

Managers will continue to plant apple trees; they will also cut down surrounding competing trees so that existing mature apple trees will thrive. (Woodcock find abundant earthworms in the rich soil beneath apple trees.)

Since the 1970s, Unit 8 (240 acres) has been managed as a core area of brushy, shrubby habitat. It now has many overgrown windbreak and hedgerow conifer plantings, overgrown fields, and warm-season grass fields. To keep these areas brushy, managers will specify commercial cutting of mature conifers. They will also cut back overgrown roads and grass strips, which will function as woodcock singing grounds, and release and prune fruit trees, including apple, pear, plum, and hawthorn, beneath which woodcock like to feed. Managers will burn off grassy areas to prevent trees from invading them. (Recently burned areas function as both singing and roosting habitat.) Managers will also will keep working to remove and suppress non-native trees and shrubs.

Each spring, managers and biologists count singing male woodcock to estimate the size of the local breeding population at Kirk Orchard. As habitats are created and improved, biologists hope to document a corresponding increase in the timberdoodle population.

Funding and Partners

Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 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

The Kirk Orchard Unit is in the southern part of the 44,000-acre Green Ridge State Forest, just north of Maryland Route 51 and the West Virginia border and about 15 miles east of Cumberland, MD. For information on how to view the habitat improvement efforts, contact Mark Beals, assistant forest manager, 28700 Headquarters Drive, NE, Flintstone MD 21530, 301-478-3125,