McConnell Pond Tract, Essex County, Vermont

About the McConnell Pond Tract

This 4800-acre property in northeastern Vermont formerly belonged to a timber company. In 1994 it was bought by the Conservation Fund, an organization dedicated to managing rural land in ways that will benefit both humans and the environment.

On its eastern edge, the tract shares a 5-mile-long boundary with the 26,000-acre Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Adjoining both parcels to the south is 2000-acre Wenlock Wildlife Management Area, owned by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

McConnell Pond is an 89-acre lake lying 4 miles east of the town of Island Pond; its outlet stream empties southward into the Nulhegan River. Around the pond, the terrain is rolling to mountainous and heavily forested with northern hardwood trees and softwood species including spruce, fir, pine, tamarack, and cedar. Soils in the area derive from granite bedrock and are mostly thin and stony. The landscape has abundant wetlands.

Many creatures inhabit the region: black bear, deer, moose, coyote, bobcat, beaver, snowshoe hare, otter, fisher, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, spruce grouse, American woodcock, and resident and migratory songbirds. This sprawling wild area offers habitat to transient Canada lynx and may support breeding in this rare and elusive species.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

Following the completion of a natural resources inventory, managers began working on the McConnell Pond Tract to create grassland habitats, openings, and patches of young forest on and near damp soils.

Three habitat improvement areas were sited on a low ridge upslope from existing wetlands, including old beaver ponds. These areas take in extensive wooded stands that will be available for future harvests. The ultimate goal is to maintain young-forest habitat on 5 to 10 percent of the McConnell Pond Tract while improving and rehabilitating thousands of acres of low-quality timberland. Managers plan to establish permanent grassy upland openings on approximately 3 percent of the tract.

Unit on McConnell Pond Demo Area

Habitat managers inspect a new clearcut on the McConnell Tract. In the future, cuts may be extended into surrounding areas of pole-stage, low-quality woodland.

In 2009 workers expanded old log landings, widened and daylighted forest roads, and enlarged road intersections to create open habitat. Woodcock use such openings for displaying, singing, and breeding in springtime, and for nighttime roosting in summer and early autumn. Many other species of wildlife feed on vegetation and insects fostered by the light-filled openings.

In winter 2009-2010, managers supervised timber harvest operations adjacent to and near the improved, expanded openings. As these logged stands grow back as dense young forest, woodcock will use the sites for feeding and brood-rearing. The thickets of close-growing saplings will also offer habitat to small mammals, including rodents and snowshoe hares, creatures that provide food for predators ranging from shrews and weasels up to coyotes, bobcats, and lynx.

Area 1 includes a 2.1-acre grassland next to a 3.7-acre patch cut that is regrowing in aspen, red maple, birch, and other hardwoods. The area is upslope from an old beaver pond currently reverting to a forested state. (This area provides an opportunity for alder management in the future.)

Vegetation on Unit of McConnell Pond Demo Area

After logging, trees' root systems send up many shoots, creating young-forest habitat used by woodcock and other wildlife.

The roadway between Area 1 and Area 2 was daylighted (trees on each side of the road removed), effectively providing a 3,800-foot-long narrow strip of grassland habitat along an upland ridge.

Area 2 focuses on a grassy opening at the intersection of two forest roads, plus an adjacent old gravel pit. These open habitats link to a 36-acre timber-harvest area that will see a combination of clearcutting, overstory removal, and reserving of timber. Areas to be reserved include small wetlands forested with spruce and fir saplings that provide potential habitat for snowshoe hare, spruce grouse, and songbirds.

Clearcuts were extended past stands of mature aspen, whose seeds will aid in reforesting the cutover areas. Aspen is a key tree species for woodcock, ruffed grouse, beaver, and other wildlife.

Area 3 has a 1-acre grassland developed from an old log landing. Next to this opening, a 5.2-acre clearcut is regrowing in aspen and other hardwoods. Another small clearing will result from increasing the size of an existing gravel pit, with the gravel to be used for road improvements throughout the project area.

Cutover areas provide temporary woodcock singing and roosting habitats until their vegetation gets too dense for those activities, at which point timberdoodles will begin using the dense, regrowing forest for feeding, nesting, and brood-rearing.

A forester hired by the Conservation Fund worked with managers on the neighboring Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte Refuge to choose the locations for the three management areas on the McConnell Pond Tract. Efforts to create young forest on both the McConnell Pond Tract and the Conte Refuge are designed to work together, providing a type of habitat much needed in the region, as well as corridors and islands of dense forest that animals can use when moving through the landscape.

The John H. Boylan State Airport, east of Island Pond on Vermont Route 105, represents a key woodcock roosting area in this largely forested region. The McConnell Pond Tract will function as an island of woodcock habitat lying on the birds’ flight path between the Conte Refuge and the airport.

Other Factors

Northeastern Vermont supports a large population of moose, which feed on tree seedlings and regrowing shoots. An adult moose can eat 25 to 45 pounds of woody browse each day. Biologists and foresters will monitor vegetation on patch cuts created on the McConnell Pond Tract and will adjust management plans in case of overbrowsing by moose.

Funding and Partners

Conservation Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (National Wildlife Refuge System and Partners for Fish and Wildlife), North Country Environmental and Forestry, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

The young-forest management areas on the McConnell Pond Tract lie beyond closed gates. People interested in seeing young-forest habitat in the region can visit three woodcock habitat management units in a similar environment on the neighboring Silvio O. Conte Refuge. These units have interpretive signs explaining woodcock biology and habitat requirements, along with maps showing where and when cutting and other habitat-improvement practices have taken place.

The headquarters and visitor center for the Conte Refuge are on Vermont Route 105 about 12 miles east of Island Pond and 6 miles west of Bloomfield. Refuge personnel can provide a driving map and direct visitors to the demonstration areas.

For more information on young-forest management on the McConnell Pond Tract, contact Nancy Bell, Conservation Fund, P.O. Box 368, Shrewsbury VT 05759,, or Thomas LaPointe, Forester, Nulhegan Basin Division Office and Visitor Contact Station, 5396 Vermont Route 105, Brunswick VT 05905,, phone 802-962-5240 x 114.