HARDWICK, Mass. (WWLP) – Just east of the Quabbin Reservoir in the town of Hardwick, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) has been hard at work restoring the habitat of Muddy Brook.

The efforts of restoring this Wildlife Management Area (WMA) are beginning to show, with signs of life returning to the habitat. MassWildlife says dozens of species of plants, insects and animals, some not seen for more than 30 years, have returned to the land.

The Muddy Brook WMA is a natural wildland fire-dependent ecosystem but due to public safety, wildfires in the region have been suppressed for the last 70 years. Naturally, this has prevented some of the plants that rely on wildfires, which have remained dormant as seeds in the soil waiting for the right conditions to return. Without some of these plants, bees and birds have left Muddy Brook WMA.

Rehabilitation work on Muddy Brook WMA began in 2014 with tree canopy thinning and prescribed fires. In just a year of these controlled fires, several native plants that have been absent for decades have begun to emerge once again.

Some rare insects and birds have also made a return to the habitat. Just this summer, MassWildlife discovered the return of the orange sallow moth, a species listed in the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA). This is one of seven moth species on the state’s list that have returned to the area since restoration.

Orange Sallow Moth (Credit: MassWildlife)

The orange sallow moth’s larva feeds exclusively on false foxglove plants, which only grow in areas with occasional fires. The plant has been dormant in the soil of Muddy Brook since the 50s but with prescribed fires, more than 1,000 of these plants have reappeared.

With the restoration of this habitat, MassWildlife says more than 20 species on the Massachusetts endangered species list have returned, including the following:

  • 28 fire-influenced plants that were unable to grow due to lack of wildfires
    • 4 Endangered
    • 1 Threatened
    • 1 Special Concern
    • 5 Watchlist Species
  • The return of eastern whip-poor-will birds following a 30-year absence
  • Significant increase of other birds, such as the American woodcock, prairie warbler, field sparrow, and eastern towhee
  • The return of more than 110 species of bees, including one considered threatened.
  • The return of specialized moths and butterflies like the orange sallow moth
False foxglove at Muddy Brook WMA. (Credit: MassWildlife)

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