Great Mountain Forest November 2020
In this issue: Return of the Turkeys, Where the Witch Hazel Grows, and The Yale Forestry Camp Goes Solar
GMF's Role in Bringing Back Wild Turkeys to CT
This Thanksgiving is a perfect time to be grateful for the work that GMF does in wildlife management. It was not that long ago when Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) had been absent from the Connecticut landscape.   
Back in the day of the fabled original Thanksgiving, wild turkeys were plentiful. By the 1800s, both habitat-destroying forest clearing and severe winters led to the turkey population's destruction. Michael Gregonis, State of CT Wild Turkey Program Biologist, asserts that "Wild turkeys were extirpated in the early 1800s and the last wild turkey sighting in the state was in 1813.”    
Attempts during the 1950s to the 1970s to restore turkeys to CT failed. In 1975, under Steve Jackson, Connecticut's first wild turkey biologist, 22 intrepid birds from New York State were released into Great Mountain Forest to enhance wildlife biodiversity and restore a native species.   
Why here? Gregonis explains, "GMF was selected for the original release primarily because of its over 6,000 acres of contiguous habitat under the control of one owner." Norfolk resident Stan Civco, retired local CT game warden (now known as a conservation officer), recalls the words of Dr. Robert McDowell, Director of Wildlife at UCONN. McDowell asserted that the expanse of woodland at GMF, while not ideal turkey habitat, would provide protection from disturbance and plentiful food in the form of acorns and beechnuts scattered on the forest floor.  
Civco, who was present at the 1975 turkey release into GMF, outlines his role as a game warden for the program. He monitored the turkeys' progress and prevented illegal poachers from hunting them. This contributed to the their ability to thrive. 

In 1978, a mere three years later, a group of turkeys from this original crew were captured and moved to help populate other areas of CT.

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Above: Wild turkey, Photo: Stephen Schumacher. Below: Winter turkey, Photo: Jody Bronson
Gregonis states that "Between 1975 and 1990, 356 birds were moved throughout Connecticut.” This was to, as Civco notes, "hasten their movement."

Catching and releasing turkeys to move them throughout the state was done with the aid of a cannon net, which isn't as dastardly as it sounds. Civco describes the process, "Cracked corn is used to bait the birds into one concentrated area. Multiple cannons shoot a weighted net up and over the unsuspecting turkeys.  

Today, turkeys call all 169 towns in CT home. "Now," says Gregonis, "we know that turkeys are highly adaptable birds and have expanded into habitats we never thought possible."  
Descendants from the original 22 turkeys have moved beyond the state borders. Programs in Maine, North Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana have been the recipients of CT wild turkeys. GMF's role in bringing back the turkeys is another way it impacts wildlife diversity well beyond its over 6,000-acre borders. 

For more information about wild turkeys in CT, view the 2019 CT Wild Turkey Program Report and visit CT Audubon Bird Finder.
Special thanks to Michael Gregonis and Stan Civco for sharing their knowledge for this article.
Witch Hazel:
GMF Fosters a Connecticut Tradition
South of the Yale Camp, flanking the Chattleton Road, grows one of GMF's more storied forest products—witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). One can identify the witch hazel shrub by its grey meandering branches and the surprising autumn bloom of its yellow tendrilled flowers--think of forsythia on a bad hair day. These flowers and the shrub's seed pods appear after the leaves have fallen, making witch hazel all the more mysterious and dramatic.  

Witch hazel is known for its medicinal qualities that Native peoples harnessed for their own use. These included easing sore muscles, treating wounds, and brewing a medicinal tea. The shrub contains flavonoids and tannins that are astringent and help stop bleeding.   

Its name has less to do with black magic than its branches' flexibility. The word "witch" derives its meaning from Middle English for wych or wyche, meaning pliant or flexible. It is thought that Mohegans showed English settlers how to use its Y-shaped branches for "dowsing," which is the ability to find water underground, also called water witching.   

Since 2002, GMF has harvested its annually certified organic witch hazel. GMF contracts with second-generation witch hazel harvester Eugene Buyak to chop the shrub by hand with an ax.

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Buyak then hauls the branches from the forest in his adapted doodlebug vehicle. As the doodlebug drags its load of witch hazel out of the woods, it spreads the newly fallen acorns. This acorn dispersal aids in the regeneration of oak trees in the area.  
Top left: Witch hazel in bloom. Above: Doodlebug ready for action. Below: One ton of witch hazel. Photos: Jody Bronson
Rotating around the prolific witch hazel stands, which need a minimum of 10 years to regrow, Buyak harvests over a hundred tons of witch hazel each season. He chips the branches and stems in a specialized chipper and sells them to American Distilling, owner of Dickinson Brands.

T.N. Dickinson's and Dickinson's Original labels have been familiar sights in medicine cabinets since the late 1800s. They produce most of the distilled witch hazel in the U.S.  
GMF's witch hazel reaches consumers worldwide and is also a key ingredient in countless other cosmetics, skincare products, and over-the-counter medications.   

You can read more about what happens to harvested witch hazel after it leaves GMF in this article by GMF board member David K. Leff.
Forest Notices

  • Keep your dog on a leash and if you pack it in--pack it out!

  • Sign in at kiosks at the East and West Gates.

  • Watch for inclement weather notices on social media.

  • GMF will be closed to recreational users from November 18 to December 8, except for Sundays. From Monday to Saturday during that time vetted and permitted hunters will be serving as wildlife monitors, keeping the deer population balanced. For your safety, please adhere to forest regulations posted on website and kiosks at East and West Gates.

If you have any questions, email
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