Plastic cones protect new cedar seedlings

"About 40 acres of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station land is covered in cedar cones these days. But these cones are a tall, man-made variety in a pinkish tone.People are asking, What are they growing, baby traffic cones? said Matt Klope, the base Environmental Affairs department's wildlife biologist.In fact, Klope said, the TreePees are protection for about 5,000 cedar seedlings that were recently planted near Charles Porter Road and the base hospital. They've got to have them or they'd be eaten alive, Klope said. He said the base does a tree planting program every year, but in past years it hasn't been too successful because the seedlings have been nibbled away by the meadow vole, a small, mouse-like critter that does most of its damage at about ground level or slightly below ground.The plastic cones will hopefully keep the cedar seedlings alive this time, said Klope. The cones push slightly into the ground to protect tender roots and rise well above vole height to protect new branches.They can't go under them and can't climb them, he said.The bio-degradable cones are made from a type of plastic that will decompose under ultraviolet sunlight. Klope said that in about two or three years, when the trees are large enough not to need protection, the cones ought to be be pretty close to falling apart.The planting project is part of an ongoing reforestation plan at the base and is done in conjunction with a Department of Defense-sponsored Partners In Flight initiative designed to provide more habitat for North American songbirds.The trees will provide protective flight corridors for birds such as robins, chickadees, woodpeckers and swallows that currently have little natural cover from predatory birds, Klope said.He said the cedar trees should like the wet soil in the area and will grow about two feet per year. Eventually they'll reach a height of from 75 to 100 feet and should provide both a visual and noise barrier for nearby base housing.It will be a nice stand of trees, Klope said.Next year, Klope hopes to add some Douglas fir and spruce trees in areas that are less damp."

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