DEEP: Belding Wildlife Management Area

Belding Wildlife Management Area

{Butterfly Garden at Belding WMA}
Learn About Wildlife Habitat at Belding WMA

For a full listing of other DEEP events, go to the
DEEP Calendar of Events Page

The Belding Wildlife Management Area is a 282-acre parcel of land in Vernon that was donated by Maxwell Belding to the State of Connecticut. A 1981 Memorandum of Understanding identifies the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as the steward of the land and instructs the agency to use modern wildlife, forestry, and conservation practices to maintain and improve the land.

In 2002, the Belding Wildlife Management Area Charitable Support Trust was established to provide the DEEP the resources to conduct professional management, enhancement, and long-term maintenance of the area. A board of trustees was established and remains in force to provide oversight of the trust and to review and approve ongoing activities on the management area.

Loss of habitat is the biggest threat facing wildlife. Belding WMA provides a variety of habitat types, including fields, forest, and wetlands. Birds, such as indigo buntings and blue-winged warblers, inhabit the field edges. Black-throated green warblers and red-breasted nuthatches can be heard in the conifer forest. Ground-dwelling ovenbirds and waterthrush sing from the forest floor and along the stream. Woodcock return each spring to perform their courtship display, and wood frogs gather in vernal pools where their chorus can be heard on the first warm day of spring.

A variety of birds migrate through Belding WMA along the Tankerhoosen River. The section of the Tankerhoosen within Belding WMA is a Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area. Wild brown and brook trout thrive in the clean, cool water of the Tankerhoosen.

Programs offered at Belding WMA include seasonal walks to learn about the plants and animals that can be found at the area. School groups use Belding as an outdoor classroom, and to learn about habitats and the species that depend on them. Belding WMA staff also provides environmental educational programs at area schools and libraries. For more information about Belding WMA, including programs or projects, please send an E-mail to

For a safe and enjoyable visit, and to help protect the wildlife of Belding WMA, please observe the following rules:

  • Dogs must be on a leash at all times.
  • Carry out what you carry in.
  • Motorized vehicles, horses, and horseback riding are prohibited.
  • Collecting of plants and wildlife or feeding of wildlife are prohibited.
  • Be careful of poison ivy along trails and check yourself carefully for ticks.

Belding WMA Trail Guide
The Birds of Belding WMA (checklist)
Slide Show of Habitat Management Projects


Native Landscaping
Bring Wildlife to Your Yard with Native Plants

{Butterfly Garden}   {Fritilary butterfly on pye weed} {New England Aster}

How can you help your backyard wildlife? Plant native plants!
Maintaining a manicured lawn decorated with ornamental plants used to be the norm, but many animals disappeared as we took away their food sources and shelter. But, we can bring them back! Planting native plants provides food for the most important component of the food web - insects! An array of plant-eating insects, like moth and butterfly caterpillars, are a major food source for backyard birds. Even those that feed from bird feeders depend on these insects to survive. Learn more about landscaping and wildlife with this Native Landscaping slideshow, which also provides a list of native plants:

{monarch caterpillar}

Native Landscaping: Bring Wildlife to Your Yard with Native Plants

Full Version (PDF) - 130 Slides       Condensed Version (PDF) - 50 Slides

(Use the "left" and "right" arrowkeys on your keyboard to navigate each PDF as a slideshow.)


Species of the Week

Red Oak
(Quercus rubra)
Acorns are falling to the ground, providing food for red, gray and flying squirrels, blue jays, wild turkeys, bear, fox, chipmunks, mice, and white-tailed deer. Although less tasty, red oak acorns provide more energy than white oak acorns.
Red oak acorns do not sprout until the spring, allowing them to be buried for the winter without losing nutrients to growing roots. The tastier white oak acorns sprout soon after they fall to the ground. For this reason, white oak acorns are mostly eaten in the fall before they have a chance to sprout, but the red oak acorns provide food throughout the winter.
Red oak acorns are bitter because of the high level of tannins in them. The tannins are concentrated more at the bottom where the embryo is. Gray squirrels will sometimes eat the tops of these acorns and bury the tannin-rich bottoms to be eaten later if food stores run out. With the embryos still intact, the bottoms will germinate in the spring if not dug up. If white oak acorns are buried, squirrels will nip off the bottom to prevent them from sprouting.
While acorns are important to many species, the leaves of oaks are an equally important component of the food web. Oak leaves are eaten by over five hundred different species of native moth and butterfly caterpillars. Oaks provide food for more species of caterpillars than any other plant in this region. These caterpillars provide an important source of food for the many songbirds that nest here at Belding WMA.
Red oak leaves can be distinguished from white oak leaves by the spiny tips at the ends of the lobes. White oak leaves have rounded lobes with no spiny tips. Look for red oaks at Belding WMA in the forest along the Shenipsit trail.
{Red oak leaf and acorn}

Habitat Projects at Belding WMA

{Habitat management at Belding Wildlife Management Area} DEEP is responsible for maintaining a diversity of fish and wildlife habitats at Belding WMA. Several projects are currently underway at the area to benefit special habitats or unique species. For example, American chestnut and pitch pine are found on the property and projects have been implemented to help preserve these rare trees. Active management to create, maintain, and expand grasslands and shrublands, both disappearing habitats, is ongoing. Invasive plants are in the process of being removed and riparian habitats are being restored.
Ongoing Habitat Maintenance:
  • Invasive plants are selectively mowed within 24 acres of grassland to maintain the grassland habitat.
  • Invasive shrubs are removed to reduce competition with native shrubs.
  • White pines are selectively removed to reduce competition with pitch pines.
  • Trees encroaching into grassland habitat are removed.
Timeline of Habitat Projects:

  • 540 native shrubs were planted on 3 acres and protective fencing was installed.
  • 6 acres of cool-season grass were burned and native warm-season grasses were planted.


  • 4 acres of wildflower seeds were planted.
  • 1,050 native shrubs were planted.
  • 3 acres of competing hardwood trees were cut to release pitch pines.


  • A 2.5-acre site was cleared, 225 blight-resistant American chestnut seedlings were planted, and protective fencing was installed.
  • Tree lines were removed between fields to expand grassland habitat.
  • 150 native shrubs were planted along Railroad Brook.


  • A pavilion was constructed near the parking area on Bread and Milk Road.
  • A post-and-rail fence was installed along the fields on Bread and Milk Road.


  • A tree line between warm season grass fields was removed to increase grassland habitat.
  • Gates were installed to protect the fields.
  • Post-and-rail fencing was installed along Valley Falls Road.
  • A forest inventory was conducted.
  • A third pollinator garden was created.

{Map of Belding WMA location.}
Parking for Belding Wildlife Management Area is located at Bread and Milk Road in Vernon, CT.

Useful Links:
Connecticut Forest & Park Association
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Native Shrubs Planted at Belding WMA

Shadbush (Amelanchier laevis) Northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica)
Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) Swamp rose (Rosa palustris)
Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) Virginia rose (Rosa virginia)
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) Pussy willow (Salix discolor)
Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea) Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
American hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
Inkberry (Ilex glabra) American cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum)
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)
Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)  

Useful Links:
Alternatives for Invasive Ornamental Plant Species
Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plants Database

Pitch Pine Restoration

A project to restore native pitch pines was initiated in 2008. Pitch pine woodland, a globally rare forest type, is found only in the northeastern United States. Pitch pines depend on fire to expose the soil and release the seeds. Due to fire suppression, pitch pine communities have become increasingly rare.

Belding WMA contains mature pitch pines, but young pitch pines have not been able to grow there for more than 50 years. A three-acre site where mature pitch pines are currently growing has been chosen for this regeneration project. In order to restore this unique habitat, common tree species that were competing with the pitch pines have been removed. The soil will be exposed to allow the pitch pine seeds to germinate. 

As the seedlings become established, the young stand of pitch pine will provide important cover for species that depend on this type of early successional habitat. Wildlife species associated with this type of disturbance-dependent habitat include whip-poor-will, prairie warbler, and brown thrasher, a species of special concern in Connecticut.

American Chestnut Restoration

The DEEP, in partnership with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), introduced blight-resistant American chestnut trees to the Belding Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Vernon this past May. The American chestnut was once a dominant tree of the eastern forests. It was an extremely valuable source of lumber as its wood is highly resistant to rot. In addition, chestnuts produced edible nuts that were an important food source for wildlife. Unfortunately, a non-native, imported fungus, discovered in New York City in 1904, spread quickly and decimated American chestnuts throughout their range. The blight cannot exist in the soil, so even though it kills the trees, it does not kill the roots. Many of these persisting roots continue to grow new sprouts, but the sprouts become infected by the blight and die before reaching maturity.

Dr. Sandy Anagnostakis of the CAES has been breeding blight-resistant American chestnuts as part of an effort to save this tree from extinction. The DEEP planted 200 of these seedlings on a 2.5-acre site within Belding WMA where native chestnut sprouts are abundant. The abundance of native chestnut sprouts on the site is a critical factor in the reestablishment of this valuable species as a key component of Connecticut’s forested landscape. The native sprouts will be inoculated against the blight until they reach maturity and can cross-pollinate with the blight-resistant seedlings. The offspring of these crosses will result in trees that are genetically similar to the trees that were native to the site, but will also carry the genes that resist the blight.

Because American chestnut seedlings require full sunlight, the overstory trees on the restoration site were cleared by a forestry contractor. As the planted chestnut trees grow, the oaks, maples, and birch will grow up with them, resulting in a more diverse forest.

Grassland Restoration

The Wildlife Division initiated a project in 2008 at the Belding Wildlife Management Area to remove invasive shrubs and increase grassland habitat in the fields along Valley Falls Road. Two hedgerows of trees and invasive shrubs that had grown up between the fields were removed to create one larger field. Larger grasslands attract a wider diversity of wildlife.

Early successional habitats (grasslands, shrublands, and young forests) have become rare due to the elimination of disturbances, such as fire and beaver flooding, that historically created or maintained these types of habitats. Livestock grazing is another type of disturbance that maintains grassland habitat, but pastures also have been disappearing from the Connecticut landscape. As these early successional habitats disappear, so do the species that depend on them.

Grasslands are home to a variety of native wildlife. Birds such as bobolink, eastern meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, and field sparrow nest on the ground in grasslands. Twelve species of grassland-dependent birds are on Connecticut’s List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species. The most endangered of these species are those that require large areas. The state-endangered grasshopper sparrow prefers sites of at least 100 acres. Upland sandpipers require grasslands of 150 acres or more.

Hayfields attract grassland ground nesters, but early mowing destroys the nests before the chicks fledge. The DEEP mows areas after the nesting season to maintain grassland habitat. Without mowing or other type of disturbance, these fields would eventually revert to forest. Lawns, which are mowed regularly throughout the season, are not considered grasslands and provide little value for wildlife.

Species that inhabit the fields and field edges at Belding Wildlife Management Area include eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, red-winged blackbirds, indigo buntings, eastern kingbirds, song sparrows, red-tailed hawks, blue-winged warblers, and yellow warblers. Small mammals, such as meadow voles and meadow jumping mice, also are found in these fields, as well as a variety of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies, and other insects.

Content last updated on October 24, 2016.