Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge (Trustom Pond Refuge) is located on the south coast of Rhode Island in South Kingstown, Washington County (see Maps 1-1 and 1-2). The main body of the refuge is bordered by private land and the community of Green Hill to the west; by Matunuck Schoolhouse Road to the north; and by private land to the northeast and east. East of its main body, the refuge also owns a separate 52-acre parcel, bordered by private farmland to the west and east, Matunuck Schoolhouse Road on the north, and Card Ponds Road on the south. In 1974, Mrs. Ann Kenyon Morse donated the first 365 acres to the refuge. In 1982, The Audubon Society of Rhode Island donated 151 acres. The refuge now includes 787 acres in either fee title or. The Land Protection Plan (Appendix E) expanded the refuge acquisition boundary by 1,283 acres. The refuge may now acquire up to 1,536 acres from willing sellers within the newly expanded acquisition boundary.
Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose:
The establishment purposes for Trustom Pond Refuge are:
“... for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds,” and for “(1) incidental fish and wildlife oriented recreational development; (2) protection of natural resources; and (3) conservation of endangered or threatened species.” – Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 and Refuge Recreation Act of 1962.
Geographic/Ecosystem Setting Landscape Formation The movement of glaciers across New England created the land forms seen in Rhode Island today. The last of those great ice sheets occurred during the Wisconsin glacial period. Approximately 15,000 - 20,000 years ago, the glacier was in a state of equilibrium, where the melting rate of ice equaled the glacial rate of movement (Bell 1985). As the climate warmed 12,000 - 15,000 years ago, the glacier began its retreat, depositing pronounced land forms along its outermost edge. The southern coast of Rhode Island, including Block Island, is the farthest point the Wisconsin glacier reached in its southeastern frontal movement. The retreating glacier deposited rocks pushed by the front of its ice sheet in piles called moraines. These terminal or end moraines formed sinuous ridges up to 200 feet high. Block Island is part of the terminal moraine that includes Nantucket and parts of Long Island. A second prominent moraine lies inland, the low ridge referred to as the Charlestown or Watch Hill moraine, stretching east to west parallel to U.S. Route 1. Glacial action also created other features in today’s landscape: recessional moraines, outwash plains, kettle hole ponds, glacial lake deposits, deltas, and submerged gravel shoals. Prominent headlands like Sachuest Point are composed of glacial till, a mixture of silt-sized grains to boulder-sized deposits by the melting glacier.
Melting ice sheets caused the sea to rise rapidly across Block Island and Rhode Island Sounds until it reached its present level approximately 4,000 years ago. Wave action parallel to the shore continued to erode glacial deposits, creating the barrier spits. As the spits formed, they almost entirely sealed off the low-lying areas between the headlands and the ocean, forming coastal lagoons connected to the sea by narrow inlets. These became the coastal salt ponds we see today. Through the 1700’s, all of the coastal salt ponds had direct, seasonally open connections to the ocean (RI CRMC 1984). The effects of erosion through time have shifted the salt ponds and barrier spits gradually landward (RI CRMC 1998). The bedrock formations of southern Rhode Island include the Blackstone series of metamorphic rock along its southern coastal border (including most of Westerly, Charlestown and South Kingstown), granite rock of various ages (including most of Narragansett and Middletown and parts of Westerly and Charlestown), and Pennsylvanian sedimentary rock in most of south central Rhode Island (including Richmond, much of South Kingstown, and most of Hopkinton). Most of the soils around the refuges are fine sandy loams or silt loams. Historical Influences on Landscape Vegetation.
The upland forests of southern Rhode Island are classified by Kuchler (1964) as oak-hickory forest; while most of northern Rhode Island is classified as oak-pitch pine forest. Historic land use practices promoted this forest type. Chapter 3 3-2 Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex As early as 12,000 years ago, Native Americans began occupying the area. Documented evidence places the first intensive occupation of the salt pond region during the late Archaic period (5,000 to 3,000 years ago). Native American camps from more than 4,000 years ago are known to have existed at one location along the shore of Ninigret Pond. However, societies of that time were primarily hunters/gatherer with little agriculture; broad changes to landscape vegetation probably did not occur. During the Woodland Period 3000-450 years ago, larger, semipermanent or recurrently occupied camps became coastal settlements. Fortified villages are known to have existed in some locations. Maize horticulture became prominent, which likely resulted in small clearings. Larger clearings and burnings to control the movement of deer and upland birds may have occurred, and the first pronounced clearing of land along the coast for settlements, game management, and agriculture.
Much of this land was cleared by cutting and burning, which favored resprouting by hardwood species like oak, hickory, and red maple. The role fire may have played in shaping landscape vegetation is not well known. Evidence of fire has been observed in charcoal layers at Ninigret Refuge. Soil cores dug at most points on the refuge reveal charcoal below the historic farmers plow zone, approximately 10 inches soil depth. The dates attributed to these fires, coupled with their locations, suggest early Native Americans used fire extensively and purposefully. Although small areas of land were cleared and more or less permanently settled by early Native Americans, it was European settlement and expansion in the 1600’s that exponentially escalated the conversion of forests to agriculture. The eighteenth century Rhode Island plantation era “…required massive land clearing of the forests that had dominated the landscapes for the last 8,000 years” (USFWS 1999). During the mid-nineteenth century, an estimated 85 percent of southern New England was converted to field and pasture. Any woods remaining often were managed for firewood.