Displaying items by tag: restoration
You've probably noticed smoke in the air recently. The season for burning natural areas in McHenry County arrived early this year!
Typically the temperature is still too low and the ground is too wet for land managers to burn wetland and grassland areas in the first part of March.
The recent mild temperatures, moderate humidity (not too high or too low) and light winds make conditions ideal for an ecoloogical burn.
Fire is a low-cost way to take care of natural lands like prairies, oak woods and wetlands. The process of burning off prior years' dead vegetation helps open areas up so that new vegetation can grow.
The fire kills off small, woody vegetation like buckthorn sprouts, keeping them from taking hold in sensitive areas. Another benefit of a periodic fire in natural areas is that it releases nutrients from the burnt vegetation and exposes the area so that the seeds of native species receive light and start growing.
Remember that before European-American settlers moved into the area in the 1830s and started farming, the land burned regularly through wildfires and fires set deliberately by native peoples to facilitate hunting. Also keep in mind that the plants native to our area are adapted to periodic fires, while many of the introduced species that compete with the natives do not tolerate fire well.
When land managers burn natural areas, it helps give those native species an advantage and temporarily knocks back the invaders. This benefits us all as the native plants provide needed habitat for butterflies and birds that we value - as well as the insects that many of our favorite birds eat!
While fire may be an efficient and inexpensive way for a landowner to manage his or her property, it is also a potentially dangerous undertaking. Knowing the basics about equipment used, proper weather conditions and correct technique are all important skills to have when burning land.
If you are interested in learning how to burn natural areas safely, TLC is holding a "Learn to Burn" class on Saturday March 31st at the Dunham Township Building on Airport Road in Harvard.
The class runs from 9-3, and cost for TLC members is just $20. Non-members pay $35, which gives them a year or membership too. The fee includes lunch. To register for the class, please fill out and mail in a registration form that you can obtain by clicking here, or by calling 815-337-9502.
Since 2008, a small miracle has happened in Johnsburg. Through the efforts of one person, a landscape has been transformed. That person is Robert Roe.
He was featured in the recent "Everyday Heroes" section of the NW Herald - deservedly so. I know he doesn't do any of his volunteer work for attention, and I guess that's what makes him an everyday hero -- he does his thing whether anyone notices or not.
Robert's "thing" is restoring the land along Dutch Creek that runs through the Dutch Creek Estates Subdivision where he lives. And he has inspired a dedicated cadre of volunteers to work along-side him at the monthly restoration work days that he has organized for four years. He just put together a nice Progress Report through the end of 2011.
Nearly 3,000 volunteer hours have been donated to restoration of the site during that time! Conservatively speaking , the value of those donated hours is nearly $60,000. TLC could not afford to hire workers to do that amount of restoration at the site. We offer the use of some equipment and contribute herbicide to the project, but the heavy lifting (literally) is done by Roe & the other volunteers.
The natural area being restored is over 150 acres in size, and includes springs, seeps, oak savannas and one of the highest quality headwater creeks in the area. Roe points to three primary benefits of the project: aesthetic (restored natural areas do look better), ecological (the restoration is improving habitat for a wider diversity of species than would be found there otherwise) and economic.
When he talks of economic benefits, Roe refers primarily to the sense of community that projects like this provide. Over 200 individuals have contributed sweat equity to the project so far -- 98 individuals helped out in 2011 alone! Many of those people had never participated in an ecological restoration project before, and many of them had not previously worked together on a volunteer project.
This intangible but very real sense of camaraderie - of community pride & shared commitment to a place and a purpose - is an important part of what enriches our lives and our communities.
And that, as they say, is priceless.
Saturday December 10th was the inaugural Oak Rescue at the future Gateway Park on the south side of Harvard near the intersection of Routes 14 & 23.
Thirty volunteers from throughout McHenry County donated over 90 hours on a cold morning to release about a dozen ancient oaks from the grips of invasive brush that had grown up around them in the last 20-30 years.
The 18 acre property is home to dozens of oaks that were growing on the property before the area was settled. These trees would have welcomed early settlers to town 165 or more years ago, and now will continue to welcome residents and visitors to Harvard forever.
Through a partnership between the City of Harvard and The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, Gateway Park will be preserved as a public nature park for hiking, relaxation and education.
The property includes several oak groves, with dozens of trees that were already large when the City was founded in 1856. Additionally, one of the only portions of Rush Creek that was never ditched runs through the center of the property, providing important habitat for a diversity of fish, including three that are listed as "species in greatest need of conservation" by the State of Illinois.
Future Oak Rescues are being planned. Contact The Land Conservancy for more information: 815-337-9502.
Millions of small miracles happen this time of the year, as pollinated flowers transform into seeds. Seeds that will feed birds and wildlife throughout the winter as well as seeds that will lie dormant on the ground until next spring when they emerge as a new generation of plants.
Seeds are being produced – large and small – as part of the lifecycle of the plant world. Plants spend much of the rest of the growing season preparing for reproduction. Flowers bloom to attract insects and birds that are necessary for pollination. Pollination is how plants reproduce – insects, birds or the wind move pollen (male gametes, aka sperm) from one part of a plant to the female part of the plant (female gametes, or eggs), resulting in fertilization and the production of seeds (potential future plants).
You say you like to help burn natural areas? Or maybe you need help burning your wetland or prairie restoration every couple of years? Read on!
One of the biggest challenges for landowners with restorations they manage is burning their land on a regular basis. Ecological Fire is one of the best tools around for keeping invasive species in check. Challenges include the weather - too wet, too dry, too windy, too humid, not humid enough... You get the picture.
The other major challenge is assembling a team of folks to help when conditions are right for a fire. Ideally, there should be six on a fire crew, and one should never - ever - burn alone. There are too many things that can go wrong when alone with a landscape on fire.
So, how do you find a group to help you burn safely?
Well, would you be willing to help others burn their land if they agreed to help you burn yours?
That's the idea behind the Eco-burn Network, a list of people interested in helping others to burn and also in getting help with their own burns.
This is something that TLC's Land Protection Specialist, Linda Balek, has been thinking about for several years. Linda coordinates a spring burn training for landowners and volunteers each spring. During those classes, she hears about landowners' challenges. She also hears others say that they wish they had more opportunities to burn land (hmm, sound a bit like pyromaniacs...).
So, she decided to form the network.
After all, the vast majority of land in the county is in private ownership, and there is a high proportion of landowners in this area who have restorations - or even remnant natural areas - that they manage. Plus, we have seen this concept used in Alden Township, where a network of a couple dozen landowners formed to help each other burn their properties, so we know it works!
A friend just forwarded me a booklet that was created by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that provides a comprehensive look at controlling Reed Canary Grass, a plant that has virtually eliminated diversity in many of the area's wetlands in just the last ten years.
This is an aggressive plant that was promoted as a good choice for livestock forage until fairly recently. In fact, you might see if for sale now and then. It grows particularly well in sunny, low-lying areas. And, once it is established, it is very difficult to get rid of it. I suppose, if you are planting it as feed for your livestock, that's a good thing. But, it seems that once it takes hold in a wetland - especially one where it is not wanted - it is very tough to eliminate.
The plant sprouts early - before most native species. By mid June, it has set seed - lots and lots of seed. It's a relatively tall grass, so the seed heads blow in the wind, spreading each plant's progeny far and wide. Each seed remains viable for several years, so it will take at least that long to get a handle on it, since you'll have to deplete the seedbank.
Reed Canary Grass is a perennial, meaning that not only do new plants grow from the seed, but last year's plants come back. The plant also spreads through rhizomes that extend from the parent plant up to 10 feet a year. The rhizomes form a dense mat just beneath the soil surface, making it difficult for other plants to germinate.
The guidebook, pictured at left, is called Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) Management Guide: Recommendations for Landowners and Restoration Professionals, Wisconsin Reed Canary Grass Management Working Group. 2009. You can download a copy by clicking here.
The booklet spells out quite clearly the correct use of a wide variety of management tools - burning, herbicide, excavation, mowing, tilling the soil, etc, etc. The bottomline is that there is no "one best way" to get rid of this invasive menace, but by being diligent and combining a variety of management techniques, you can get a handle on it - eventually.
Sometimes a project seems pre-destined. The Harvard Gateway Project is one of those.
For ten years, I have driven past a property at the entrance to Harvard - a property with two small oak groves and a beautiful, windy stretch of Rush Creek. Following heavy rains, I have marveled at the way the creek quickly rises to the edge of its floodplain, and then slowly settles back into its meanders.
It seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it? Using fire as a tool to improve the condition of natural areas.
Yet, through millenia of struggle between plants, animals, and the natural forces of wind, snow and fire, a system developed in this area where the trees that were best able to withstand the effects of fire came to dominate much of the landscape. And along with those trees came the plant, animal, bird & insect species that were most compatible with those trees.
Yes, I'm talking about our oaks.
Like sentinels, the bur oaks stretched their branches out across the prairie, catching the maximum amount of sunlight - growing broader than they were tall.
And the fires made that all possible.