TLC's Blog (173)
I was talking with a landowner recently about the restoration he and his wife are doing on their property, a former farm field. He said "It was a farm field forever, as long as I can remember."
That comment got me thinking about the whole concept of forever. What does that word really mean?
Let's think about that farmfield that's being restored today:
It was farmed for maybe 175 years - possibly from the time the area was first settled. That's a long time, for sure.
There's an oak tree on the property that is about 240 years old. That oak was possibly there before there was a United States of America! I wonder how many oaks were there on the property 240 years ago when that one first sprouted? How many 100s of years had oak trees grown on that land? 500? 5,000?
And what about the wet area on the farm that was drained for farming in the 1920s? How many hundreds or thousands of years was it filled with swamp milkweed, sedges, bullrushes and all of the insects, birds and other wildlife that are coming back to the area now. The rich, deep, organic soils indicate that they were formed over thousands of years of plant growth and decay in a wet environment.
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).
Your membership means everything to TLC. When added with all the other memberships, it makes a huge difference. In fact, it means the difference between The Land Conservancy of McHenry County and, well, no TLC at all.
We don't receive any government funding - there is no line on your McHenry County property tax bill for The Land Conservancy. There is no "check off" on your state tax return for TLC, and no federal appropriation to support our work.
No, TLC is able to do what we do because individuals in McHenry County and the surrounding area CHOOSE to support us with their annual membership contributions. We exist because local people purchase tickets to the events we hold - like Art of the Land - or they buy oak trees and rainbarrels.
I was raised in a family where one did not talk about money - it was considered tacky. And now I run an organization where I must think about and ask for money - a lot. It doesn't come naturally to me, especially the times when I have to ask people to make a donation. I don't want to be pushy or seem too needy.
I'll catch myself saying things like "oh, we're doing fine" when a member asks how things are going financially, even though my mind is thinking "I'm worried because our membership renewal rate is down." Or I want to say "we had a couple of grant awards come in lower than expected, which means $2500 I have to raise somewhere," but I don't because I don't want anyone to worry.
Add to all that the fact that this is a sluggish economy. Maybe it's not a recession any more, but this sure has to be one of the slowest recoveries ever. I talked to a member recently who apologized for letting his membership lapse. He explained to me that he lost his job two years ago and only just got a new one, so he hoped to renew soon. He wanted to be sure I knew that he was still thinking about TLC, and that he still supported everything we do and wants to do more as soon as he is able.
The conversation reminded me that TLC means a lot to our members too. And that is why they choose to send us a tax-deductible membership contribution.
You could send us yours today!
While on the phone with a friend the other day, I spied a hummingbird at the feeder by my window. “Wow, that’s a fat hummingbird,” I exclaimed. He pointed out that this is the time of year when the tiny birds start to bulk up for their fall migration to Central America. Good thing I refreshed the nectar earlier in the week.
Hummingbirds literally double their weight before they head south. To put that in perspective, for most of the year, they weigh as much as a dime. So, that bulky hummingbird I saw might have weighed as much as two dimes!
Home-made compost is one of my biggest gardening joys. The amount of energy required to make a great soil amendment is so minimal, that I'm surprised more people don't take advantage of this natural process.
I've often wondered how much bagged "compost" is sold by the gardening and home improvement stores. People buy it to enrich the soil in their gardens for everything from vegetables to roses. In some cases, people use it to revive the soils that were scraped and compressed when their homes were built, trying to coax something other than turf grass & weeds to grow.
Well, there is no reason you cannot make your own. It is economical & easy. With fall on its way, it is also a good time to start your pile.
The title of the article sums up the science behind composting: _Let_it_Rot_. There are books on the subject that one can buy. There are classes one could take to become a "Master Composter." And then there is the old reliable composting method known as the compost pile. The traditional pile (which some say dates back to Roman times) is a slow process - at minimum three months - but it is easy. And it works.
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.
Two weeks ago, the weather experts were talking about how 2011 could turn out to be the driest July on record for the Chicago area. Well, driving to work today, I heard the news that July 2011 is now officially the wettest on record!
Would Mother Nature please make up her mind?
It's not like these have been "normal" rains either. They have been torrential rains, often accompanied by strong winds, wild lightning storms, fallen trees, electricity outages and flooding. Four or five inches of water falling in an hour. Nine inches in a 24 hour period. And not just one storm like that, but one storm after another, after another.
And, just like the "heat dome" I discussed earlier, this type of weather has been predicted as one of the by-products of global warming: more frequent, extreme weather events. Violent thunderstorms, massive, long-lived tornadoes, more Category 5 hurricanes.
Other predictions are coming to pass too. As reported by the BBC today, a 1,000 square mile area of Alaskan Arctic tundra burned in the summer of 2007. This was as much tundra as had burned cumulatively since 1950. So, for 57 years, an average of 18 acres of tundra burned each year. Then, in one year, 1,000 acres?
Remember, tundra rarely burns, because it is covered with ice and snow much of the year, and then kind of soggy during the very brief growing season. 2007 was a particularly dry year on the Arctic tundra, so, when a lightning strike ignited the fire in July, it was not extinguished until October when heavy snow snuffed it out.
Now, burning Arctic tundra isn't like a grass fire, or even a forest fire. The tundra is a type of habitat characterized by a layer of permafrost that can be as deep as 3 feet. Permafrost is an area of the soil that is always frozen. Only the top-most layer of the ground ever thaws - maybe 4-5 inches at the surface - just enough for small plants to grow in the very brief growing season.
Over millenia, this permafrost layer of perpetually frozen soil has served as a place where atmospheric carbon (CO2) was stored (sequestered). That is no longer the case, however. When permafrost actually dries out due to a combination of longer periods of time without snow cover and drier weather conditions, this previously stored carbon is released into the atmosphere again. Toss a fire on top of that, and the release of carbon is accelerated that much more.
In fact, while the tundra region was once considered a place where there was net storage of carbon each year, today it is a net releaser of carbon each year. Actually, release of carbon & methane, both so-called "greenhouse" gases because of the way they collect in the atmosphere and help to magnify the warming effects of the sun.
If you are like me at all, you are now thinking "Gee, thanks for that depressing bit of information that I can't do anything about!"
But that's when we need to pick ourselves up and change our thinking. We may not be able to directly stop the burning tundra, but each of us can surely start making decisions that will at least contribute in some small way to slowing the global forces that are accelerating around us.
My favorite quote ever is from Gandhi. It hangs on my wall. "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Do what you can. Lead by example. Do it now.
I've been thinking a lot about Fleming Road (runs from Route 120 to Country Club, about 2 miles). If you haven't driven it, it is worth the drive. Truly one of the most scenic roads in the county. Hilly, wooded, gentle curves, the whole bit.
A friend calls it "tummy tickle" road because of the hills - a name that started when his kids were little and they liked the roller-coaster effect of driving along Fleming!
BUT, it is technically a county highway that is considered by them to be the route from Route 120 to Route 14 by way of Country Club Road and Ridgefield Road.
I'm thinking about getting some turtle crossing signs to put up along Dean Street in Woodstock, asking people to slow down and yield to these little fellas!
Last week we saw a painted turtle that had been run over right in the middle of the road. And yesterday, I saw a very large snapping turtle that had just made it (safely) across the road.
There are wetlands in the back of properties on the east side of Dean Street, and in the front of properties on the west side of the road.
It's a windy day today! The leaves in the trees are in constant motion, creating that wonderful rustling sound.
What is wind? We can't see it. It doesn't have a smell of its own or a color or substance. But, man is it powerful when it wants to be!
Well, it is gypsy moth season! The caterpillars have emerged and are now quite large. Soon they will pupate, and in August emerge as moths.
I can sum up the primary management objective in one word: kill.
This is a blusher mushroom found June 24, 2010 in some woods north of Harvard. I'd never seen one of these in person -- only in photos.
It's a type of Amanita, which are usually poisonous, but this a non-deadly variety! While many mushrooms are quite safe (and good) to eat, there are quite a few that are either deadly poisonous resulting in near instant death, mildly toxic (causing gastric distress), and/or containing slow-acting toxins that may take several days to affect your vital organs and kill you.
So, it's never a good idea to eat a found mushroom unless you are absolutely sure you know what it is. But, just touching a poisonous mushroom won't kill anyone, so collecting them for identification is quite safe.