Friday, July 04, 2008

Visionary



Over 20 years ago, my esteemed colleague looked out into the White River Hills on a south facing slope covered in dense cedar thickets. No herbaceous understory existed on Chute Ridge back then, and my colleague really didn't know how long it would take after the cedars were removed for the slope to even resemble its presettlement condition. Thanks to 70 years of fire suppression and grazing, the original savanna and glade complex that surveyors recorded in the early 1800s almost ceased to exist. But leave it to my colleague to develop a management plan that has culminated in a rich, biodiverse, healthy landscape. Funny thing, he starts so many of these restoration projects that he seldom sticks around to see the results. Last week, he finally witnessed the success of his 20 year old plan.



Several months ago, I made my first foray into the White River Hills region of the Ozarks (I think I posted majestic pictures of a recently burned landscape). Stunned by the uninterrupted views of steeply dissected woodlands and glades, I alerted my boss that I would be spending much of the growing season exploring the area. "Oh, you don't have to go down there. You can see the glades on satellite," he said, only half-joking. The glade belts are clearly visible on satellite imagery; thousands of acres of glades are choked in cedar trees, while several hundred acres are in the restoration stage of cedar clearing and early fire management. Piles of unburned cedars show up on satellite images of Forest Service land, but most of the glades appear jet black, indicating a solid mass of cedars. So I set out again to see the glades for myself.

When we crested the hill onto Chute Ridge all awash in wildflowers and teeming with invertebrate life, the importance of restoring the other thousands of acres of glades on public and private lands became immediately evident. "Wow!" I shouted while scampering through the thick stands of pale purple coneflower and little bluestem. I turned to see my colleague's response to the healthy glade and caught him standing there, dumbstruck. He was actually speechless. Granted, that happens to me a lot these days, unable to say anything because I'm so blown away by the beauty of the Ozarks, but this guy's seen the best of the best, Missouri as it likely looked to the early settlers. It was a rare moment, that of witnessing my colleague appreciating the fruits of his own labor.

We saw seed capsules of Trelease's larkspur, a conservative, lovely larkspur known from the glades of southwest Missouri. Two kinds of poppy mallow were in full bloom (bright pink flower below). Grasses were just starting to set fluffy seedheads and butterflies and dragonflies flitted about everywhere. My colleague kept his mouth open, staring out onto the savanna and glade in awe. "You'd never believe it. There were cedars out here this big around," he says holding his arms out in a big circle. "None of this was here before...well, it was here but it was suppressed...I can't believe it..." he trailed off.

Leaving the glade at the stunning last moments of sunset, it was decided that we needed more of Chute Ridge. The cedar-choked glades of the White River Hills need someone like my colleague to initiate an intense management plan to create more glades like this one. Nature could have maintained Chute Ridge without our help, if we didn't interfere in the first place. But now it requires someone with vision to see what rests dormant beneath the cedars. Post scriptum: The talented author of Beetles in the Bush writes about Chute Ridge: "Chute Ridge – what a fantastic place! There are some great insects there – Cicindela obsoleta vulturina, a large, olive-green beauty of a tiger beetle found in Missouri only in the White River Hills (and representing a population disjunct from the main population in Texas); Plinthocoelium suaveolens, our state’s most stunning cerambycid beetle, where it can be found perching on the trunks of its larval host (gum bumelia) during summer; and probably many others that I have not yet found because of my limited ability to visit to this far-away place." I hereby promise him that next week I'll look for things that move while I'm on the glade.

4 comments:

Ted C. MacRae said...

Seeing those pictures brings back fond memories. I have been there several times, but it was on my most recent visit (in 2005) that I discovered those gorgeous Plinthocoelium adults sitting on the bumelia trunks. Now is the time of the season to see them, and you'll never forget the sight if you succeed. Approach each tree with caution, and look on the lower 2-3 feet. If your extraordinarily patient, you might be able to get close enough to take their picture.

The tiger beetle is out during September - a grand excuse to return later this fall.

Kudos to Paul for making Chute Ridge what it is today! Missouri is lucky to have him.

David Moore said...

Isn't it nice to entertain the thought that, with historic fire patterns, Eastern red cedar was probably an S1 (at least in the WRH) back in the day.

Also, I have got to one day see "those gorgeous Plinthocoelium adults sitting on the bumelia trunks." Very cool - insect behavior. One of my favorites is an arachnid, however - any kind of jumping spider.

And, who is that in the pic with Paul?

Allison Vaughn said...

I love P. audax. I have them all over my house and feel really bad when I see a furry little spider damp from ambient water from the sink. The guy in the picture is this really great, passionate naturalist named Barry. He's building a trail system and naming the trails by the dominant natural communities. I'm hoping he'll be in charge one day of RR (it would make my life a lot easier).

David Moore said...

Thanks for sharing the link to "Beetles in the Bush." As a govt. worker bee I all too often work diligently for the hive but dont take the time to know more about my neighbors.

Fascinating stuff - this insect diversity. But, I already know that. What I dont know are the details as kindled by you and carried forward by "Beetles in the Bush."

Wouldn't it be fantastic to complete a full biodiversity survey for the MTNF, just as the Buffalo Natl Scenic Riverways is striving to do? I know I am not the first to think of this - I just wish in my own small way I could help to further such an endeavor.