Saturday, April 09, 2011

Finding the glades

We didn't set out to look for morels, but if we found morels on our slow walk through the bottomland woods, we certainly wouldn't have passed them by. We didn't find a morel all day, but we were out there for another reason, to verify the presence of dolomite glades nestled deep in a landscape that may not have been canvassed by Natural Heritage Program biologists (lo, those many years ago, when the Heritage Program was a viable and important part of natural history in Missouri). No Heritage records exist for these glades, so the two of us set out to see if they had any merit, or, if they had been so overgrazed that any restoration work would be wasted, better done elsewhere.

Stepping across a little creek, we encountered a suite of spring ephemerals: anemones, bloodroots, and the scrappy form of a flowering Prunus mexicanus, native to the Ozarks. Following the lead of my trusty fieldmate, I crested to ridge to find, indeed, a dolomite glade--a beat up little glade peppered with cedars from the years of domestic livestock grazing and fire suppression, but a glade with bird's foot violets and Indian paintbrush. Eyes cast downward the whole time we stepped gently across this glade that may not have seen humans in a very long time, we agreed that the damage was done. The many years of grazing by domestic livestock--cows, sheep, goats, hogs--left a lasting impact. The soil layer was barely there, horribly eroded from the repeated trampling by livestock. The hog wire fence was still in place, and one side, the soil was in better condition than the side that must have held the animals. But open range grazing, which was part of the Ozark landscape for 80-100 years, had a detrimental impact on this glade -and every other glade we visited that day.

Heading through the beat up woods to Glade #2, the soil was in better shape and species richness was higher. If you've ever conducted vegetation sampling on a Grade B or A dolomite glade in the Ozarks in June, you'll encounter a little straw colored twig with paper thin elongated seedpods: Draba cuneifolia. It's a diminuitive little spring blooming plant, but I'd never seen it other than in it's June form. I found it the high point of the whole trip, in flower! It's not a particularly sexy plant with its simple little white flowers, but Draba cuneifolia! This one is not to be confused with Draba verna, another small plant that remains loyal not to glades but to the gravel parking lot natural community type.

In a fast and dirty assessment, we determined that with 6 hours of chainsaw work and one fire (with cedars cut, preferably when there's snow on the ground so the crummy surrounding woods won't burn), this second glade would be holding on just fine for another 20 years. Glade management really doesn't require a lot of work if the soil layer is there and some semblance of native species richness exists. Show me a glade that's been grazed to hell by cows and riddled with the exotics that come along with grazing histories and I'd probably tell you to choose another battle.

Once again, I was reminded this week, as I am every week when I visit compromised ecosystems in the Ozarks, that domesticated livestock have no place in native Missouri landscapes. It is unthinkable that anyone in their right mind would promote livestock grazing of any sort in our native ecosystems that have already been irreversibly damaged by the very same process.


Mike Whittemore said...

Wow, I can only hope so have a job like you one day!

Your posts make me want to visit the south so bad! I've never seen indian paintbrush but I'm hopeful I'll see it this summer in ND.

Allison Vaughn said...

you always have a place to stay in missouri...

Nickelplate said...

I can't hold lizards like that. One of the local blue-tail ones actually bit me when I was a kid and now I'm too scared to handle lizards. :(

Allison Vaughn said...

that's funny, I don't think they would hurt if they bit. I guess the whole act of biting, like when a garter snake bites you, is sort of scary but it doesn't really hurt. This was a lizard without the blue. I appreciate how absolutely grouchy and cranky he looks because I actually caught him. I'm very gentle with wildlife and very seldom catch animals, actually. But fence lizards are hard to photograph unless you have them in hand. Skittish as hell. Super cute though.