Sunday, October 16, 2011

Maligned maples


Sometimes, a little knowledge can be dangerous. Take, for instance, the case of land managers and Eastern red cedar. The rightful place of these stately gnarled trees is bluffs, cliff faces, places where fire doesn't travel. When cedars exist in native woodland and glade settings, they're usually artifact of overgrazing and fire suppression. So when well-intentioned folks working on ecosystem restoration projects see fit to remove all cedars from the landscape, including those three hundred or more years old craggy cedars on bluffs, it's usually because they don't know any better. If you've ever been on a boat in Table Rock Lake around Branson, you must have seen the cedars on the bluff faces there--many of them are hundreds years old and should not be removed. They're supposed to be there.

Similarly, there are those who despise sugar maples because of their supposed fire intolerance. If you visit an area that was, according to witness tree records, a post oak-black oak-blackjack oak woodland and it is now a monoculture of sugar maples, I agree--there's a problem...a problem likely related to land clearing at settlement, and an active fire suppression program that allowed for a monoculture of sugar maples to rise up from the once fire-mediated ground. But sugar maples are a naturally occurring part of the fire-mediated Ozark woodland system in certain settings. Those settings are most often perched on Burlington limestone bedrock and usually associated with a white oak dominance.

Visit the few remaining old growth woodland tracts outside of St. Louis or Boone County and you'll see terrific woodlands of white oaks that resemble missile silos and big old sugar maples. Sugar maples are a natural part of a limestone woodland in certain settings, like the woodlands I visited this week when all the maples were a brilliant yellow and the Solidago petiolaris was in full bloom. Maples and cedars by their own right aren't to be loathed unless they're out of context with the historic character of a landscape. In some fire shadow/protected dry limestone woodlands, sugar maples are right at home, existing in an area burned on a five year rotation for the past 30 years, and in full fall splendor these days.
(By the way, here's a gruesome photo of a horrific browse line in the maple-dominated woodlands in Cedar Co. Nothing in the understory but sedges, and a perfect browse line in the canopy. It's preposterous for anyone in Missouri to claim we don't have a deer problem in the Ozarks.)







6 comments:

Nathan said...

Great post, Allison! Lovely photos. Even the bad one, of the browse line, is pretty. That forest may not be healthy, but it looks easy to walk through... It's great to learn to see with your expert eyes.

Justin Thomas said...

Great points, Allison! I would even go so far as to say that an occasional Juniper on a glade is not a bad thing (it's all about the ecological toolbox, right). I have seen nature centers with displays referring to Eastern Red Cedar as native to Missouri, but not glades. I feel such statements are grossly uninformed and only undermine the intelligence of the general public. I have also seen the cut stumps of very large Ashe's Junipers on glades and wondered about the necessity of such an act. I have also seen glades with cedar stumps that lacked the requisite follow-up burning thus rendering the original clearing to a mere ecological tease. People are starting to hate Cedars when they are simply symptomatic of the fire suppression problem. Thanks for shedding light on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I've seen some folks use a one size fits all approach to forestry. Although I would hope if a forester saw a gnarled twisted cedar on a bluff they would know its place. Always good to do your homework before any management instead of flying into the woods with a saw and garlon.

Allison Vaughn said...

Nathan! Thanks so much for reading for so many years. It really means a lot to me.
I think I'm going to propose your quote as a tourism catchphrase for Missouri, something along the lines of "our woods have such a terrible deer problem that they're easy to walk through!" It was an astonishingly gorgeous day with bright blue skies and brilliant yellow and read leaves. Very pretty...

Allison Vaughn said...

Hi Justin! Thanks for reading! You're exactly right about folks in this line of work being "grossly uninformed." There are so few ecologists in Missouri (both of them my mentor and boss) that it worries me to see others make management decisions. I can't imagine how artificial Lodge Glade would look without those scattered, fire pruned cedars. The same with maples down in the St. Francois. I've heard someone say that the only reason they're there is because they don't burn enough -which is wrong, esp. considering the 30 year fire history of 3 burns in ten years, which is standard for the outfit I work for. Manage high quality native ecosystems with natural processes, and all the pieces will fall into place.

Allison Vaughn said...

It *is* scary to know that unqualified people are making management decisions. I recall one year down on sand prairies of southeast Missouri and a crew of folks came down with chainsaws and cut down every blackjack oak, every 100 year old hawthorn, and every tree in the area. Not all prairies are slicked clean of trees, esp. when they're nestled in a landscape of sand savanna and open woodlands. A little knowledge can be so very destructive and dangerous...