Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Sandstone Woods

Unlike in the Arkansas Ozarks, sandstone is not the dominant substrate in the Missouri Ozarks. In fact, it's difficult to find a high quality, reference condition sandstone glade in Missouri; most of them have been beat to hell by grazing and are now mantled in lichen and moss rather than the rich assortment of perennial forbs and grasses that exist on some of Arkansas' better quality sandstone glades. Even in The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri, Nelson (2010) chose Bona Glade to represent this natural community, and, even though it harbors a population of Geocarpon minimum, Bona Glade is pretty damaged. Lots of lichen, moss, a scattering of Aristidas and some Sporobolus, but not enough fuel to carry fire through the areas that are not exposed sandstone bedrock.

So it is exciting to visit a Gunther Sandstone woodland and glade complex that is quietly asking for restoration. Large, gnarled chinquapin oaks reach through the canopy, all surrounded by Eastern red cedars and 80-100 years old red oaks and black oaks. Considering that this area is bound on one side by fancy homes and the other side by a state highway, it has been almost mothballed, lacking the same rigorous level of ecosystem restoration attention that the rest of the 2,995 acres of dolomite, limestone and chert woods have received in the past thirty years. Like the rest of the area, the sandstone woods possess great potential for restoration.

The prescription? It's easy when you're starting with nice woods and glades to begin with: cut and burn the cedars, but not in massive mounds and heaps or you'll sterilize the soil for about ten years or more. Massive burn heaps are usually colonized by mullein, fireweed, Crotons, other exotics like sweet clover. Send a fire through the woods and glades (but not with red needle cedar slash on the ground--potential for spot fires), not a super hot and shocking fire, not a fire in the middle of April or you'll damage the already sensitive system. A good November fire within prescription seems to work well. And thinning the out of context red oak/black oak?  Don't drop the trees all over the place or you'll be dealing with the mess for years. I wouldn't recommend logging them out of there, either, or you'll damage the fragile understory and soils. Girdling a select few, not all at once or you'll be fighting shrubs for years, but girdle a few at a time and keep up with the fire on a 3 to 4 year rotation in the early stages of restoration. When girdling, or when applying herbicide of any type to any plants, use the mixture dosage as indicated on the product's label. In one sandstone woods I visited this year, I saw the results of a girdling project wherein the person applying Garlon made the mixture stronger than indicated on the label. The Garlon certainly worked on the trees, but the herbicide went into the roots and sterilized the soil surrounding the trees--the area looked like a nuclear holocaust had occurred with lots of mullein and fireweed and nothing else. This is not the desired future condition for an ecosystem restoration project if managing for biodiversity is the goal.

It's unfortunate that we have thousands of acres of restorable woodlands and glades in the Ozarks and certain tracts are being bludgeoned to death by folks wanting to "restore" them for some reason. Is it for biodiversity? Is it for a specific species of wildlife? Is it because some folks like playing with big toys like wood chippers and bulldozers in the name of "savanna restoration"? Most of our damaged systems- damaged by overgrazing by domestic livestock, years of fire suppression, deer overpopulation, logging, other sources- they require kidd gloves during restoration. Be ye good and gentle stewards of the earth and all....

2 comments:

Justin R. Thomas said...

One of my favorite movie lines is from Shawshank Redemption where Red is asked by the parole board if he is "rehabilitated". Red says he does't know what the word means. As the parole board spokesman begins to explain, Red interjects:

"I know what YOU think it means, sonny. To me it's just a made up word. A politician's word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job."

It feels like this sometimes, doesn't it?

Allison Vaughn said...

oh yes, yes it does....