Sunday, July 26, 2015

Old Saw

With the publication of the 2005 edition of The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri by Paul Nelson, I thought the debate regarding the necessity of fire for the restoration of Missouri's woodlands was over. I didn't think I would end up explaining that there is no silvicultural treatment that can be used as a substitute for the ancient chemical process of fire to restore an ecosystem in a fire-adapted landscape. Carefully prescribed and applied, fire is integral to the sustainability and promotion of the genetic biological matrix that define a woodland system. I am well aware of misapplied fire, fire in damaged systems, fire conducted in inappropriate seasons, fire out of prescription that causes significant, irreversible damage.

Further, fire behavior is shaped by slope, aspect, topography and fuels. Fire will move differently (and hotter) through dense, thick leaf litter resulting from an overstocked canopy than through a rich grass-forb matrix. Fire behaves differently on south facing slopes than north facing slopes and so forth, so blasting a north slope with fire to "create" a woodland is irresponsible. Fire will burn hotter and potentially more damaging through out-of-context systems, those areas that have not had regularly occurring fire, or have been highly damaged by years of logging and grazing, areas without a grass-forb mix in the understory, the historic condition.

Unfortunately, high quality systems where fire has been applied responsibly and carefully are rare in Missouri. Today, researchers are conducting fire effects studies in degraded systems, areas that have not been restored and never had integrity to begin with. What is disconcerting is that these flawed research projects are allowing for authoritative pronouncements proclaiming that the results of improperly applied fire in ecological trash is damaging, that all fire must be bad. But it's not. A lot of the new research is irrelevant to ecosystem management in high quality systems.

I'm sorry that there are so few areas in the Ozarks that still have the intact soil profile and herbaceous layer that supports native biodiversity on a landscape scale. Long histories of grazing, logging, and fire suppression have destroyed the opportunity for recovery, especially in today's climate that is far removed from natural. There are still thousands of acres that would benefit from carefully applied fire and ecological thinning, but there are so few land managers qualified to do it.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sticky Heat

Stepping onto the tennis court yesterday in a seersucker skirt and the lightest possible shirt I could wear without it being transparent, the heat from the Decoturf hard court hit me square in the face. I had a hard time breathing on hard courts at noon, and even harder time catching my breath after long rallies with my favorite hitting partner. I asked for summer weather back in May when I was still wearing a fleece and never saw the sun; in the meantime, I seem to have forgotten how to manage true summer weather in a house with no air conditioning. In New Orleans, one holes up in a coffee shop drinking iced mochas and completing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. Here, I garden, take a cold shower, play tennis, take a cold shower, walk the dogs, take a cold shower, and sleep with fans strategically placed throughout the house to push out the hot air and bring in the cooler night air. 84 degrees in my house this morning at 7:30. The dogs are restless and the frogs are right at home.

It seems that our weather patterns have switched with Oregon's this summer. Poor Willamette Valley is in drought with highs in the 90s and the Ozarks have had continuous rains, flooding rains, which have caused all kinds of structural problems. A four foot wave of water through a riverfront campground? Not normal for a July day in Missouri and such a departure from the drought of 2012. Perhaps that 12 mile float on the Jack's Fork River I have planned for my sister's visit in August won't require a lot of portaging after all.

Vegetation sampling began a few weeks ago and my scratched up arms from all the sensitive briar and switch grass can serve as evidence that I've been in the field. The frequent rain events have caused much delay in completing surveys, but the longer day lengths allow for 12 and 14 hours days in the field, which is great. I sweat a lot, I look like hell, but I get my work done. Oh, it's sticky there on a glade in stagnant July air with all that sod holding moisture and prairie grasses averaging 4 ft. tall. But this has been a banner year for flowers, lots of orchids and all the composites and blue curls in full bloom lately. I remain grateful that I grew up in a hotter climate so I can manage Missouri summers, which really aren't so bad at all. In fact, they're downright nice.