Sunday, May 15, 2016

Watersheds protected, but not fully

The threat of rain dissipated early Tuesday morning in the Outer Ozark Border region where we had a scheduled fieldtrip for the day. This was fortuitous for me because not only did I forget my raincoat but also decent shoes, so in a raggedy 5K t-shirt and my Brooks Ravenna 5 running shoes with holes on three sides on both feet, we set out for a cross-country hike. The rain ended earlier that morning which left the vegetation nice and dewy, and the streams in lousy shape.

The area we visited is touted to be one of the largest protected watersheds in the Ozark Highlands, which is fabulous. High sandstone canyons, dry mesic sandstone woodlands, a few small sandstone glades, a bit of dolomite expression, and an incredibly rich stream that courses through the area. Faunal attributes, particularly salamander and fish diversity, are significant here. The small sandstone glades harbor awesome forbs like Oenothera linarifolia and the small dolomite glades in the area have prairie turnip (Pediomelum)on them. The bottomland woodlands around the stream are particularly rich with pawpaws and undoubtedly an incredible spring wildflower display. And much of this wonderland is in public ownership, protected from housing development, clearing for grazing, a new Wal-Mart and more impervious surfaces.

It was really fun to spend a day hiking through mid-range to high quality natural communities through a great route that didn't traverse powerline cuts and homesteads, just the natural world for a 5 hour hike. An amble, or, as the British would call it, a walk about. Stream crossings with no bridges, which was nice (and made me thankful I have speed holes in my totally ragged-out running shoes, fast draining of water), mud and quicksand on the bottomland woodlands which left my trousers totally thrashed, but easy to clean, slippery, moss-covered rocks with neat bryophytes. It was a lovely day in the field, but for the brown water coming into the stream. Most of the watershed is protected by public land ownership, but that contingent that grazes and farms the rest of the watershed resulted in sediment-laden waters coursing through the streams and creek that are signature for this area.

The whole day we encountered gross brown water, coming off the waterfalls and in the creeks. I am reminded of a trout fishing show my brother-in-law in Jackson Hole showed me: trout fishermen went to some river in China to test their salmon fly lures and on the show they described this wilderness condition river system, but the whole time I was looking at the foam and froth and sediment that is a direct result of high nutrient loading from grazing. I kind of felt like that on this hike. Here we were in this neat landscape but the water quality was really crappy with all the sediment from grazing in the watershed. Maybe I'm picky and I just don't like being reminded that all of our aquatic systems are related to larger landscapes, but it really detracted from the natural quality of the whole area.

Oh well, it doesn't really matter, I guess, that there are now increasingly fewer places where largescale watersheds are being protected. Homogenization is a process occurring on my watch and it's disheartening that there is little to nothing I can do to stop it.


HiggsBoson said...

The tribute to your supervisor was pretty interesting, Allison. All your posts are interesting, but that one especially so. Where would the world be without selfless, dedicated people who quietly go about their jobs year after year to the best of their ability? Unsung heroes to be sure.

Sadly, overpopulation will likely destroy the Ozarks over time. I do not see how it can be otherwise. Conservation and open borders are incompatible national strategies.

Here in Florida I ride a bicycle trail almost daily. The trail winds along the Econlockhatchee River under a forest canopy, quiet and peaceful, with all kinds of tropical fauna, snakes, turtles and alligators. To my untrained eye everything appears as it should. But I cannot help thinking that if you were in my place you would see a degraded watershed, choked with invasive species, in desperate need of fire mediation, and caution me that the present landscape looks nothing like it did during the Cretaceous.

And you would probably be right. :)

Allison Vaughn said...

Thanks for continuing to read my blog. My next one will be so much more depressing based on a field visit I had yesterday. I need to find something positive, but there's not much out there except that this is a good year for roadside Coreopsis and Monarda. Blech. Yes my first boss is an incredible person and will do great things where he is now, but even tomorrow I have to go south to lead a fieldtrip in his stead for Mizzou students interested in fire ecology, no one else to lead it.
Yes, no one is talking about the population explosion. I myself have a small footprint with only foot and bike travel in town, using my 345K miles stick shift honda civic for my commute to my job, but that's it. I grow my own food, have three rain barrels, burn my yard, work with my Audubon chapter on ecosystem projects, I do what I can but nothing will stop India and China and the McMansions of oil industry etc. from destroying landscapes. We're losing the battle to protect biodiversity, so I guess I'm just writing testimony? Sometimes I hate being an ecologist because everywhere I visit even on vacations I see it through a lens of historic natural features that are now destroyed. So I like wine, dry red wines especially missouri nortons, and I play tennis. Ecological doom is happening now and not many people notice it. Going for a run now....