Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Grass

The annual prairie sampling event occurred earlier this week under clear skies and warm conditions. Sampling across various natural communities always coincides with the beginning of grass court tennis and the finale, the Wimbledon Championship. Of course, the Race to Wimbledon, the minor grass court tournaments including Aegon and other English tournaments, is seldom aired on network television, only on the Tennis Channel. Thankfully, the "Tennis Channel Lite" is available through our computer since we do not own a television. So, I've been able to see these young whipper snappers like Thiem and Zverev whiz through the brackets of old veterans in the minor tournaments. Sadly, I still have to go elsewhere to see the grand slam tournaments since they're blacked out on Tennis Channel Lite.

I just finished completing my bracket this morning and went with my heart for the final--Murray and Roger with Roger winning the cup. I realize it will probably be Djokovic who wins the Championship, but my loyalty is with Roger. My bracket resulted in some hard decisions such as Nishikori meeting Gasquet and I love them both (so it doesn't really matter who wins, I wish they both could. I went with Gasquet in my bracket). The French Open was so ridiculously unpredictable that I just stopped looking at my bracket standings after the third round. Hard working players like Vesely and Bautista-Agut are back for Wimbledon, along with one of my new favorites, Taylor Fritz, a fabulous young talent reminiscent of 2006 Federer.

So, as fieldwork continues despite Wimbledon, the search begins for restaurants in the Ozarks with Direct TV with premium channels including the Tennis Channel (217). Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday carry it, along with L'il Rizzo's in Osage Beach--these are known locations. Later rounds are usually aired on ESPN, probably much to the chagrin of other sports enthusiasts. "Aw, dammit! Tennis! Who watches TENNIS?!" I know my Wimbledon bracket is not air tight by any stretch; it's more of a Fantasy Tournament bracket. Maybe this will be as fun as the 2008 Men's Final, my favorite match of modern tennis (being re-aired today on the Tennis Channel today at 1:00pm!). Let the games begin!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hot Day in the Woods

While officially we were still in spring this past week, the temperatures reaching 97 degrees and dry weather were more reminiscent of late July. Unfortunately, this might be the new normal. Nevertheless, high temperatures or not, I still enjoy being in the woods before seed tick season starts.

I visited a site that had seen fire in January 2015, a nice, cool fire that consumed leaf litter in the woods and thatch on the glades. This spring, the area is filled with wildflowers including pale purple coneflowers and gobs of purple prairie clover. Insect life is abundant, and breeding woodland birds were everywhere. Last year, there was a nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks in a big post oak near one of the many glades in the unit. Summer tanagers and Eastern wood pewees are as common here as house sparrows in a McDonald's parking lot.

The glades in the area witnessed cedar removal projects over the course of four years; today, these are some of the richest glades in the whole 3,900 acre tract. Milkweeds, especially the narrow leaved A. stenophylla, were magnets for native bees that morning. I don't know my native bees very well at all, but noting multiple species of not only bees, but flies and skippers and a motley crew of pollinators, all nectaring on wildflowers was spectacular. I am grateful places like this exist in the Ozarks. Biodiversity is maximized on a landscape scale here in this area relatively free of exotics and, properly managed, still functioning with the natural disturbance factors that gave rise to it all.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Degradation Turnstile

In the past few weeks, I've had the pleasure to tour areas that have been under ecosystem restoration projects for several years. Fire management, cedar removal, some hardwood thinning have all been facets of the restoration with the primary driver of restoring the understory's native biodiversity, suppressed for over 100 years by fire cessation and grazing by domestic livestock. I have enjoyed seeing early restoration sites, considering that I normally work with areas that have been managed for at least 20 years and are further along in the restoration process (and therefore more botanically diverse).

I visited a couple of sites last week with a decent enough understory, which is a key component in restoring a given area since fire behaves differently through a grass-forb mix than dense, thick oak leaf litter. Early restoration should really focus on getting enough light to the ground to promote an understory response since it is the understory that will dictate future fire behavior. One site witnessed a January fire that took out the cedars but the overstory was still quite closed, resulting in a sparse understory dominated by legumes and oak sprouts. Recommendation? Don't burn for a year and maybe do some girdling of all the out-of-context red oak/black oak that shouldn't be there to begin with.

I've thought a lot about these managers who are, today, embarking on restoration efforts and hopefully thinking about the lessons I've learned through the years, lessons which may not appear in published papers but are based on anecdotal evidence, not the strongest argument in the box. For example, super hot fires can be highly damaging. And excessive thinning in degraded woodlands can result in years of brush production. Not all ecosystems are restorable. Areas that were once hog lots may not ever recover species richness, but, depending on the level of abuse, they may be recoverable to some degree, which I have noted on a particular glade complex in the Western Ozarks.

But mostly I'm concerned about the managers who feel that a "one size fits all" approach to ecosystem management will result in high quality restoration sites. Too often I have seen highly damaged areas treated with fire at inappropriate times which has resulted in a monoculture of Hieracium (fireweed), or brush, or both. Every tract of land has had a different land disturbance history and that must be taken into account before restoration efforts are employed. If not, the future desired condition may never be met.

Yesterday I spent a rainy morning in what I normally think of as beater land, Oregon County, degraded to hell from years of grazing. We had a first fire there in January under mild prescription. Legumes came on really strong and the spare understory pointed to a highly closed canopy that does not promote an herbaceous response. But it was a first fire, and I was interested to see what would come up in this area that had not seen fire in at least 60 years. Based on my experience, this area may be vaguely recoverable, so definitely worth keeping up with a fire regime. But this area, like so many thousands of acres across the Ozarks, have seen serious damage, so restoration through fire and thinning should be implemented very very carefully. One super hot April fire through this area and the soil will be damaged to the point of no return. Logging practices would damage the fragile soils to the degree that the area would only produce brush and weeds. Ecosystem restoration is a very sensitive and highly technical process. One mistake- one fire in late April that cooks the soil and destroys the understory, one logging practice that ruts the soil making it vulnerable to exotics- can be the death knell of ecosystem health. Restoration is a one way turnstile: one mistake, one ill-planned event of a too hot fire, of a too aggressive thinning, and the system will not respond positively. Maybe some folks want bare soil or an understory dominated by generalists and exotics, but it shouldn't be called ecosystem restoration. It only takes one mistake by managers to send a system to the point of no return. One tractor bulldozing a trail and rutting up the surrounding area, one hot spring fire that kills all of the native flora, or one mistake of overstocking a native herbivore in an effort to emulate natural disturbance factors such as grazing. In the name of restoration, too many acres of our natural landscapes are being lost because of poor management decisions. Viable ecologists dictating ecosystem management are few and far between, and sadly, our lands can't recover from management mistakes. It's a one way turnstile. Once high quality systems are gone, they don't readily recover from management mistakes. If they did, we would have a lot more land that could be characterized as high quality. It's shrinking thanks to human error.