Sunday, May 22, 2016
Wednesday morning, at every turn, the creeks and streams were in flood stage. Not the devastating floods that came in December that sent the Meramec River so far over its banks that entire towns flooded, but in flood enough to close roads. Current River? Flooding. Niangua River? Flooding. Meramec River? Flooding. Historically, when the world was mantled in grass-forb mix and contiguous woodland cover, a spring thunderstorm system in karst topography really wouldn't impact the rivers this way; historically, water would seep into the ground and slowly percolate through carbonate rock and end up in springs. Hence, the clear, swift, blue water streams that we normally associate with the Ozarks.
But that was in a different era. The Meramec River, for example, has long been heralded as a biodiversity hotspot, but also a threatened resource. Mussel, crayfish and fish diversity were (in the not too distant past) considered globally significant. Many conservation initiatives to protect biodiversity in the Meramec watershed have occurred throughout the years, but the river is seriously imperiled. Development in the watershed including large, ranch style homes built on the banks,improperly managed septic systems and cattle grazing have resulted in significant sediment loading and a truly filthy river. Mussels that depend on clean water don't have a chance. The long pincered crayfish that depends on slab bedrock-bottomed streams are probably extirpated with all the gravel loading and interstitial spaces filled with soil from the bottomlands and cyanobacteria. Drum? The trash fish of lousy rivers? Thriving. Probably Asian carp and largemouth bass, too.
Walk the distance of the spring branch to the confluence of the Meramec River after a rain event and you'll see this:
Sunday, May 15, 2016
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.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Last spring, while hiking through a really great sinkhole with a mesic forest, we discovered a new exotic for the site location: Veronica hederifolia, a little speedwell, a small and hairy annual that was carpeting the location of native spring wildflowers. We pulled a sackful of it, but, apparently the seeds had blasted out already. This spring, visiting the same site, we documented a full-on infestation of this plant native to Eurasia. This little lawn weed didn't get here on it's own, it surely came in on a shoe of a hiker and found a perfect home in a moist bottomland forest system once rich with bluebells and Dutchman's breeches.
Fast forward one growing season later and this annual weed (common to lawns in St. Louis) has all but overtaken the native flora in this high quality designated natural area sinkhole. Collectively, we have pulled several trash bags full of this plant this year. With it being an annual and seeding readily, I don't know if we'll ever get a hold on it. Staff have continued to pull and bag and discard, over and over and over again, but the plant persists. One little seed made its way into this intact natural community and now it's threatening the very existence of it. Homogenization is happening in our lifetime, our timeframe. Biodiversity is threatened by an onslaught of homogenization, not only from exotic species like this Veronica but by deer, by the lack of fire, and the worst of all, bush honeysuckle. We need to be vigilant, and if it takes multiple visits to hand pull this little exotic weed, we should keep doing it. So few natural communities have a semblance of biodiversity left, we must preserve what we can as assiduously as humanly possible.