All posts by Ben VanderWeide

About Ben VanderWeide

I am the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation in southeast Michigan. I have a doctorate in biology (focused on plant ecology) and I am passionate about protecting and managing natural areas.

Natural Areas Stewardship 2018 Annual Report

Wow! 2018 was another big year for the Natural Areas Stewardship program. We completed botanical inventories of several small parcels. The Land Preservation Millage was renewed for another 10-year term. Major invasive shrub control projects began at Bear Creek Nature Park, Blue Heron Environmental Area, Charles Ilsley Park, Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. Volunteers monitored vernal pools, lakes, and nest boxes. Our fire crew gained experience and was able to complete several burns in the spring. Our planted prairies from 2015 really started to look like prairies in 2018. And the word continued to spread about our natural areas stewardship program and the wonderful, consistent support from our township residents. What fun! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2018 Annual Stewardship Report. (Click link to view). The table of contents in the PDF is hyperlinked to help you navigate the report.

Volunteer Program

Volunteers contributed 1212 hours in 2018! Weekly bird walks continued, gathering useful data about avian life in the park and engaging residents. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October). Volunteers also monitored nest boxes at Draper Twin Lake Park, Charles Ilsley Park, and the Paint Creek Trail; monitored vernal pools at Bear Creek Nature Park; and monitored water quality at Lost Lake and Twin Lake. We had fun at summer and winter potlucks and the December birder coffee hour!

Volunteers Seed Cleaning
Volunteers in various stages of seed cleaning in December 2018.

The nest box monitoring program was made possible by volunteer Tom Korb, who built, helped install, and  Charles Ilsley Park, Draper Twin Lake Park, and the Paint Creek Trail. We enjoyed watching bluebirds and tree swallows nesting in these new boxes!

Tree Swallows DPTL

Prairie Restoration with USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants

After planting 55 acres of prairie reconstructions in 2015 and 2016, we completed our third round of plantings in 2018. Using our second Partners grant, we planted an additional 15 acres at Charles Ilsley Park and 3 acres at Gallagher Creek Park in May 2018. We continued maintenance of areas planted in 2015 and 2016, working to give native plants the upper hand during the critical establishment phase.

Eastern Prairie Ilsley July
Eastern Prairie at Charles Isley Park on July 12, 2018.

Prescribed Burns

We contracted with Plantwise LLC for spring burns at Cranberry Lake Park(40.4 ac), Lost Lake Nature Park (24.6 ac), and Paint Creek Heritage Area—Wet Prairie (9 ac). We also worked with private landowners to burn 13.1 acres of habitat adjacent to the Paint Creek Trail right-of-way, including high quality oak savanna, prairie remnants, and fen wetland. We held volunteer prescribed burn crew training again in February. The volunteer crew completed burns at Bear Creek Nature Park (23 ac), Charles Ilsley Park (1 ac), Draper Twin Lake Park (9.4 ac), Watershed Ridge Park (2.4 ac), and Paint Creek Trail at Gunn Road (0.4 ac).

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Volunteers assist with a prescribed burn at Bear Creek Nature Park in April 2018.

Stewardship Blog

The stewardship blog continued to thrive, with regular posts from Cam Mannino. She regularly highlighted cool features across all of our parks, all with excellent writing and photographs. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 45 posts and had 6233 visitors, with 11,744 page views.

 

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Education Events

Stewardship talks included presentations on native bees, rain gardens, prescribed fire, emerging invasive species, bird nest box monitoring, and oak wilt. We enjoyed a pleasant April evening at our annual Woodcock Watch at Cranberry Lake Park.

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Sarah (right) and Cam exploring nature at Charles Ilsley Park, August 15, 2018.

Phragmites Outreach Program

We continued the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 32 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 25 properties with a contractor, PLM Lake and Land Management.

PhragmitesText
Phragmites does not recognize property boundaries! Catch your Phragmites while it is small and easy to control for the best results.

Seasonal Technicians

Billy Gibala returned to our crew through June. He graduated from University of Michigan-Flint in 2017 with a degree in wildlife biology and minors in regional and urban planning, We welcomed Alyssa Radzwion to the crew. She graduated from Oakland University in December 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and had previous experience working for the Michigan DNR stewardship crew. Katlyn Hilmer recently graduated from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where she focused on forestry work. Sarah Rosche joined the crew in July after completing her Master’s, studying the effects of fire on Northern Bobwhite nesting ecology and habitat selection. We had a great crew with diverse experiences!

2018 Stewardship Crew
2018 Stewardship Crew (L-R): Ben VanderWeide, Alex Kriebel, Katlyn Hilmer, Billy Gibala, and Alyssa Radzwion. Sarah Rosche is not pictured. Photo by Carol Kasprzak.

All of our annual reports can be found on the About page.

Stewardship Talk this Thursday: Monarch Butterfly Ecology and Conservation

For our second Stewardship Talk of 2019 we are excited to host Dr. Nate Haan from Michigan State University for his talk, “Monarch Butterfly Ecology and Conservation.” The talk is free and will be this Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 6:30 pm at the Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Road, Rochester, MI 48306. Dr. Haan will share about monarch butterfly natural history and ecology, as well as some of the current research on their decline and what we can do to save them.

Monarch butterfly resting on a black-eyed susan.

Monarch butterflies are one of the most interesting and recognizable insects in the world. Every year they migrate thousands of miles, from our backyards in Michigan to mountains in central Mexico. They also have fascinating interactions with their toxic milkweed host plants. Unfortunately, monarchs have declined in recent decades and the overwintering population in Mexico is only around 20% of its former size.

The head of this monarch caterpillar is at the bottom as it nibbles buds of butterfly milkweed.

Hope to see you there!

We’re Hiring! Join Our 2019 Natural Areas Stewardship Crew

Despite the wintry conditions outside, we are already gearing up for our 2019 field season! We’re excited to be outside in warmer weather again, taking care of the natural areas in our park. If this sounds fun to you, or someone you know, let them know that we’re accepting applications for our 2019 seasonal Land Stewardship Technician crew! We are accepting applications until February 15, and we have up to 3 positions available. See the full job description here.

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This position is a great way to get some hands-on experience with natural areas management. Technicians will get experience with a variety of techniques for monitoring, invasive species treatment, installing native plantings, data management, and species ID. The position will be up to 20 weeks this year. After working for Oakland Township Parks our stewardship technicians have gone on to other natural resources positions, many of them full-time.

Anticipated start date is mid-April to early May, but somewhat flexible. Position would end on or before September 28, 2019. Typically work 40 hours/week Monday to Friday, with occasional weekends or evenings for special events.

To Apply:  Submit cover letter, resume, and three professional references to Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager:

  • Email: bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org, with “Seasonal Land Stewardship Technician Application” in the subject line.
  • Mail: Seasonal Land Stewardship Technician Application
Oakland Township Parks and Recreation
4393 Collins Road
Rochester, MI  48306

Cover letter, resume, and professional references must be received no later than February 15, 2019. For more information visit the Parks and Recreation page of the Oakland Township website, www.oaklandtownship.org, or contact Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager, Oakland Township Parks and Recreation, at bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org, 248-651-7810 ext 401.

Happy Holidays from All of Us!

During the holiday season, I’m reminded of traditions and the wonderful cycle of changing seasons. Every year we share meals, laughter, tears, and gifts with our families, showing them that they are important to us through the time we spend together. Creating these family moments year after year, memories are passed on and traditions are born.

This holiday season I hope some of the memories you make and the traditions you continue (or start!) include the gift of nature. A simple walk in the woods, skating on a pond, or moments admiring the frosty crystals on the edge of a leaf take on special meaning when we do them with the people we love. Here at Oakland Township Parks, we are thankful for the moments in nature we’ve been able to spend with you. Thanks for reading Natural Areas Notebook and being part of our community!

Ben VanderWeide

Natural Areas Stewardship Manager

I’m happy to share this blog post from Dr. Dan Carter, an ecologist and botanist who currently lives in southeast Wisconsin. Click the link below to read the full blog post, complete with beautiful pictures of his native lawn! Dan has been gardening with native plants in his home landscape for twenty years, where he actively experiments with alternative native lawns. His alternative lawn incorporates native plant species that can handle foot traffic and can be mowed occasionally, making them functionally the same as a conventional lawn.

Unfortunately, our high maintenance, low diversity, non-native, chemical-soaked lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the United States, to the detriment of butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects that support our food web. There is a lot of social pressure to keep a non-native lawn, but I hope this article will help you think twice about why you maintain your lawn and inspire you to try an attractive, native lawnscape. The butterflies will thank you, and I bet you’ll enjoy the buzz of life that returns to your little corner of the world. You can read more of Dan’s thoughtful blog posts on his website at prairiebotanist.com.

– Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager

 

Typical lawn with a border and a bed of perennials and shrubs arranged as ornaments in a decorative mulch of gravel. How lame!

 

For most of us, home ownership carries with it the management of at least a small parcel of land, and usually this means maintaining a lawn. For the ambitious, this might also include perennial borders, shrubs, and trees. We all need outdoor space to recreate in. Our neighbors all have lawns. People seem to like them. Right?

I killed our bluegrass and fescue lawn. I have methodically replaced it over the last five springs, summers, and falls with species native to North America. Why? I’m an ecologist, and I see irreplaceable natural communities and ecosystems being degraded and destroyed every day and almost everywhere I go. Oftentimes, these types of environmental problems are large and intractable, and working against them is like screaming into the wind. One thing I can do is live my values at home. I also just like to be around plants and all of the organisms they attract. More than 500 North American plants are established on our half-acre lot […]

via Alternatives to Boring Midwestern Bluegrass and Fescue Lawns — Prairie Botanist