At the Charles Ilsley Park prairie restoration workday on Tuesday I tried out some time-lapse photography to show the progression of shrub removal. Cutting a large multiflora rose patch by hand is like playing Jenga: you have to choose the next shrub or branch to remove carefully or it’s game over.
Join me next week Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm as we keep working on the multiflora rose, autumn olive, and other invasive shrubs and trees in these fields at Charles Ilsley Park. I can’t promise the beautiful blue sky I enjoyed this week, but we’re sure to have a great time anyway!
As the seasons change from fall to winter, most people finish up any last minute yard work and put away the gardening tools. Time for a break, right? Not quite! We tune up our brushcutters, sharpen the chainsaw, stock up on supplies, and head back out.
Many stewardship tasks can only be done – or are easier to do – in the winter. After this cold snap, the buckthorn and other invasive shrubs growing in wetlands will be easier to access by walking on the ice. With the leaves off the trees we can easily spot the invasive shrubs, and the cool weather and absence of insects make it very pleasant to work outside. Here are two ways you can get outside to enjoy the outdoors and help with stewardship work this winter.
Prairie Restoration Workdays at Charles Ilsley Park
We scheduled Prairie Restoration Workdays at Charles Ilsley Park every Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm during January and February. Even during the cold this week I headed out to clear invasive woody plants from the fields where we plan to plant native prairie vegetation over the next few years. We get very hot and sweaty work working in the open fields during the summer, but it is very comfortable to cut brush in the winter. Find the full schedule of prairie restoration workdays in the Volunteer Workdays part of our Stewardship Events page. We hope to see grassland bird species, prairie flowers, and thriving communities of organisms in the next few years!
Bird Walks and Work Days
Birds bring movement and life to our winter fields, forests, and wetlands. Learn more about birds and help us improve their habitat during our weekly bird walks which rotate through different parks. We want to find out which bird species are using our parks so that we can manage our natural areas for their benefit. We spend the first hour or so walking the park to record the bird species we see or hear. After the bird walk, we spend time helping birds by removing invasive plants, building/installing nest boxes, maintaining feeders, or planning for future stewardship work.
Visit the Birding Walks page to see the full schedule of weekly bird walks from now until the end of May. We started at Bear Creek Nature Park this week and got good looks of Black-capped Chickadees, Hairy Woodpeckers, and other typical winter birds. Many birds travel widely to find food in the winter, so you never know what you’ll see! We have some extra binoculars available for your use on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hope to see you out there!
Ever since we were awarded the US Fish and Wildlife Service grant this summer, we’ve been busy preparing the sites at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park for prairie restoration! It is very important to prepare our restoration sites properly before planting. Otherwise our prairie plants won’t establish very well and we will probably have big problems with weeds. So how do we prepare for planting a prairie?
Step 1: Figure out what is already growing. Are the plants mostly native or non-native? Are there lots of trees or shrubs, or only herbaceous (non-woody) vegetation? Do we have many invasive plants (glossy buckthorn, autumn olive, multiflora rose, swallow-wort, etc.)? A quick search in the old field at Draper Twin Lake Park found 45 plant species, 20 non-native and 25 native (click here to see the list). Only a few of the the native species I found are considered “conservative” species – species that tend to grow in high quality native plant communities. Based on these observations, the existing plant community doesn’t appear to be of high quality.
Step 2: Make an action plan based on the observations. After we initially look at the site, it was very tempting to just jump out there and start working. However, we took a little more time to develop our observations into an action plan. We also noticed that box elder (Acer negundo), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) were establishing thick stands. Some of the black locust had grown nearly 20 feet tall in the four years since the field was plowed! These needed to be removed before we could even think about planting. Based on our quick botanical survey, we knew that we didn’t have a high quality plant community in the field. Therefore, the best route – the option that will ensure the highest establishment of native prairie species and fewest problems with weeds – was to remove all of the existing vegetation and start over from bare soil. We won’t till the soil, though, as that will expose more weed seeds that have built up in the soil seed bank.
Step 3: Remove the trees and shrubs. Based on our observations of the current plant community at Draper Twin Lake Park, we feel confident that we can improve the plant community and wildlife habitat by replanting after removing as much of existing vegetation as possible. For all of the large trees and shrubs in the field, we used brushcutters and a chainsaw to chop them off at ground level. We then daubed the stumps with herbicide to prevent re-sprouting.
Step 4: Mow the field. After removing the woody plants, we mowed the field at Draper Twin Lake Park to remove any smaller shrubs and to prepare the field for herbicide application.
Step 5: Herbicide Application. To give the native seeds the best chance to succeed, we treat the field with herbicide to kill existing vegetation. If we find any special native plants we avoid that area or cover individual plants. Most of the areas we treat have very few native plants remaining.
And that is our site preparation process. Site preparation will change depending on what is already growing at the site, what your restoration goals are, and what resources you have available. In every case, taking the extra time to learn about the site, develop an action plan, and thoroughly prepare the site will save you time and money in the long run. We’ll keep you updated as we continue this process!
Prairie will bounce back in Oakland Township! We will receive $15,200 from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to restore 18 acres of old farm fields at Charles Ilsley Park and 20 acres at Draper Twin Lake Park to native prairie and oak barrens. Currently non-native invasive shrubs such as autumn olive and multiflora rose are taking over the fields. We want to replace these plants that have little value for wildlife habitat with high-quality native vegetation that will be beautiful, attract grassland birds, and help us learn about what much of Oakland Township used to look like. Read on to learn more about this opportunity, and check out the maps below to see where the restoration work will happen. I will be posting information about the restoration process, progress updates, and other prairie news in the next few months, so check back often to learn more.
Why prairie in Michigan? Did we used to have prairie here?
When we think about prairie, we usually think of the Great Plains and the vast expanses of grassland where buffalo roamed and cowboys rode. But grasslands used be widespread in our area of Michigan! Before European settlement in the 1800s, prairie and oak barrens covered about 67% of Oakland Township, making our township a special area in Michigan. Oak barrens have widely spaced black and white oaks, with prairie plants in open, sunny areas and woodland plants in partially shaded areas. Prairie and oak barrens are fire-dependent, which means that they need to be maintained by frequent, low-intensity fire to keep trees from establishing and shading out the sun-loving prairie plants. As Oakland Township was developed, nearly all of our oak barrens and prairies were lost. Some were plowed because they didn’t have many trees, and other disappeared because the fire they needed to survive never came.
We do have a few pockets of prairie left in the township, mostly along the Paint Creek Trail. The sparks from the railroad lit fires that burned through the prairie grasses. We find many interesting prairie plants and insects in these areas, but most of just barely hanging on. Trees are slowly shading them out, the open patches are becoming smaller and smaller, and the prairie life that depends on those patches is disappearing. Since prairies are part of our natural heritage, it is very important to do what we can to protect and maintain these prairie pockets. One of the finest examples is the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie just north of Silverbell Road.
When Michigan was originally settled, land surveys were done so that it could be sold to settlers. At each corner, the surveyors made field notes which included locations of lakes, rivers, and streams, and the quantity and quality of timber resources. From these field notes, soil maps, and geology maps, biologists did their best to re-construct what plant communities were present before the area was settled. You can click here to learn more about pre-settlement vegetation maps (website from the Michigan DNR).
What will the prairie look like?
Planting a prairie is like a planting a tree: it takes a while for the prairie to “grow up.” After we remove the existing plants, the fields will be seeded with a mix of native prairie species. The first two years after planting, the prairie plants will be small above-ground as they use most of their energy to grow roots. After the third year prairie plants will become more obvious and you will begin to notice soft pink blossoms of Carolina rose in early summer, orange butterfly milkweed lending a mid-summer splash, purple spikes of rough blazing-star providing fall color, and iconic grasses such as big bluestem and little bluestem swaying in the wind on the hillsides. As the prairie matures, we hope that grassland birds, such as meadowlarks, dickcissels, and bobolinks will discover our prairie.
How can I get involved?
We have seeds and soil, but we need you to help us establish our prairie! You can help the prairie thrive by collecting native plant seeds at a stewardship workday, assisting with site preparation, and helping with prairie maintenance after planting. No special experience necessary! Contact Natural Areas Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide for more information. To learn more about the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, visit http://www.fws.gov/midwest/partners/.