Natural Areas Stewardship Top 5 from 2015

The Oakland Township Parks stewardship program had an extraordinary year in 2015. It was a year of growth, both here on the Natural Areas Notebook and for our capacity to do habitat restoration. Whether you’ve been following the Natural Areas Notebook from the first blog post or just found us, you might have missed some of these milestones from 2015.  If you had a favorite memory from this blog in 2015, please share it in the comments below!

1. Bird Walks

Remember the deep snow and frigid temperatures last winter? We launched our weekly bird walks in the depths of winter, breaking cabin fever (and getting some pictures of spectacular winter scenes too). We had a great fun observing the mosaic of bird life change with the seasons. Join us when we start again in January!

Swamp sparrow

2. Learning Together

Why are we planting prairie in Michigan? What is prescribed fire? What are invasive species? How do we control Phragmites? What does it look like to landscape with native plants? Through Stewardship Talks, Phragmites Control Workshops, and Volunteer Workdays we learned together how to appreciate, protect, and restore our natural heritage. Look for more events to learn about coyotes, oak openings, and prescribed fire in 2016! (events will be posted soon).

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.

3. This Week at Bear Creek

Cam Mannino joined us as a volunteer Park Steward early in 2015 and soon after began her weekly posts, “This Week at Bear Creek.” Each week Cam took us on a virtual tour of Bear Creek Nature Park, spirited along by her agile pen (well, keyboard) and insightful camera lens. I learned a lot about the insects, birds, and other critters that call Bear Creek home, and I hope you did too! Check out some favorite posts below.

Cam in red winter coat BC

4. Planting Prairies

Punctuating nearly two years of preparation, we planted 38 acres of native wildflowers and grasses in prairie/oak barrens restoration areas at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park. Financial and technical assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, allowed us to complete this phase of our ambitious grassland restoration project. Be sure to visit these parks over the next few years to watch the grasslands mature. Look for more big habitat restoration projects at Charles Ilsley Park, Gallagher Creek Park, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park in 2016!

The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.

The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.

5. Observing, Reflecting, Summarizing

It is amazing how easy it is to forget the little details (and even the important ones!). By taking time to carefully observe, thoughtfully reflect, and accurately summarize our stewardship work, we can refine and improve our work going forward.

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Happy New Year from the Stewardship Team!

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Stewardship Network Conference Report: Connecting with new and old friends over restoration agriculture, invasive species, and prescribed fire

What are you doing January 15 and 16 of 2016? If you’re interested in working together to care for our lands and waters, you might want to pencil in the 2016 Stewardship Network Conference. Last Friday and Saturday I attended this conference for the first time and enjoyed connecting with everyone in the conservation-oriented crowd of Michigan and surrounding states and learning more about natural areas stewardship. Federal, state, and local governments were well-represented and were joined by land conservancies, watershed councils, universities, students, ecological restoration companies, utility companies, and private citizens hoping to learn more. Here’s a synopsis of my conference experience.


Restoration Agriculture

We kicked off the conference with a rousing keynote by Mark Shepard, founder of New Forest Farm and author of the new book Restoration Agriculture. Mark converted eroding row-crop agriculture fields at his Wisconsin farm to a perennial agriculture model mimicking oak savanna in an attempt to do profitable sustainable agriculture that enhances habitat for native plants and wildlife instead of degrading habitat. Traditional agriculture has a problem: it works against nature for short-term profit, resulting in a system where our soil runs down the river to lakes and oceans at the rate of tons per acre every year and where our native pollinators are disappearing at an alarming rate. Take home message: by working with nature instead of against it, we can do profitable, sustainable agriculture.

Sharing experiences through roundtable discussions

For the rest of the conference I focused on connecting with people doing on-the-ground natural areas management. At the invasive species roundtable discussion I learned about techniques that have been successful for others, and techniques that haven’t worked. At the oak savanna round table discussion we talked about doing oak savanna restoration at a large enough scale so that natural processes are working with you instead of against you. I also learned about two oak savanna related books that I’ll be adding to my library soon: Prairies and Savannas in Michigan (O’Connor, Kost, and Cohen 2009) and Forgotten Fires (Stewart 2009).

Practical tips for prescribed fire

I spent time learning about some important considerations when using prescribed fire in Michigan, including burning techniques that minimize damage to sensitive amphibian and reptile populations. I picked up practical tips about maintaining the equipment needed to do prescribed fire and natural areas management.

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.


Finally, I spent time learning about building a volunteer program. I want to build a program that gets you connected with the natural areas in your parks and helps you know that when you come out to volunteer, you are making a difference and are an important part of our mission. Jason Frenzel of the Huron River Watershed Council has been managing volunteers for years and led an excellent workshop about designing an effective volunteer program.


Jason Frenzel with the Huron River Watershed Council led an excellent workshop on Results Oriented Volunteer Recruiting.

The best part of the conference was making new friends and connecting with people I hadn’t seen in years. The folks with The Stewardship Network did an excellent job hosting this conference. Their hard work and attention to detail were evident. Thanks!

*Any mention of specific products, people, or services does not imply an endorsement or agreement. I mention them to help you and me focus our learning about natural areas and the processes that make them tick. Let’s learn together!