Protecting Gallagher Creek and its Brook Trout

Last Friday we conducted a prescribed burn at Gallagher Creek Park. Located near the headwaters of Gallagher Creek, this park protects our important water resources in our township. Notably, Gallagher Creek is home to a remnant population of native brook trout. In addition to stimulating the native plant communities at this park, the prescribed burn was part of our Phragmites control program (along with appropriate Michigan DEQ approved chemical control). We hope that managing for healthy native plant communities in the wetlands around the creek will help keep Gallagher Creek itself healthy.

The wetlands at Gallagher Creek Park filter runoff from our roads, lawns, and parking lots before it reaches Gallagher Creek. Natural water filters!

The wetlands at Gallagher Creek Park filter pollutants from runoff leaving our roads, lawns, and parking lots before it reaches Gallagher Creek. We are working to control the Phragmites (tall plumed grass in these pictures). Wetlands are natural water filters!

Surveys of the brook trout have been done by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR, formerly DNRE) in 1990, 1998, and 2010. The Southeast Michigan DNR Fisheries Newsletter from January 2011 provides this summary of what we know about the brook trout in Gallagher Creek:

Gallagher Creek is a small, coldwater stream originating just south of the Bald Mountain Recreation Area in central portion of eastern Oakland County. It flows in a northeasterly direction and empties into Paint Creek at Orion Road in the Village of Goodison. The creek flows through private land; there is no public access. This stream is home to one of the few remaining self-sustaining brook trout populations in southern Michigan. There were concerns that habitat quality had degraded due to sediment and nutrient inputs from erosion and runoff associated with development in the watershed. A survey in 1998 indicated that runoff from construction sites in the area was responsible for depositing sediment in the gravel riffles and natural pools formerly present in the stream. Previous surveys of this stream in 1990 and 1998 produced brook trout densities of 300 trout per mile. In 1992, mottled sculpin were trapped and transferred from Johnson Creek in Wayne County to Paint Creek as a prey item for trout. The sculpin had managed to expand their populations into the lower stretches of Gallagher Creek by 1998. This survey was conducted to evaluate the status of brook trout in Gallagher Creek. We captured a total of 7 brook trout from 6 to 7 inches and 1 brown trout at 3 inches. The brook trout density found in this survey was about 50 per mile, down from 300 per mile in 1990 and 1998. This decline in abundance is likely due to siltation of the stream from the development along the creek. Mottled sculpin have expanded their range even further upstream from 1998. We also captured blacknose dace during the survey. The presence of these two species indicates that the water quality is still good, but the heavy siltation is hampering the brook trout’s ability to reproduce.

Does our natural heritage, a special population of brook trout in this case, need to be sacrificed for the sake development? Or can we be smart with our development, designing systems that protect the stream by filtering runoff to capture silt and other pollutants?

Be part of the solution! Install a rain garden with native plants to capture the runoff from your roof and driveway before it enters our wetlands and streams. Plant a native plant buffer next to the wetland or stream that runs through your property. We have very special natural features in our township, and we all need to pitch in so that future generations can enjoy more than just stories about “the way it used to be.”

Gallagher Creek Park after the controlled burn on March 20, 2015. Visit the park later this spring to watch the green return.

Panoramic photo of Gallagher Creek Park after the controlled burn on March 20, 2015. Visit the park later this spring to watch the green return!

2014 Stewardship Annual Report: Learning from the past, looking to the future

As we look forward to our natural areas stewardship goals for 2015, we look back at what we accomplished in 2014. It was an exciting year! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2014 Annual Stewardship Report (click the title).

  1. Stewardship Blog: I launched this blog, the Natural Areas Notebook in June 2014 to help inform residents about the cool biota in the township and advertise the many opportunities to help care for our natural areas.
  2. Prescribed Burns: We contracted with Plantwise LLC for prescribed burn work. We completed burns in old fields at Bear Creek Nature Park and Charles Ilsley Park on May 19, 2014. We completed prescribed burns along the Paint Creek Trail at the Art Project, Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, Kamin Easement, and Nicholson Prairie on November 5, 2014. The remaining burns in the contracts (Lost Lake Nature Park, Bear Creek Nature Park forest, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park) were postponed due to early snow and will hopefully be completed in Spring 2015.

    The ignition crew communicate closely with the holding crew to make sure the fire does not burn in areas outside the burn unit.

    Prescribed fire at Bear Creek Nature Park in May 2014

  3. Volunteer Program: Volunteer workdays were held two times per month from July to November. Participation was generally low (ranging from 0 to 7 volunteers per workday), but the workdays provided invaluable experience with scheduling, preparing, and leading volunteer workdays.

    SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.

    SE Michigan Summer Conservation Corps crew, Bear Creek Nature Park, July 2014.

  4. Floristic Surveys: I surveyed Gallagher Creek Park, O’Connor Nature Park, and Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen during summer 2014 to document the plant species growing in each park.
  5. US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grant: Prairie restoration at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lakes Park was jump started by a $15,200 grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. The stewardship crew worked hard to clear invasive woody shrubs in 18 acres of old fields at Charles Ilsley Park and 20 acres of old field at Draper Twin Lake Park to prepare for planting in 2015.
  6. USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant: work continued on the 2008 WHIP grant, which funds habitat restoration along the Paint Creek Trail to benefit native pollinators.
  7. Seasonal Technicians: We had three outstanding technicians in 2014. Matt Peklo returned for his third year, Alex Kriehbel returned for his second year, and Jonah Weeks worked her first year.

    The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

    The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

  8. Natural Areas Stewardship Manager: I started with Oakland Township Parks and Recreation as the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager in April 2014.

 

Cold weather activities: sharing invasive species data

The early November cold snap and snow barrage slowed down my outdoor work last week, so I sat down to start the winter activity of data entry and updating records. Doesn’t sound as exciting as chopping away at buckthorn or ripping out garlic mustard with your bare hands, but keeping good records of invasive species locations helps us efficiently find and treat patches each year.

We collect information on the location, area, and density of invasive plant species during the growing season using GPS units and enter it into our Geographic Information System (GIS). We use the  data ourselves at Oakland Township Parks, but I believe that sharing this information can help fight invasive species not just in Oakland Township, but in Oakland County, Michigan, the Upper Great Lakes, and throughout the US. So I registered for an account with the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) and worked with them to upload 1657 records of invasive species from our parks in Oakland Township. Their website states that “The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) is a regional data aggregation effort to develop and provide an early detection and rapid response (EDRR) resource for invasive species in the Midwest region of the United States.” By catching invasive species early, control measures are much more cost effective and have a better chance of success (see this earlier post to learn more). We only have patchy records for most of our invasive species because they are nearly ubiquitous throughout the parks (for example, glossy buckthorn and autumn olive). Two species that we have fairly complete coverage of include garlic mustard and Phragmites, fairly recent arrivals in the parks.

Garlic Mustard

Most of those records were garlic mustard (1315 records) that resulted from stewardship staff combing parks each spring to locate patches of this invasive plant. The map below shows the distribution of the garlic mustard records in Michigan. These maps probably reflect two things: 1) the actual occurrence of the species and 2) monitoring effort. It is hard to separate the two, so I usually interpret these maps as just broad scale patterns of occurrence.

GarlicMustard_Michigan

Records of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in Michigan, according to the MISIN database. The larger the symbol, the more records from that region. This map indicates that the most garlic mustard is found in the Detroit area and just south of Traverse City.

GarlicMustard_OT

Zooming in to Oakland Township, you can see several “epicenters” of records for garlic mustard. These epicenters reflect the areas with high monitoring effort, our township parks.

GarlicMustard_BCNP

Zooming in again to Bear Creek Nature Park, we start to get an idea of the distribution of garlic mustard at a fine scale within the park. The map indicates that most of the garlic mustard is found on the south side of the park and around the borders. These are the areas that have a greater history of disturbance. The cluster of points in the bottom left is the wooded area next to the Paint Creek Heritage Area Wet Prairie along the Paint Creek Trail

GarlicMustard_BCNP_Details

MISIN is cool because you can click on a point and see details about the area and density of an invasive species patch. This patch in Bear Creek Nature Park has an area of less than 1000 feet, with patchy density.

To check out the distribution of garlic mustard in other Oakland Township parks, just head over to http://www.misin.msu.edu/. Click on “Browse data,” then search by species. You can also help us pull garlic mustard next spring. Check out the workdays at this link, and put them on your calendar!

The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!

Phragmites

Phragmites might be a terrible invasive species, but it is easy to spot! During August and September 2014 the stewardship crew treated 10.5 acres of Phragmites in Oakland Township parks. Those 10.5 acres represent all the Phragmites patches we had records for at the time (I found a few more since September), so our Phragmites records are fairly complete within our parks.

Phragmites in Oakland Township. Notice that the locations generally correspond to the township parks. The township parks probably don't have more Phragmites than the surrounding areas, but they have been surveyed more completely.

Phragmites in Oakland Township. Notice that the locations generally correspond to the township parks. The township parks probably don’t have more Phragmites than the surrounding areas, but they have been surveyed more completely.

Gallagher Creek Park has some of our largest Phragmites patches. This map shows the distribution of those patches in the park.

Gallagher Creek Park has some of our largest Phragmites patches. This map shows the distribution of those patches in the park.

We can’t target invasive species for treatment unless we know that they exist! If you’d like to help us get complete records of Phragmites in Oakland Township, download the free MISIN app for your smart phone. It’s easy to use, and it only takes a few minutes to add a point. To make it even better, Phragmites is easy to see in the winter when the leaves are off the trees. Put your smartphone to work today to help our parks!

Phragmites along Mead Rd. at O'Connor Nature Park.

Phragmites along Mead Rd. at O’Connor Nature Park in summer 2014. With persistent treatment, we hope that this patch will be gone in a few years.

Phragmites control in our parks

Last week was quiet on the blog. We were very busy doing stewardship work that can only happen during the late summer and early fall – treating Phragmites! This grass can rapidly invade wetlands, displacing all other species to create what we call a monoculture – habitat with only one plant species. This makes the wetland unsuitable habitat for wildlife.

One of the tools we use to track the success of our efforts is photo monitoring, which involves taking photos in the same place, at about the same time of year, for many years. In the photos below you’ll see our “zebra board” which has alternating 1 foot black and white stripes. This is the first year we’ve treated the Phragmites at O’Connor Nature Park, so you’ll see the dense stands in the pictures below. Phragmites can grow to be 15 feet tall!

Phragmites along Mead Rd. at O'Connor Nature Park.

Phragmites along Mead Rd. at O’Connor Nature Park. The Phragmites behind the zebra board is at least 10 feet tall. It is a huge grass, and walking in a dense stand of it can be a little intimidating!

DSCN0672

Another patch of Phragmites at O’Connor Nature Park.

It is fairly easy to treat patches of Phragmites when they are small. The best time to treat Phragmites is after it has started flowering, which is typically late summer or early fall. If the patch is in standing water at the time of treatment, you’ll probably need to get a permit from the Michigan DEQ. Check out the resources below to learn about how you can treat Phragmites on your property. The first is from the Oakland Phragmites Task Force and outlines the basic treatment methods and where to get the supplies you’ll need. The pamphlet also has instructions for ordering a small Phragmites treatment kit from the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy. The second is from the Michigan DEQ and has lots of good info about identifying and treating Phragmites.

Links to brochures:

http://www.oaklandphragmitestaskforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/OPIS-smallscale-Tri-fold-FNL-lr.pdf

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-ogl-Guide-Phragmites_204659_7.pdf

Check out the Marsh Skullcap at O’Connor Nature Park

As Stewardship Manager, I need to know which plants are growing in our parks. This summer, I’m doing a botanical inventory of the flora (plants) at O’Connor Nature Park, on the corner of Mead and Rochester. This park is fairly small and has no trails for access, so here is a rare glimpse into the interior of the park!

The emergent marsh in the center of the park has a floating mat. Yup, it is just what it sounds like… a mat of sedges, cattail, and other plants floating on the water. When you gently bounce on it, the whole mat ripples. It is not safe to walk on the mat, so please don’t try!

The emergent marsh in the center of O'Connor Nature Park has a floating mat. I found two types of cattail (Typha latifolia and angustifolia), tussock sedge (Carex stricta), lake sedge (Carex lacustris), marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), and a few other plants out on the mat.

The emergent marsh in the center of O’Connor Nature Park has a floating mat. I found two types of cattail (Typha latifolia and angustifolia), tussock sedge (Carex stricta), lake sedge (Carex lacustris), marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), and a few other plants out on the mat.

There was a lot of green out in the middle of the marsh, so this splash of purple caught my eye.

Marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) on the floating mat at O'Connor Nature Park. It was very small and hidden among the other plants.

Marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) on the floating mat at O’Connor Nature Park. It was very small and hidden among the other plants.

I also found a huge mushroom growing at the base of a tree. Any idea what it is?

Mushroom at O'Connor Nature Park. The tree behind it is at least three feet in diameter, for scale.

Mushroom at O’Connor Nature Park. The tree behind it is at least three feet in diameter, for scale.

I also found some problems at O’Connor, primarily a growing infestation of Phragmites, or common reed (the scientific name is Phragmites australis). We plan to treat the Phragmites later this summer when in is flowering. If we don’t wait until it is flowering, the herbicides won’t be transported to the rhizomes of the plant, and the problem will be just as bad next year. In addition to the really obvious huge plants along Mead Road and Rochester Road, there are several small pockets of this tall grass scattered along the edge of the marsh in the middle of the park. If we don’t begin to control the Phragmites this year, it will be increasingly expensive and difficult to control in the future, and the damage to our native wetland plant communities will be greater.

Phragmites at O'Connor Nature Park.

Phragmites at O’Connor Nature Park.