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Monday, July 11, 2011

Native Prairie Adaptive Management

As cool and warm season grasses become identifiable in the next week, I'll be setting out to lead the project that I've trained weeks for - Native Prairie Adaptive Management (NPAM). This study utilizes the use of belt transects throughout various areas of the wildlife refuge. Each unit has been managed using grassland management practices: burn, rest, chemical application, native plantings, grazing etc. The objective of NPAM is to collect data, which will be entered into software that suggests further management practices based on the present floristic composition. The idea is to revert back to native prairie habitat in the future based on the suggested management practices.

Unfortunately, it will take years of data and management for this project to work as the advance of smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass has become so severe. Luckily, these two invasives prefer mesic - wet conditions and are limited on rocky, unplowed hilltops. It's interesting to see the color, structure, and height change of vegetation as you drive by these hill tops. Even the slightest hills are dotted with rocks, bright summer wildflowers, and dried little bluestem from the previous year, giving off a snow capped look.

It brings me great satisfaction that at least a small part of the prairie has been retained for me to see. It gives me a sense of optimism and a goal to obtain. The hilltop above is a great example of healthy prairie. If you look close enough, there are prairie lilies, blanket flower, echinacea, white milkwort, indian breadroot, porcupine grass, needle-and-thread, hooker's oaks, little bluestem, prairie junegrass, western wheatgrass, black-eyed susans, yellow coneflower, ball cacti, among others. I believe the two invasives we are fighting the most in our prairies are well-determined, but controllable through intensive management. Kentucky Bluegrass is the most difficult to control as it is a graze increaser and produces it's own microclimate by dropping an abundance of duff, creating shade for itself. Shade is obviously undesirable for prairie plants.
The needle-and-thread forms lush blankets with a beautiful mix of native forbs. Many sages grow here in the mixed grass prairie among other native forbs and grasses. Harriers fly low to the ground and badger holes are everywhere. Franklin's ground squirrels and thirteen-lined ground squirrels are abundant. Swainson's, Krider's redtail, and ferruginous hawks soar above the landscape as bald eagles often greet me on the way into work in the morning. With such a mesmerizing goal ahead, it seems that any obstacle is worth the effort.