Peaceful winter work

By Bryon Walters

Winter has always been my favorite time of the year to do woodland ecological restoration work. 

It’s peaceful, comfortable and non hazardous. There are no insects, Herps or bird nests to accidentally spray on.

Basal spraying with 20% Triclopyr Ester, called by various trade names such as Garlon 4, Element 4 and others, mixed with a good quality basal oil with dye, is my choice for the entire Winter. If done properly there is minimal off target plant damage. 

I usually scrape some bark off every fifth tree or so, or any tree that I’m not sure of being dead or alive. The scrape mark also acts as a flag that I can see from a distance, indicating I’ve been in that area.

Winter brings snow, yet there is an effective tactic to use. There may be snow on one or all sides of the trunk. The label instructs to spray trunks clear of snow or ice. Recently, all the snow has been just on the east side of the trunks. No problem here.

Just use your foot as a shovel and push down on the snow. Usually takes a couple of swipes to clear most of it off. 

I usually “step down” any fluffy white stuff on all sides of the trunk. Times a couple hundred trees a day, this takes some time to do, but at least you’re out there doing restoration work when others are saying, “there’s too much snow out there to work!” 

Next, under LOW pressure, careful spray a stream of herbicide around the entire circumstance of the trunk about 6 inches high.  I spray a complete band around the lowest part of the trunk of a tree or branches of shrubs. I’m concentrating on anything exotic, plus mesophytics less than 6” DBH. (Diameter at Breast Height.)  

You will have to walk around each tree to cover it properly and avoid overspray. If you are careful, there will be no dye stained herbicide splattered all about. This can greatly reduce the “ring of death” around the base of the tree that will likely be evident the next growing season.

Trees with smooth bark will allow for clean spraying.

Rough barked trees, like Black Cherry, Hackberry and some Elms, need to be sprayed even slower and from a higher angle than smooth barked trees. You will get the hang of it if you pay close attention.

Enjoy your peaceful Winter work!

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Pumper Units: How to build your own or purchase one wisely

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands

Whether you are shopping for a slip on unit, or want to assembly one yourself seeing what I produced can help. Below are some photos of pumper units I assembled this year.

At the end is a link to the Illinois Prescribed Fire Council equipment review page where you can find a more detailed document I wrote with lots of photos.   

160 gallon truck pumper above. What you see is a 5hp Honda GX160 Motor with a Hypro D30 piston/diaphragm pump with its pressure regulator.  The yellow hose is half inch ID Continental Gorilla hose.  There is a JD-9 hand nozzle, $165, and a Hypro long range rifle style tree gun $260.  I mounted the push button for the reel to the left of the red drip torch.  This is because the reel is too far away from the tailgate or side of the truck to be able reach your arm across to feed the hose onto the reel.  

I had my local fabricator create the stainless steel mount plate clamp to affix the pump to the bed at the back and front of the tank.  This unit should be able to withstand at least a modest vehicle collision.   My hand shows where the stainless Z shaped bracket “clamps” onto the skid unit.

UTV pumper runs with the tailgate closed.  The main mass, the water, is up between the two axles. The plumbing is simple and clean, even if the hose is not perfectly reeled up.  The white laundry detergent bottle carries Class A fire foam.  We add a capful per 50 gallons of water, sometimes two or three capfuls.  The hose roll up handle on the reel is on the driver side for easy reach. This unit feels very stable on corners and zipping down the road.

I will end here, but if this is a topic of interest be sure to see the full document for 30 photos and text at the IL Fire Council website here:

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Highlights from the September 15 workshop: Growing Through Change: Sourcing Climate-Resilient Seed for Ecological Restoration

On September 15th, 2020, 124 participants from across the Midwest and the broader United States, as well as Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Germany, came together for a virtual workshop: Growing Through Change – Sourcing Climate-Resilient Seed for Ecological Restoration. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the most current research, challenges, and best practices related to sourcing seed for ecological restoration while building resilience to climate change. 

Click here to view an edited recording of the full workshop (2 hours and 15 minutes),

or copy and paste this link into your browser:

The workshop featured three plenary speakers as well as lightning talks by land managers and seed producers.

Plenary speaker: Dr. Julie Etterson, third from left above, is a professor at the Institute on the Environment at University of Minnesota, Duluth, and principal scientist at Project Baseline, was the first speaker. Dr. Etterson studies the evolution of plant populations in response to climate change. Her presentation highlighted her research on whether plant populations can adapt to keep pace with climate change and whether we should restore sites with plant material that is “preadapted” to the climate of the future. Dr. Etterson’s research provides evidence for the value of climate-informed restoration practices.

Plenary speaker: Dr. Anna Bucharova, shown above, is assistant professor in the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group at the Institute of Landscape Ecology, Münster presented the next talk: “Mix and Match: Production of Seeds for Restoration in Germany.” She focuses her research on plant evolutionary ecology, specifically the challenges in using seeds for ecological restoration in a changing environment and the rapid evolution of plants in response to climate change. Dr. Bucharova discussed the effects of seed cultivation on plant genetics and evolution and their implications for seed-based restoration in a changing climate.

Plenary speaker: Jennifer Ogle, shown above is the coordinator of the Arkansas Native Seed Program and collections manager at the University of Arkansas Herbarium, was the workshop’s final speaker. Her presentation highlighted the program’s work to develop ecoregional sources of locally adapted native seed for large-scale habitat restoration and revegetation projects in Arkansas. The program is currently focused on developing demand and incentivizing the use of locally sourced native seed for agencies working in Arkansas, training volunteers to collect seed, increasing seed storage capacity, and developing sustainable ecotypes of target species.

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Hand held herbicide sprayer comparison

By Bill Kleiman

I find it pleasant when driving the preserve and I spy one autumn olive out in the prairie and I have my little sprayer in the truck. I don’t need to remember to return to take care of the problem. Get the job done easy.

Below are two sprayers we use for basal bark oil herbicide, so mineral oil with about 20% broadleaf herbicide of Garlon 4. They hold about 1.5 quarts. On the left is the “Stihl SG11” and on the right is the “4 Control” .

Although the directions for these state to empty and wash them with warm soapy water after each use, I fill them with slippery basal bark solution and have one of them sitting in a bucket in the bed of my truck year round, cleaning it once a year for good luck.

Below is the “4 Control” sprayer. Good point is that this one is 2 or 3 years old and still functioning. The adjustable brass tip some people like. I would rather not adjust the tip. I always get very close to the woody stem so that fan or stream does about the same thing. That brass tip I don’t think comes on the original sprayer, the retailer cuts off what was likely a plastic tip and screws this brass one on. But that modification adds a weak connection and can get damaged. On this one you can see the brass tip is a bit whacked. You have to protect that tip of it will bust off. We have done this twice. Not me, but others here. The tips are expensive.

The spray mechanism will eventually get gummed up and the sprayer will be stuck open. Today I sprayed my boots as I did not notice it was stuck open. Mind you, I don’t clean this daily so hard to blame the maker.

When you clean it out you unscrew that black plastic nut behind the brass tip. Inside is a little tan rubber part you better not let wash down the sink or you will buy the $5 plus shipping nozzle end. I once lost five of them at once. This sprayer is about $40.

The Stihl SG11 costs about $25. I have been trying this one for about half a year and it still works. Amazing! The tip is not adjustable which I don’t mind. And the tip and its mount look stout. It has an orange pressure release on the side for storage. The other does not. Overall, I like this one better.

I see “4 Control” is selling a Birchmeier brand of these sprayers at $42. I bet that is well made.

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Gravel pit restoration

by Bill Kleiman

Years back we purchased a tract with a gravel mine pit.  We found some funds last year to use an excavator to return the land to a more natural looking, gentle, shape before starting the long process of restoring the native plant community.

The photo below is the old gravel “borrow” pit.  The trees are mostly elm, some Osage orange, cherry.  The spoils are bigger and more abundant than my photo suggests.  The area surrounding the pit is a rather nice oak hickory woods.

The same pit, but a different photo angle.  Decades back the top soil had been pushed up onto a ridge on the left.  We later spread this topsoil back over the final grade.

After two days the contractors had the trees piled and burned.  The excavation contractors were Bill and Brad Nordman, below.

They gave the shape of the pit a more natural look.

We smoothed the area with a harrow and planted combine harvested seed from a prairie planting.

Below is the natural “cover crop” of foxtail, a weed in every foot of disturbed soil in the region.  There are also some smaller sized annual oats we planted in case our cover crop did not show up. And we planted our prairie seed. A year later the Canada rye dominates, and by year three the other prairie plants will be showing up

Below is a view of the restoration a year later.

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Leaf blowers to clear mowed fire breaks

by Bill Kleiman

Leaf blowers are used to move vegetation off of fire breaks to make them less flammable.

A backpack leaf blower

I once sent two hardy youth, Ryan K and Austin S, out to clear two miles of woodland fire break, each with a back pack leaf blower. After a long day of noise, brambles in their faces, hills to go up and down, they got it done.

We needed a bigger tool. It ends up golf courses use tractor mounted leaf blowers to clear their fairways. They work for us too. Below is our leaf blower for about the last decade.

Here is a video of the leaf blower above clearing oak woodland fire break of leaves and mowed vegetation. These cost $4,00 to $5,000:

For prairie fire breaks we mow a break in the prairie, then use a hay rake to move the cut vegetation to the side. Look for the blog we have on hay rakes. Here is a video of a tractor mounted leaf blower removing the raked prairie, the windrow, off of the fire break:

We still carry and use backpack leaf blowers. They are nice for tasks like short fire breaks, or blowing leaves from around small flammable things like sheds and wood piles, as in below:

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UN Decade on Restoration special issue

By Elizabeth Bach, Ecosystem Restoration Scientist, The Nature Conservancy


Ecosystem restoration is a critical tool to reduce biodiversity loss, combat climate change, improve ecosystem functioning, and support human health and well-being. In recognition of restoration’s role in meeting multiple global challenges, The United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as The Decade on Restoration. As restoration practitioners, we are the boots on the ground doing restoration. We know what works and what doesn’t. We keep trying new ideas to improve restoration success. We share tips, practices, and ideas through the Grassland Restoration Network, including this blog.

In an effort to hear and share lessons from restoration “doers” from all around the world, two professional organizations, the Society for Ecological Restoration and the British Ecological Society, are collaborating to produce a unique Special Feature on the Decade of Restoration. This will be a peer-reviewed special issue featuring papers published from eight scientific journals published by these two societies. These journals intentionally publish different types of ecological research and one journal, Ecological Solutions and Evidence, includes an article type, From Practice, which are authored or co-authored by restoration practitioners. These can include case studies of successful projects, calls for new approaches for dealing with persistent problems or perspectives on research topics relevant for management. The article should make clear recommendations regarding how the issue can be taken forward to ensure improved science-based practice. (from the journal’s website)

As an associate editor for Ecological Solutions and Evidence, I would like to personally invite you all to consider submitting a manuscript for this Special Feature, to share your expertise with colleagues and the world. Many of the posts on this blog would be an excellent starting point for a From Practice manuscript. Writing a manuscript is daunting, so collaborations with colleagues are strongly encouraged. I am happy to be a resource if you’re interested in the idea, but not sure how to get started.

The process to submit your work is:

  1. Develop an idea or brush off some data that sitting around in file cabinets (or computer files)
  2. Send a title and a few sentences about their proposed contribution and the target journal to one of the two editors by November 13, 2020:
    1. Dr. Holly Jones, Lead Editor, Ecological Solutions and Evidence, 
    1. Dr. Stephen Murphy, Editor-in-Chief, Restoration Ecology, 
  3. The editor will provide feedback on if the proposed paper is a good fit, and may suggested collaborators who submitted similar ideas that could be combined into a single paper.
  4. Write the paper and submit by January 31, 2021
  5. The paper will go through the peer-reviewed process. It is possible the paper could be rejected during the peer-review stage.
  6. The Special Feature will be published in 2021.

Full details of the call for papers can be found here:|5453941188

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Seed Collection Guide

by Kelly Schultz, Lake County Forest Preserves and Volunteer Steward Dale Shields.

The story on how these came about, in the words of Dale Shields….

A few years ago, after I started volunteering at the Lake County Native Seed Nursery, I decided to try to make use of my photography hobby with my volunteer work.  I had noted that all the published field guides showed plants in flower, but not what they look like when it’s time to collect seed, so I started taking pictures of plants when the seed was ripe. 

People had been telling Kelly Schultz, director of the nursery at that time, that she could write a book with her knowledge of seed collection and propagation lore.  So we decided to work together to make a set of pictorial guides. 

We used the Field Museum’s field Guide format and have completed a set of 12 field guides showing native (and some adventive) plants.  We originally divided the guides up according to season and habitat to keep each guide a size that we could email out to Lake County volunteers. The guides are ordered roughly by photo date, with exceptions to put similar looking plants together.  An index is available to help determine what species might be found in which guide. 

Link to the Field Museum guides, including the seed guides follows.  Note once there you can access an index list of all the species covered in the guide:


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by Bryon Walters

Phragmites australis, Common or Giant Reed, can be a very problematic invasive in wetlands and wet prairies. If left unchecked, it can form large monoculture, impenetrable jungles 6-10’ high. Usually nothing else will grow under the dense canopy. Large infestations can be controlled with high pressure, high volume, non selective herbicides, leaving the area brown and dead.

Small infestations should be dealt with as soon as possible. Here is a seep area that has about 24 stems.

September is a great time to deal with the stalks. You want to treat it before the large seed heads turn brown, ripening to the point of seed falling off. Early in the Fall, the seed heads may be young, green and unripe.

The only effective herbicides for treating Phrag are Glyphosate and Imazapyr. Both are non selective and will kill everything it drips on.

The high or good quality areas, the best approach to rid the Phrag and save the surrounding vegetation is a surgical approach.

First, starting in the back of a patch of Phrag, use hand pruners to cut the stalk off about knee or waist high. The lower the better, but personal comfort may dictate the height. Cast the long stalk you just cut with the seed head, off to the side laying it somewhat flat. If you just drop it where you cut it, it will remain upright and you will be confused and grab that stalk again thinking it needs to be cut. Use sharp pruners, I use Felco #2’s, to make a clean cut. You need to see the hollow hole in the remaining, standing stalk you just cut. If it is smashed closed, cut again just below your first cut. It should look like this.

Next, have a hand held bottle sprayer that is filled with 100% Glyphosate and a little blue dye. Slowly spray a straight stream into the hollow stem. It will hold various amounts of herbicide. You may want to practice spraying water into a straw before hand. The Phrag hole will be half the size of a straw hole. It takes a little practice and patience. When I cut the stalk I leave a small portion of a leaf sheath to use as a backboard when spraying into the hollow stem. It can stop the occasional overspray from running a stream of Glyphosate onto the ground or other vegetation. Sometimes Reed Canary Grass is all around and you don’t mind herbicide dripping on that. After getting in a rhythm, I may cut 3-5 stems in a group and then spray them. Don’t do more than that at one time because you may not find the stems. Get good with one’s and two’s before moving to larger groups.

Work moving backwards away from the stalk(s) you just treated. You do not want to step on, bending or breaking the stem you just treated. I can treat about 100 stems in an hour. I rarely cut more than that but on occasion I’ve had to.

An advisable follow up option would be to gather up the cut stems that are laying everywhere and put them on a pile. Working from the pile, I cut off all the seed heads and put them in a sack to carry off site. Even young green unripe seed heads could potentially ripen and reseed the area. It doesn’t take too long to do this. You’re reassurances are worth the little extra efforts.

I have successfully eradicated and eliminated Phragmites entirely from areas using this surgical approach. I’ve treated it with wonderful plants like Bog Goldenrod, Grass-of-Parnassus and Gentians growing right underneath the Phragmites. My follow up visits have shown zero damage to the native plants. Give it a try and you’ll be a doctor in no time.

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Registration open for September 15 virtual GRN sponsored workshop

Here is the Event Brite registration for this free workshop:

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