Launch of Ecological Solutions and Evidence and Applied Ecology Resources

By Elizabeth Bach and Holly Jones

Winter can be a great time to reflect on ecosystem stewardship practice and explore management questions for the upcoming growing season. There are many ways to learn from each other in this field: talking with colleagues, listening to talks and webinars, following blogs like this one, and reading scientific literature. But let’s be honest, how often is the scientific literature useful to on the ground management questions and decisions? Plus, it’s super hard to search and a lot of it is in journals you must pay to access!

In response to these frustrations, shared by ecosystem managers around the world, the British Ecological Society has launched a new freely accessible journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence. The goal of this journal is to encourage sharing of work, lessons learned, and research between practitioners and scientists. This includes a unique article type called “From Practice.” From Practice articles must include at least one author who is a practitioner (i.e. not an academic scientist), are less than 3500 words (shorter is better!), and have no strict format or subject matter requirements. That means you don’t have to read (or write) in that clunky “scientific style” with an introduction, method, results, and discussion. Topics for these articles could include case studies of project successes (and failures), calls for new approaches to recurring problems in management, and perspectives on research topics most relevant to management. Many of the blogs here at the Grassland Restoration Network would be great starting points for a From Practice article.

If you, or a colleague, would be interested in learning more or writing an article, feel free to reach out to a member of the Ecological Solutions and Evidence editorial board, which includes both of us: Holly Jones (Northern Illinois University, Lead Editor) and Elizabeth Bach (The Nature Conservancy, Nachusa Grasslands, Associate Editor). We would be delighted to answer questions and offer feedback on article ideas. If you’re wary of writing an article by yourself and don’t know where to turn, we’d be happy to connect you with interested co-authors.

To make articles freely accessible, publications in the journal charges a publication fee.  There is a discount for From Practice and Data articles, and there is also a generous wavier system for people whose organizations can’t financially support page charges, so don’t let cost concerns stifle interest.

But wait, there’s more! In connection with Ecological Solutions and Evidence, The British Ecological Society is launching and on-line repository for information related to ecosystem management: Applied Ecology Resources. This information may include data associated with article published in Ecological Solutions and Evidence or be a home to that data currently sitting around unused. Applied Ecology Resources is also freely searchable. The repository soft-launches on 20 February 2020, so take a look, and let us know what you would like to see more of! If you have information you think might feel at home on Applied Ecology Resources, we’d be happy to talk about how to make that happen.

Read more from the lead editors, Holly Jones and Editor-in-Chief Marc Cadotte: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2688-8319.12000

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Native Seed Exchange

by Joshua Clark, Natural Resource Manager, DeKalb County Forest Preserve, IL

On December 13th the Northern Illinois Native Seed Network held its 5th annual native seed exchange and potluck. In the 5 years since its inception the group has grown to include conservation focused groups from across the northern Illinois region. The members of the network cover a wide range of organization type; non-profit, land trusts, county forest preserves, conservation districts, park districts, and educational organizations. Our organizations vary in structure, size, funding, and land holdings but we all have similar goals and visions. This network allows us to share essential resources; seed and knowledge.

The Network was the brainchild of Ed Cope. This is how he described the origins:

“I had previously worked for Winnebago County, and after moving over to NLI (Natural Land Institute) I was surprised to see just how different our seed resources were even within the same county.  Species that Winnebago picked poundage of NLI could barely find, and vice versa.  So I started asking the other neighboring entities – Boone, Byron, and Rockford Park District – what kind of rare stuff they had, and if they’d be willing to trade.  It was immediately obvious that there was a good opportunity here, and the idea of expanding it into a larger network followed pretty quickly.”

Ed moved west last year for grad school and left the leadership of the group to Aaron “Ace”Minson from Boone County Conservation District and Josh Clark from DeKalb County Forest Preserve. The group goals remain the same; share locally rare and uncommon seed, work together to restore historically common species that have declined, share seed resources that may be common for some  in the group but not others, and share knowledge and information about seed collection, processing, storage and mixing.

One of our major initiatives has been the growing and sharing of focal species. This past year our focal species was Hypoxis hirsuta (Yellow Star Grass).  Hypoxis hirsuta used to be common throughout the tallgrass region in prairies ranging from dry to moist, but now it is fairly uncommon. We felt that Hypoxis hirsuta was an ideal selection because multiple agencies had a little bit to offer, leading to a pretty substantial seed resource or at least more than one agency could have collected on their own. We are hopeful that going forward we can identify similar, regionally rare species, which we can assemble into a significant shareable seed resource and enhance their prevalence in the region.

The Hypoxis seed that was collected in 2019 was distributed to four organizations. Each organization is using different methods to propagate or create populations. We will base our future growing methods for Hypoxis on our successes this year. We hope to eventually have enough seed or plants that each organization in the network will be able to try and establish populations on the lands they manage.

Hypoxis hirsuta (yellow star grass.  Family Amaryllidaceae)

The idea is fairly simple. Share what one has in excess with the other who has none of or very little for the benefit of the whole. Increasing plant diversity by sharing seed resources benefits the organization, pollinators, bugs, birds, the public and the ecosystem as a whole. We have come a long way from scouring cemetery prairie remnants for rare seed to the point where we are able to share these rare genetics across our region and attempt to save, restore, and recreate a little of what has been lost to progress and time.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed… Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” – Henery David Thoreau

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Scaling up to mow brush

By Bill Kleiman

Most natural areas have brush work to do.  Repeated use of prescribed fire keeps brush in check, but often a tract is purchased which has not had fire in a long time and the build up of brush and trees can be a challenge.

Have you ever been thinning brush, and at the end of a tired day exclaimed, “We need a bigger tool!”?

I have.

The Middle Rock Conservation Partners recently purchased, with a loan, a Fecon FTX200 brush mower.

This is a steel tracked, 200 horse-power steroid version of a skid loader with a brush attachment.

This was an audacious move for an all-volunteer group.  This land trust also recently purchased its first tract of land, 90-acres of heavily brush encroached former savanna and former prairie.  Fire breaks don’t exist.  The brush seems endless.  I wrote about this tract of land a while back.

Owning land and managing land can lead to bold steps.  MRCP hopes this tool will help lots of natural areas in the Middle Rock area.

Above photo shows the service truck for the mower.  The service truck is an old dump-truck that we cut off the sides and back, and loaded the flat bed with a large diesel transfer tank, and equipment cabinets to hold various things to keep the mower going.  The service truck proves to be important.

This is Damian Considine on the right, installing a fence brace with Mike Saxton.  Damian is the key operator of the MRCP brush mower.  He is a volunteer who has adopted this machine and its purpose.  Damian loves habitat and has cut enough brush by hand to appreciate a big tool and where to use it.

Here is a link to the Middle Rock Conservation Partners https://www.middlerockconservationpartners.org/

And a link about the forestry mower https://www.middlerockconservationpartners.org/forestry-mower.html

 

 

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Demolition before restoration

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

Sometimes, before restoring habitat we first have to remove old buildings and  infrastructure.

This Fall we closed on a tract of land with a house, two mobile homes, and three huge pole barns, a garage, a little shed, tons of rusty steel horse panels, and lots of box elders popping up in the yard.

Below is a before view:

Below is an after view.  That is an old bur oak back to being in the open on a soon to be prairie hill.

Below we had an excavator demolish all the buildings.  We first disconnected the electric power.  We sealed the water well with bentonite.  We recovered about 5 semi loads of scrap metal we hauled to the scrap metal yard.  We made a number of runs to the land fill.  We had the excavator pluck out a bunch of weed trees (box elder, elm, black cherry, mulberry) that were in disturbed ground.  A bulldozer pushed them into piles.  We seeded the area with combine harvested prairie seeds.

We still have plenty of work to do away from this developed area but we feel good about this leap forward.

 

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The Timing of Prairie Seeding Matters!

By Julianne Mason, Restoration Program Coordinator, Forest Preserve District of Will County

Here is a strong visual example of how the timing of prairie seeding matters.  A former agricultural field in Will County, Illinois was seeded with rather diverse mixes of wet and mesic prairie seeds in early 2018.  The contractor was busy doing mechanical clearing and other winter projects that need frozen ground conditions.  They hoped to catch the end of the frozen ground window to do the seeding.  Only part of the field was broadcast seeded under good conditions during mid February, 2018.

Photo 1

Photo 1 caption: Broadcasting native prairie seed under good winter conditions – frozen ground, light wind, and light snow cover to show the seeding coverage.

Photo 2

Photo 2 caption:  View of native prairie seed and carrier (rice hulls) broadcast onto the snow surface.

Photo 3

Photo 3 caption:  By the next day, the ground had thawed, and the tractor got horribly buried in the mud.

By the time the tractor was able to be unstuck, it was half way through the spring burn season.  The rest of the field was broadcast seeded in late March.

The same seed mix was broadcast seeded by the same operator using the same equipment in the same field.  The only thing that was different was the timing of the seeding.  During the second growing season (2019), the area that had been originally seeded during the winter looks great.  There are already dozens of native plant species that cover the whole seeded area.  Each square foot has many native wet prairie plants establishing.

Photo 4

Photo 4 caption:  By the second growing season (2019), the portion of the field that was originally seeded during the winter looks great, with a diversity of native plant species establishing.  Blue vervain, tall coreopsis, common boneset, sneezeweed, water horehound, black-eyed Susan, and false boneset are visible in the photo.

In contrast to the portion of the field that was seeded during the winter, the area that was seeded during the spring burn season is underwhelming.  There are a few native plant species scattered in the late-seeded area.  However, most of the vegetation is foxtail, an annual grass that tends to fade quickly in restorations once the native plants get established.  The continued dominance of foxtail during the second growing season indicates a lack of initial native plant establishment.

Photo 5

Photo 5 caption:  During the second growing season (2019), the portion of the field that was originally seeded after the spring burn season was still dominated by foxtail, an annual grass, with only widely scattered native plants establishing.  See the lone black-eyed Susan in bloom.

Native prairie seed is expensive, and it takes a lot of time and resources to collect, clean, and broadcast.  To give that investment the best chance of success, native seed needs to be broadcast in the late fall or winter, and most certainly before the end of the spring burn season.  This is especially true for forbs, sedges, and other species that need a period of cold moist stratification before they are able to germinate.  By giving them the early spring window to cold moist stratify, those species are able to germinate and grow during the first growing season.  This greatly improves the opportunity for a diverse prairie restoration.

Take-home message:  Schedule the initial seeding of a prairie restoration during the first window of suitable ground conditions during the late fall or winter.  Other work can wait.  Don’t wait until spring to seed a diverse prairie mix, unless you want to give warm season grasses an advantage at the expense of diversity.

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Seed Hammer Mill

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands TNC

This is a hammer mill used to break apart seed heads of all sorts of native seeds.
The mill is under the red housing which has spinning hammers inside.  It has a galvanized chute and a custom made seed table on wheels.  Mill is by C.S. Bell Co.  It is like a life mulcher.

When we want to mill a barrel of seed we dump the seed on the table, or lay the barrel on the table and use the half moon bracket to hold it steady.  We feed the seed heads, stems and whatever else we have down the chute.  Not the scissors.

Below I am touching a hammer inside the mill and my thumb is on one of four screens we have.  The smaller the screen holes the longer the seed heads are exposed to the spinning hammers.  We feel confident that most seeds are not damaged from the spinning hammers.  If we run some big seed, like a Silphium, then we use the big hole screen.  If you get too aggressive you can see broken seeds, but most of the time they look in tact.

Below is vervain seed heads being run through the mill.  The pvc pipe is used if some clogging occurs at the inlet.  Wear safety glasses.

1,500 pound pile of dry-mesic mix from 2008.

 

Below we see the blue Baileigh cyclonic dust collector.  This is a few horsepower of air suction and it is hooked direct to the bottom of the hammer mill.  It is typically used in carpentry shops to collect sawdust. The plant parts are all pulled very fast past the mill, up the clear tube, into the blue cyclone.

In the cyclone the plant parts are circling the blue can very fast.  The speed is especially fast in that funnel shaped part of the blue vacuum.  Seed is dense with its DNA, fats, proteins and those seed spin down into the white drum.  Even pussytoes, Antennaria, won’t go out the exit pipe you see going through the exterior wall.  Hard to believe but true.

You can blow seed out the exit tube if you clog the intake tube.  Don’t do that.

The mill and vacuum are 220 volts and lots of amps.  You need an electrician to wire it up.

When you turn off the mill and vacuum the seed and many other plant parts are in the can.  It is still a dusty product so this louvered dust fan helps get the fine dust outside as you pour out the barrel.  As you pour seed keep the barrel close to the fan.

Below is from 2004 with a very similar system.  Cost is about $10,000.

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UTV tanks for prescribed fire

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

I hope you all don’t mind another fire equipment post.

UTV skid unit tanks:  The best part of a Utility Vehicle is its mobility on prescribed fires.  In my humble opinion 50 gallons of water is plenty to carry on a UTV.  RKO Enterprises ordered me in this tank from United Plastics Fabricating as I wanted to reuse an old reel and pump and save money plumbing it myself.

Although 50 gallons is plenty, back then I purchased a 90 gallon tank for a Kubota RTV, which is a beefy but slow UTV.  It lugs this load even slower.  Lesson learned is less is more.

I point to the sump on the bottom of the tank.   If you don’t have a sump then you will carry water around your tank that your pump can’t access to spray.  Make sure you buy a tank with a sump.

The tank has internal baffles that diminish the slosh as you drive.

The skid unit should be small enough to fit in the bed with tailgate up.  You want the weight as far forward in the bed as possible.  The tank should be low enough for the driver to see over the top of the tank.  The pump motor is on a skid platform rear of the tank.  The hose reel is either next to the pump and motor if there is room, or on top of the tank if need be.

I like the half inch thick black polypropylene tanks.

Bolt the tank through the UTV bed and use wide washers to spread the force.

More info here: https://www.illinoisprescribedfirecouncil.org/uploads/1/0/5/8/105892833/pumper_unit_design_suggestions_2019_bk.pdf

 

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