Tom's Blog

Friday, December 26, 2008

Winter wonderland

This photo is not of Pleasant Valley Conservancy but of my back yard, which may explain why I have not had any posts lately. The snow is beautiful but it is setting back our winter work. Oh well. The skiing is good!

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Year's Day at Pleasant Valley Conservancy

Last year we had an "open house" at Pleasant Valley Conservancy on New Year's Day. It was successful (the snow was good!). We are hoping to make this an annual tradition.

So, on Thursday, January 1, 2009, we will have another open house. Starting at noon, the cabin will be warm, we will serve hot mulled cider and snacks, and folks can ski, snow shoe, or walk. The snow should be good again, and it will be an opportunity to see the Conservancy in another season.

Join us if you can.

For further information, call Tom or Kathie at 608-238-5050.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Year-end data summary

Since 2002 I have been keeping careful field notes of plant species, their locations, phenology, and any other characteristics of interest. At the end of each season, I have been entering all the data into an Excel spreadsheet. Heisley and Marci managed to read my handwriting and did all the computer work. Today, Heisley put together summaries of all the data.

These data are interesting for a number of reasons. First, we are always adding new species. This year we added 15 new species (there were 471 species in our check list last year and 486 this year). Some of these new species are routine (we had not missed them, but just had not recorded them) and some were exciting (such as the Desmodium paniculatum that Armund Bartz found for us). We should have seen that one, since it was all over the place!

Our species check list has the year that we first found each species. Since 2002, we have had help from lots of experts, including an extensive survey of sedges that Josh Sulman did in 2006, and an extensive wetland survey that Ted Cochrane did in 2008. It is understandable that the more eyes, the more species. Also, these folks are a lot better trained than we are.

Every year I wonder whether I should be carrying a PDA running Excel, so that I can get these data into the computer in the field. And every year I decide that I really like my handwritten notes, since they can be free form and I am not forced to follow a rigid data structure. (See the photo at the bottom of this post.)

It takes two to three full days to turn all my notes into the Excel file (about 2000 lines of code). The data entry is done using a lookup table that has all the species we are likely to find. There is a six letter code for each species, and the lookup formula converts this code into both the Latin name and the common name. Merel Black kindly gave me the code for this lookup table.

Once we get all the data entered, then we put together a series of reports. We prepare an individual species list for each management unit and for each planted prairie. Since savanna restoration is our main focus, we prepare a separate species list that shows the species in each savanna unit. (This year, we had 304 species in the savannas.)

Since I make notes of flowering, seed set, etc., we also prepared a phenological table. Also, a table of seed collecting dates. etc etc

Some of these tables end up on our web site, where they are available to others. All the data end up in our files, where they can be referred to for historical or botanical reasons.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why control native shrubs?

A question has been raised about why we are trying to control native shrubs such as sumac and gray dogwood. Good question. I need to be reminded occasionally that our efforts to control native shrubs are not so obviously beneficial.

First: we don't try to eradicate these shrubs, but just work to keep them under control. These shrubs are all clone formers, and have the potential to spread and completely suppress other native vegetation. An example reported at the last Prairie Conference was of a prairie which over the years had become half sumac. Because of the dense shade under the sumac, virtually no "good" prairie plants can grow.

The photo above is of a sumac clone on a county highway which threatens to completely occupy all the space. This might be all right on a highway, but do we want our prairie to look like that?

In addition to sumac and gray dogwood, other native shrubs that are clone formers are brambles, prickly ash, and red osier dogwood. Quaking aspen is a clone-forming tree which we also control.

All of these woody plants are top-killed by fire, but fire will not get rid of them. After a few fire-free years, they will be dominant again.

Several of these native shrubs are favorite wildlife food. Because of this, we always leave a few large clones for the birds and butterflies. But if we are going to have the high diversity of prairie and savanna forbs and grasses that we crave, we must control the shrubs, whether they are native or nonnative.