Tom's Blog

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Turning woods into prairie: part three

This is the final installment of my post on the work we did transforming the 5-acre East Basin site from woods to prairie. The first part gave the background and described the major work of logging to clear the site. The second part including the other preliminaries leading up to planting the prairie in Nov 2009 and the control of weeds.

The present post presents results of prairie growth in the second growing season (2011) and gives a summary of costs of the whole project.

In contrast to the hard work involved in previous years, the summer of 2011 was easy, involving observations of growth of the prairie, and minor seed collecting (for planting in other areas).

The season started off with a very successful prescribed burn. Normally we would have not burned this prairie until after the third growing season, but we were operating under NRCS rules and they requested a spring burn in 2011. Since we had mowed the prairie twice the previous season, we had doubts about whether there would be enough fuel to carry a fire, but it turned out that about half of the site burned fairly well. This burn was carried out by Kathie and I with our regular crew (Amanda, Marci, and Susan).
In 2011 we followed prairie development carefully. Although there were plenty of weeds and rampant annuals the second year, the predominant species were native prairie plants. By mid-summer, the general aspect was of a lush, 2nd year prairie (see photo below). This was the first time that we could begin to think that perhaps the whole restoration process might be worth the time and money.

Although most planted prairies are relatively low in diversity during their first few years, in the East Basin we had a number of “good” plants showing flowers or flower buds. By late summer the situation was even better. In fact, a few species did well enough that they served as sources for seed collection:June grass, prairie brome, pasture thistle, woodland and Virginia wild rye, Gaura, and black- and brown-eyed Susans. The 2011 list (50 species) is given in the table at the bottom of this post.

The principal invasive plant was sweet clover, but this was primarily localized to the upper part of the southeast corner. It was hand-pulled by our regular crew and by the summer interns. The interns also cruised the whole site and pulled other weeds.

Reasonably careful records were kept of the work involved in restoration of the East Basin. The two main activities were 1) logging and other activities involved in removing the woody vegetation, and 2) seed collecting to provide the seed mix used in planting. Other activities such as weeding, mowing, and prescribed burning were only about 15% of the total work.

Total work was somewhat over 3000 hours, or about 600 hours per acre. Actual cost would depend upon the hourly rate, which would vary depending on location and availability of personnel. Assuming $20 per hour, for instance, the total cost would be $60,000 or $12,000 per acre. This is at the high end of costs for prairie restoration, but would be reasonable for oak savanna restoration.

Latin name Common name
Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Agastache nepetoides Yellow giant hyssop
Agastache scrophulariaefolia Purple giant hyssop
Arnoglossum atriplicifolia Pale Indian plantain
Aster laevis Smooth blue aster
Aster lateriflorus Calico aster
Aster novae-angliae New England aster
Aster oolentangiensis Sky-blue aster
Aster pilosus Hairy aster
Aster sagittifolius Arrow-leaved aster
Aster lanceolatus Marsh aster
Bromus kalmii Prairie brome
Cirsium discolor Pasture thistle
Desmodium paniculatum Panciled tick-trefoil
Dodecatheon meadia Shooting star
Elymus canadensis Canada wild rye
Elymus hystrix Bottlebrush grass
Elymus riparius Woodland wild rye
Elymus virginicus Virginia wild rye
Erigeron philadelphicus Marsh fleabane
Erigeron strigosus Daisy fleabane
Eupatorium altissimum Tall boneset
Eupatorium perfoliatum Boneset
Gaura biennis Biennial gaura
Gentianella quinquefolia Stiff gentian
Helenium autumnale Sneezeweed
Helianthus decapetalus Pale sunflower
Heliopsis helianthoides Ox-eye sunflower
Hypericum punctatum Dotted St. Johns wort
Koeleria macrantha June grass
Lobelia siphilitica Great blue lobelia
Monarda fistulosa Wild bergamot
Oenothera biennis Common evening-primrose
Panicum virgatum Switch grass
Penstemon digitalis Penstemon
Phytolacca americana Pokeweed
Polygonum punctatum Smartweed
Ratibida pinnata Yellow coneflower
Rudbeckia hirta Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia triloba Brown-eyed Susan
Silphium integrifolium Rosinweed
Solidago canadensis Common goldenrod
Solidago missouriensis Missouri goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis Gray goldenrod
Solidago rigida Stiff goldenrod
Solidago speciosa Showy goldenrod
Sorghastrum nutans Indian grass
Tradescantia ohiensis Common spiderwort
Verbena hastata Blue vervain
Verbena stricta Hoary vervain


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