Tom's Blog

Monday, January 15, 2018

Brush and tree cutting at Pleasant Valley Conservancy: 20 years of progress

As the graph and map show, once we got started clearing the prairie and savanna remnants we kept up a fairly regular pace. Although it isn’t shown on the graph, most of the biomass cut consisted of trees. There was lots of brush, but it was less than 10 feet tall, and only constituted a small part of the biomass. (It did, however, provide a good base for a burn pile.)

By the end of 2006 we had all the important areas cleared. From then on, our main woody plant work was the new flush of brush and herbaceous weeds brought on by the great increase in light to the ground.

Also, once the brush and trees were clear from a unit, two other activities became major focuses: 1) controlled burns in that unit, both spring and fall; 2) seed collecting and planting. Both activities were critical to increase the diversity of the understory vegetation in the newly cleared unit.

I am rather fond of the map. It gives a good view of where we worked, and when. I made it with ESRI’s ArcGIS, once I had learned how to use that software (quite a learning curve!). The areas we tackled first (1997-98) were the most visible, and provided the easiest access. Later, we moved to areas where access was not as good. Fortunately, our ridge-top road held up fairly well to half-ton pick-up trucks in winter.

However, we soon realized that the road needed to be graveled, and this turned out to be worth the expense. Only when the ground was frozen hard did we allow vehicles off-road. It was important to keep vehicles from ruining the delicate savanna and prairie sod.

Gravelling the service road between Toby's Prairie and the White Oak Savanna: 2003
This was a substantial expense but well worth it
A major reason our restoration work has been so successful is that we had an outstanding restoration crew in Michler & Brown LLC. Paul Michler and Willis Brown complemented each other very well, and their other employees, especially Todd Shumate, Craig Annen, and Chris Knief, have been outstanding. During the major periods of clearing, especially from 2001 too 2005, M & B had a crew of 6, which was about optimum. My other post hasWillis' comments on how the crew worked. 

Another reason our work was so successful is that Kathie and I worked very closely with the crew. We monitored the work carefully, often helped with herbicide treatment of cut stumps, and monitored burn piles. We opened  up our field station/cabin to the crew for lunch, and generally ate with them. Most of the clearing crew also participated in burns, and sometimes even volunteered for seed collecting and planting.

I should emphasize that PVC could have been cleared much faster, but that would have been undesirable. Once a unit is opened, it must be “tended” carefully or it will quickly become destroyed. This means controlled burns, seed collecting and planting to create a diverse understory, and continuous weed and brush control. My advice always is: if you can’t burn, don’t clear. But burns alone are not enough.

Although we did not have a time schedule when we began restoration, I think our rate was just about optimal for the resources that we had available.

This unit had over 25 large walnut trees. Many were big enough for lumber and were skidded
to the Town road and off to the saw mill. Photo from a snow-free winter (2004)

We only permitted truck access when the ground was frozen hard

Black and red oak logs waiting to be converted to fire wood. Lots of wood generated in savanna clearing work

A well-built brush pile. The nearby standing trees will later be cut and thrown on the fire .


Blogger Patrick said...

Nice summary. What is he status of unit 17? The map suggests no work has started there yet. Curious as to the reason.

January 15, 2018 at 4:21 PM  

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