Monday, December 22, 2014

Cedar Maintenance - First Field Completed

After 37 hours of work, spread over 12 days, I’ve completed cedar maintenance activities on the first and largest field on my winter maintenance list.  A narrow ridgetop dead ends in the center of this eight acre field.  In this area is found the largest Blue Jay Barrens population of the rare Edwards’ Hairstreak butterfly.

The land falls away in all compass directions from the serpentine ridgetop.  The population of small cedars has now been nearly eliminated.  When I last conducted cedar maintenance on this field ten years ago, I spent only three hours on the activity.  I performed a much wider search pattern and removed only those cedars that were easily seen.  That explains why so many of the larger young cedars that I just cut were clearly older than ten years.  I’m hoping that my more intensive search will allow the field to go several years before young cedars once again become noticeable.

The edges of the field are bounded by woodland or cedar thickets.  This line generally marks the transition to deeper soil.

Grass growth ends abruptly where the tree canopy closes to block the sunlight.

Larger Eastern Red Cedars are scattered throughout the field.  In most cases, sun loving grasses and wildflowers grow right up to the trunks of the trees.

Some wide spreading cedars develop a community of woody plants beneath the tree canopy.

I sometimes call these grassy fields prairies and other times refer to them as barrens.  I’ve studied many different systems of classifying grassland communities and have trouble finding a suitable identifier for Blue Jay Barrens.  Some portions of the field are treeless, but these aren’t the broad expanses of grass associated with prairies.  Several portions of this field would fit neatly enough into categories of common classification systems.  Because of a wide range of vegetation, soil depth and bedrock type; it’s the field as a whole that doesn’t seem to belong.  The term barrens seemed appropriate when I named the property years ago and I think it is still my preference.  Whatever it is, I’ve relieved it of several thousand tiny cedars and the rare plants found here will benefit by that action.

When I did my original clearing of this field 25 years ago, I left a small area untouched as an example of what the field was like prior to my management.  The fact that the cedars have made little noticeable growth since then is testimony to the poor soil and harsh growing conditions on this site.  Some of the trees originally cleared from the field were no taller than this, but showed 60+ growth rings in a trunk not much over one inch in diameter.

The cedars originally cut from the field formed six massive brush piles.  The pile at the base of this cedar once rose up into the green branches of the tree.

Many of the large cedars have been around for more than a century.  1938 aerial photography clearly shows these trees having been large even back then.  I believe them to be a valuable component of this uncommon ecosystem.

Cut banks are clear evidence of massive erosion that historically occurred on the site. 

Areas of bare ground that were present when I first took possession of the property are now covered by native vegetation.  Instead of continuing their progression back into the field, the cut banks are mellowing down to a gentle slope suitable for plant growth.

As I worked, I used orange ribbon to mark items that I wanted to come back and deal with later.  Here is a tangle of barbed wire, thrown into a gully decades ago and left to rust.

At some time in the future I’ll probably have to decide how many and what species of oak will be allowed to grow in the field.  I found it interesting that the Red Oak on the right was ringed by a thick stand of cedar seedlings, while the Blackjack Oak on the left had almost no cedar seedlings.  Blackjack Oak is favored by the Edwards’ Hairstreak Butterfly, so I would hope to maintain that species.  If a point is reached where some oaks must be eliminated, the Red Oak is certainly looking like a species that could be sacrificed.  It’ll be a while before a decision of that nature will be required.  I’ll probably still be thinking about it the next time I do cedar maintenance in this field.


  1. You've done a great job restoring a beautiful landscape.

    Nomadic herds of elk and bison probably maintained such a landscape centuries ago.

    I came across this article that might interest you. A paper has been written, taking a contrarian view of invasive species which he thinks should be referred to as "recently arrived species."
    Some "recently arrived species" are without a doubt beneficial. Especially honey bees.

  2. Thanks, Mark.

    I’m sure that Elk and Bison historically played an important role in maintaining open grassland in this area. I’m curious about the factors that allowed these areas to remain open during the couple of centuries since those animals disappeared from Ohio.

    Recently Arrived Species is certainly an accurate description of most non-native species, but using that term doesn’t make them any more desirable. I don’t believe we know enough about the subtle workings of an ecosystem to judge the effects of replacing one species with another, even if we do notice that a native species seems to benefit by the presence of the replacement. I can understand attempting to use a non-native to replace an extinct species, but I believe such a plan should be carefully thought out prior to implementation. In most cases, there are native alternatives.

    During my career, I’ve frequently witnessed the elimination of problems through the redefinition of terms or the rewriting of objectives. This strategy can achieve rapid progress while requiring no actual physical changes. Management is just a process through which we achieve our desired objectives. My personal objective is to remove non-native species from the land I manage, regardless of their perceived desirability. Changing terminology does not affect my management plan.

    The article was an interesting read. Thank you for passing it along.