Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Prairie Corridor Project

The final phase of a project intended to create an open corridor between two prairie areas has now been completed.  What was once a vicious tangle of invasive Autumn Olive and Multiflora Rose, now looks almost park-like.  A finish mower and a couple of picnic tables would make this a wonderful place to relax, but I have a different goal in mind.  My hopes are that this area will convert to prairie vegetation and act as a pathway to allow organisms to move freely between an existing prairie area to the upper right and a second to the upper left.  The only task left is to get rid of the few large trees.

I’ve chosen to kill the trees in place by girdling and applying herbicide.  Girdling is the act of removing a strip of living bark around the base of a tree.  This essentially stops the transfer of energy from the leaves to the roots.  Girdling alone will typically kill the top of the tree, but a forest of sprouts will emerge below the point of the cut and the tree will grow on.  To ensure the death of the entire tree, I have applied a 41% solution of glyphosate to the exposed inner bark at the lower part of the wound.  There should be no regrowth here.

The Allegheny Mound Ants that had been foraging up the tree were slightly befuddled by the loss of their path to the ground.  On some trees it took 15 minutes or more before they finally crossed the gap and went on their way.  These ants can be found on every tree in the more open areas of Blue Jay Barrens, but they do not go into the closed canopy woods.

Girdled trees included some growing in the Winged Sumac thicket.  Eventually, shade from the trees would have caused the death of the sumacs.

The dead trees should be a wonderful place for beetle larvae and woodpeckers.  Several of the trees are large enough to accommodate nesting woodpeckers.  Red-headed Woodpecker numbers have been increasing in the area over the past few years and I’m hoping that dead trees in a rather open setting might entice a pair to nest here.

Flowering Dogwood, Dwarf Sumac and a few oaks were left alive.  There are not enough of them to impede the growth of prairie vegetation.  Presence of these three species is consistent with the type of prairie typically found in this area and having them here is in keeping with the management goals of the adjoining fields.

The leafless dead trees will not block enough sunlight to slow expansion of prairie into the area.  In a few years, small limbs will begin to fall from the dead trees.  Larger limbs will follow and eventually, the trunks will come down.  Everything should be on the ground within ten years.  What happens to the fallen material will depend on how and where it falls.  Some will be left on the ground to decompose and some will be moved to facilitate future maintenance of the area.

This area to the west, just outside the trees, will be the primary source of seed for colonizing prairie plants.  Our prevailing wind is from the west and it’s that wind that carries seeds into new territories.  By the time the last tree falls, this area should be healthy prairie.

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