January has been a rough month for getting any heavy work done in the field. Warm temperatures and frequent rains left the soil highly vulnerable to compaction and other damage resulting from inappropriate management activities. It has only been in the last few days that I’ve been able to perform any intensive work, and that has been limited to hilltop areas that drain and dry out quickly. I removed the girdled trees that had fallen in my planned grassland area. A few stumps, some scattered twigs and flattened areas of grass were all that was left after I finished picking things up.
Following the removal of the downed trees, I brought in JR, the brush mower, and mowed the entire work area. Removing the trees and mowing the field were not necessarily required activities in my plans to convert the area to a grassland condition. The fallen trees would quickly decompose and the tall prairie grasses would eventually take over the site. My actions here were in response to the need to easily access the area to locate and eliminate invasive shrubs. Keep in mind that it’s only been a few years since this particular patch of ground was a thicket of Multiflora Rose and Autumn Olive. The site still harbors viable seed and is producing several new seedlings that must be found and killed each year. Anything that interferes with my ability to travel freely through the area in search of these invaders must be removed.
The area is planned to be grassland, but it will not be completely free of trees. This Blackjack Oak, Quercus marilandica, currently surrounded by the standing dead, will one day be surrounded by tall native grasses.
This double trunked Flowering Dogwood will also be left alive. An anthracnose outbreak nearly three decades ago eliminated this species from the woodland understory at Blue Jay Barrens. It has still not returned to the woods, but a few survivors along the field’s edge became the progenitors of flowering Dogwood trees growing in the open fields. I allowed this species to remain in certain designated areas of the fields, and now have dozens of nice sized specimens producing copious amounts of fruit and seed each year. This individual is doing quite nicely despite one of its trunks being disfigured by the choking embrace of a Japanese Honeysuckle vine, yet another invasive species needing to be controlled here.
After mowing the area, I noticed a leaning tree poised to land directly atop the Flowering Dogwood, and a pair of grape and honeysuckle festooned trunks similarly aiming towards the lovely oak. Not wishing the oak or dogwood to be damaged by their menacing neighbors, I removed the threats myself in a safe and controlled manner.
In order to facilitate invasive shrub control, I also removed some fallen branches from the sumac patch.
The patch of Dwarf Sumac was left intact and standing dead stems were not touched. These sumac thickets harbor their own suite of boring beetles, leaf eaters, lichen colonies and other organisms drawn to this type of habitat. I tried to disturb it as little as possible.
The removed wood roughly tripled the size of the brush pile at the edge of the field. Logs were placed on the east facing side of the pile. Skinks and fence lizards are particularly drawn to logs situated in this manner.
Tree branches were dismantled down to individual stems which were then piled as densely as possible. This fosters rapid decomposition, so the pile quickly reduces in volume. The logs are stacked so that they will fall back into the pile as the small branches decompose. It has been pointed out to me numerous times that my brush piles do not follow the classic wildlife management design, which has the goal of providing escape cover to game mammals. My piles serve a broader interest and are utilized by a wide range of reptiles, birds and mammals.
The dead trees will continue to fall for the next couple of years. During that time, the tall prairie grasses will move in and become established. By then the incidence of invasive shrubs should be limited to new arrivals carried by birds as seeds from neighboring properties. For now, I’m pleased with the way things are progressing on the site and hope that all continues favorably.