Many of you remember previous posts about the wildfire that swept across the Niobrara Valley back in July 2012. About half of The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve burned during that event. Through some funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund and assistance from Moonshell Media, we set up an array of timelapse cameras to document the recovery of our site from that fire.
I’ve spent much of this week looking through many thousands of images from those cameras. The cameras (when they are working properly) take one photo each daylight hour. Between April 2013 and today, that is approximately 14 billion images – or so it seems through my weary and bloodshot eyes. As I’ve been poring through these photos, looking for stories they can tell us, one thing that keeps my fire stoked (so to speak) is the periodic discovery of dramatic light and/or scenes captured by the automated cameras. Today, I’m sharing a selection of those accidental masterpieces taken by one particular camera that was set up to peer downstream from near the top of the bluff north of the Niobrara River.
When we set up this camera, my hope was to watch the re-greening of the hills beneath the dead ponderosa pine and eastern red cedar trees and maybe catch a nice sunrise or two. Both objectives were achieved, along with some other really gorgeous photographs – some of which happened only because the camera malfunctioned.
So, there you go. A beautiful series of images that also show what happens following a wildfire. Ecological processes don’t stop after a fire, they just shift into a different gear. We have done nothing to aid or enhance the recovery of the woodland at this site. To this point, we’ve just been watching for signs of trouble – invasive plants that might take advantage of the situation, serious soil erosion issues, etc. There hasn’t yet been any reason to step in and act. Plants and animals are thriving on the slopes shown in these photos, though the composition of those communities has changed pretty dramatically – and continues to change.
Ecological resilience is about the ability of natural systems to absorb shock and keep functioning. The pine woodland is gone from these hills, and it will probably take many decades to show up again because they are pretty far away from unburned pine woodland that could provide seed. In the meantime, we will do our job as land stewards and try to facilitate the most biological diversity we can, using the primary tools available to us – prescribed fire and grazing to manipulate plant competition and habitat structure, and spot-treatment (as needed) with herbicides to control invasives.
We hope to keep these timelapse cameras going for at least several more years. Hopefully, that will help us continue documenting the amazing resilience of nature, and the specific stories playing out at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. If nothing else, we should be at least get some more beautiful, if accidental, photographs to enjoy.
Absolutely stunning! Incredibly grateful for your thoughtful posts!
On Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 2:00 PM, The Prairie Ecologist wrote:
> Chris Helzer posted: “Many of you remember previous posts about the > wildfire that swept across the Niobrara Valley back in July 2012. About > half of The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve burned during > that event. Through some funding from the Nebraska Environmenta” >
Thank you for sharing. I love repeat photography and I appreciate the challenge of getting it done.
We are trying to use “photo posts” and “same location, same directions, same time of year” to photographically demonstrate changes on some of our oak woodland restoration projects here in central Illinois. The cameras you have do a great job, and will indeed be interesting to follow in the coming years. Thanks for sharing these Chris! PB
What a nice series.
appreciate the time you spend sorting through all those images to find these few special, spectacular ones to share with us
Great photos. I was interested to know what brand and model of camera you used. Thanks again,
Thanks Kelly. They are Canon SLR cameras, but the important part is the controller system, which is custom built by Moonshell Media. They built the controllers (including solar panels) and installed all the cameras for us. You can find contact information for them at moonshellmedia.com
Great pix Chris, keep them coming and thank you!
Wouldn’t some of the pine seeds from the previously unburned forest have survived the fire? Jays and other corvids have been shown to bury caches of pine seeds in Canada’s boreal forest – wouldn’t a portion those survive fires?
My understanding is that ponderosa pine cones/seeds don’t survive fire very well (this is hearsay…). I’m hopeful we’ll get some regeneration from seed caches or from seeds brought in from nearby trees, but we haven’t seen any of that yet.
Thanks for this post….wonderful to see the progress of recovery…….do you think climate change will have an impact on the recovery, ie perhaps it will be too warm for pine trees? Thanks, Gay Gilbert
I’m not an expert on pines, but they exist in warmer and drier places than they do along the Niobrara, so I think they’ll likely be ok for a while yet.
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