Photo of the Week- June 10, 2016

I’ve written many times about the 2012 wildfire that impacted our Niobrara Valley Preserve, and the continuing recovery of the plant and animal communities there.  When I was up at the Preserve a few weeks ago, it was really interesting to explore the north side of the river where the fire wiped out the pine and eastern redcedar trees.  I know I’ve posted a number of times about the way that area is recovering.  If you feel like you’ve seen plenty of photographs of vibrant green vegetation beneath stark blackened tree trunks, this is your chance to click to another site and catch up on the box score of a recent baseball game or catch up on celebrity gossip.

(Are they gone?  Ok, good.  The rest of you can enjoy these photos.)

Grasses

The vegetation beneath the tree skeletons still has a lot of annual plants, but perennial grasses, sedges, and forbs are becoming more abundant.

shrubs

Shrub patches are also increasing in size (there is a big one on the right side of the photo).

Wooly locoweed

I’m pretty sure this is loco weed (Oxytropis lambertii).  It is one of many wildflowers that have begun to reassert themselves in the plant community and fill in the bare patches.

puccoon

Hairy puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense) might be the showiest of the flowers I saw on my last trip.  Its yellow-orange blossoms contrasted wonderfully with the green vegetation and black trees.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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9 Responses to Photo of the Week- June 10, 2016

  1. Bill Adams says:

    Chris, I never get tired of looking at photos, or the real thing for that matter, of land and forest in recovery. It is an amazing process in life for sure. Thanks for the laugh, they’ll be back . . . .

  2. Hello, Chris. I just discovered your blog yesterday and was thrilled to discover it. I too keep a blog on prairie restoration, and I posted yesterday on the bad feeling you get from cutting Musk Thistles out from under fritillaries! Then I discovered your post on the same subject, from 2011. I added a quote from you to my post–hope you don’t mind! Our blog is prairiecommunity.blogspot.com. We are in the Flint Hills in Kansas and own a half section that’s mostly native upland prairie. But we have 60 acres of bottomland that was cropground since settlement, and in 2013 we put the 30-acre Creek Field back to native, using a “forbs-first” strategy. In the fall we will start the same process on the Road Field, another 30 acres. We are learning as we go! We would love to learn from others who have experience with bottomland prairie–either preserving or restoring it. When we started, we asked all the prairie experts we could find in Kansas what species might once have composed bottomland prairie–that’s how we got our initial seed-list. But most of our advisors were extremely iffy–having never seen original bottomland prairie. How about you all in Nebraska? Are there people there we could consult? I know your plant community is not the same as ours, but still there is so much we can learn from you–
    All best,
    Margy

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Margy – I’m glad you found the blog. I don’t really have experience with bottomland prairie in the sense you’re talking about. It sounds like you’ve done the best you can at putting together a species list and the forb first technique should be interesting to watch. My best guess is that bottomland prairie will have pretty nutrient-rich soils, which might favor grasses over forbs, so getting some forbs established first might be a great strategy. I’ll be curious to hear back from you in a few years about the results. Good luck!

  3. James McGee says:

    Did you see any woodpeckers?

  4. James McGee says:

    People in my heavily populated area always worry about dead trees falling on people. There is experience behind this since people do occasionally get killed by falling trees. However, I have seen a number of dead trees decompose and they tend to slowly fall apart piece by piece reminding me of how a Popsicle melts. I wonder if all of the fuss about dead trees is often misplaced. The trees that I have seen cause a problem by falling over are often very much alive when the incident has occurred. Often these are trees that have grown in a poor location like box elder trees in an upland area. If a dead trunk or branch was hanging over a trail I would cut it. However, I don’t understand why my county has to spend so much money just to remove dead trees that happen to be near a trail. The money would probably be better spent on signs telling people not to go into wooded areas when high wind is predicted. This all has little to do with your post. I just hate seeing tax dollars used to cut down dead trees that are required for so many creatures just to make the lawyers happy.

  5. James McGee says:

    Since your post shows a picture of Oxytropis lambertii, I thought you might be interested in this blog post that discusses the longevity of seeds of the related genera, Astragalus. Such longevity has ecological impacts like being able to wait until a forest matures and completely burns down before “reasserting” itself.

    https://paridevita.com/2015/02/02/of-snow-and-snowdrops/

    The gentleman who writes the above mentioned blog is Bob Nold. Mr. Nold wrote the book on Penstemons.

  6. Isabel Cohen says:

    Love the beautiful wildflowers!

  7. Nate Walker says:

    Chris, how have the oaks fared? I remember seeing them stump sprouting vigorously after the fire top killed them, I’m just curious if the new landscape will be covered with bushy bur oak trees in the future.

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