Photo of the Week – July 28, 2016

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know about the big wildfire that swept across The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve back in 2012.  One of the results of that fire was the death of almost all of the Preserve’s ponderosa pines on the bluffs north of the river.  I’ve posted several times about the recovery of that portion of the site, which we are watching closely and learning from.  We haven’t seen any new pines coming in yet, but grasses, sedges, wildflowers, and deciduous shrubs are all flourishing.

Bark beetle galleries beneath the bark of a pine killed in the 2012 wildfire. The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Bark beetle galleries beneath the bark of a pine killed in the 2012 wildfire. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

As new plants colonize the site, the old skeletons of pines and eastern red cedars are starting to break down.  Some of those dead trees are tipping over completely, while others are breaking off further up the trunk.  The result is a landscape that is a little more difficult to walk through (and dangerous on windy days), but one that is still very pretty.  The gradual degradation of the tree skeletons is a necessary part of the recovery and transition of this area to a different ecological community.  We think that pines will eventually recolonize the site, but it’s going to be many years before that happens to any great extent.  In the meantime, there is a great abundance of wildlife, insects, and wildflowers living between the falling trees.

While up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve earlier this summer, I spent a little time wandering in, ruminating about, and photographing the area where the old trees are breaking down.  Here is some of what I saw.

More and more pines are breaking off at the base and falling.

More and more pines are breaking off at the base and falling.

Some trees are falling, but many others are just losing their tops, creating a more ragged look to ridge tops.

Some trees are falling, but many others are just losing their tops, creating a more ragged look to ridge tops.

Despite the fact that the trees are dead, I still find them aesthetically pleasing, including as foreground for sunset light.

Despite the fact that the trees are dead, I still find them aesthetically pleasing, including as foreground for sunset light.

I’ve always enjoyed looking at the patterns I find in ponderosa pine park.  It’s hard to resist photographing them.  This last trip, I was seeing specific images in some of the patterns, so I photographed a few and present them here for your consideration.  They are a kind of Rorschach test, I suppose.  What images do you see?

Bark Pattern A - what do YOU see in it?

Bark Pattern A – what do YOU see in it?

Bark Pattern B. Lots to see in this one...

Bark Pattern B. Lots to see in this one…

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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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One Response to Photo of the Week – July 28, 2016

  1. James McGee says:

    I am surprised you didn’t post any pictures of woodpeckers. When the emerald ash borer killed all of our magnificent ash trees the pileated woodpecker started frequenting Northeastern Illinois. I am sure there must be woodpeckers on the dead Ponderosa pines at the Niobrara Preserve. The woodpeckers must be difficult to photograph.

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