Photo of the Week – March 16, 2018

Ok, here’s a little nature puzzler for you.  In today’s post, I’m including three photos from 2017 that have something in common.  Are you sharp enough to figure it out or will you need someone to point it out to you?  (Hint, the answer is not that they are all animals, live in prairies, or have legs and eyes, though all of those are true.)

These red beetles are often found feeding on milkweed plants.

This speedster was photographed in the Nebraska Sandhills.

This beetle is one of many insect species that often feed on the pollen of sunflowers.

Given the level of expertise within this blog’s readership, I figure someone will come up with the answer a few minutes after I post this.  If you think you know the answer, please put it in the comments section.  I’ll keep an eye on the comments and reply when someone’s got the answer I’m looking for.  Have a great weekend!

(If you are subscribed via email and just read posts from your email messages, you might have to click on the title of the post to see it in a web browser and view the comments.)

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Posted in Prairie Animals, Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Properly Portraying the Power of Prescribed Fire

At a recent Nebraska conference, Shelly Kelly of the Sandhills Task Force made a point worth some serious consideration.  She told a roomful of wildlife biologists that if they want reluctant ranchers to seriously consider using prescribed fire, using photos of big scary flames in presentations and social media posts is probably counterproductive.  Instead, Shelly suggested sharing more photos of fires that are clearly under control, with people calmly working around them.  Even better, she suggested, we should share photos of green grass beneath the skeletons of dead invasive trees, showing the positive results that follow fire.

We got our first prescribed fires of 2018 done last week.  This photo captures some of the 5 minutes or so of intense fire following about an hour of boring backing fire lines on one of those burns.

I appreciate her point.  Most of my favorite prescribed fire photos are the ones I took during the big head (wind-driven) fire at the end of a burn – when the flames are high and there’s lots of color and action.  Visually, those images are certainly more powerful than photos of a small fire backing slowly into the wind during the early stages of a burn.  However, it’s important to remember that “powerful” might not be the attribute to lead with when talking to a skeptical audience that fears the potential negative consequences of fire.

On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think we need to stop showing people powerful images of fire – we should just try to provide appropriate context for those images.  After all, the power of fire is why it’s so valuable as a management tool.  It can take some pretty tall flames and a lot of heat to kill eastern red cedar trees, for example.

Context is important.  Posting an image of huge flames and a towering smoke column on Instagram or Facebook with a short caption like, “Woo Hoo!!  We had a great burn today!!” will probably get lots of likes from experienced fire folks.  However, someone unfamiliar with prescribed fire might look at that same image and assume it was taken by a reckless pyromaniac who was endangering the public and him/herself.  As a result, that person might be much harder to turn into a prescribed fire supporter.

Expounding a little in an image caption can help quite a bit.  Something like, “Here’s an image from the finale of today’s controlled burn.  After two hours of slowly burning out a boundary around our fire unit, we were able to send this hot fire through the prairie to kill lots of invasive trees before it ran into what we’d burned earlier and put itself out.”  Or whatever – you get the idea.

We start each burn with a small test fire in the downwind corner . That gives us a chance to see how the fire and smoke are going to behave before we commit to the whole enchilada. If we don’t like what we see, we can easily shut down and wait for a better day.  Last week, we had dry conditions, but wind speeds were low enough that we could burn safely.

Even better, we should probably share broader series of images showing the entire process of the fire, including the boring backing fire that sets the stage for that big finish.  Photos of a nice straight firebreak, with black on one side and unburned grass on the other, can help drive home how careful, competent, and effective we are.  After posting a few shots of people in yellow suits laying down lines of small flame inside neat boundaries, it’s probably ok to slide in a couple photos of flaming infernos and torching cedar trees.  It might be smart to include at least one more photo after those flashy shots, though, showing that everything turned out well in the end…

In this photo, we’re laying down a band of water along the edge of a mowed strip surrounding our burn unit, and Olivia is lighting the grass just upwind of that wet and mowed line.

With both a wet line and a mowed firebreak to catch it, Alex lit a line of fire that we allowed to back into the wind. Several vehicles with water followed behind to make sure the flames stayed inside the unit.

Eventually the backing fire created a wind band of black that acted as a catcher’s mitt when the big fire ran into it later.

Once the black lines were prepared, we ignited the upwind portion of the unit and allowed fire to roar through the unit until it hit the black and was extinguished.

These lines of fire are safely inside wide bands of black that have already burned.

Olivia watches the last of the smoke dissipate as the fire burns itself out.

I’ll try to follow my own advice about fire communications in the future, and you can remind me when I forget.  It’s absolutely appropriate to celebrate the power (and let’s face it, the beauty too) of fire by taking and sharing photos.  However, we should also celebrate and share the care and strategy that go into making those powerful fires safe and effective.

Be safe out there.

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Photo of the Week – March 9, 2018

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to dedicate this post to a friend of mine who’s going through a difficult time right now.  Ernie Ochsner is an extraordinarily talented artist from here in Aurora whose paintings and photographs have inspired me for years.  More importantly, talking to Ernie always makes me feel better about the world.  He is incessantly curious, thoughtful and kind.  I’ve seen very little of him in recent years – my fault, not his – and I’ve missed his energy and conversation.

Whenever I see a sky like this, I think of Ernie and his artwork.

Ernie is a first rate explorer of both landscapes and philosophy; he chases skies and truths.  Some of the most thought-provoking discussions of my life have been with Ernie, largely because his explorations have given him an expansive view of life and spirituality, and he is excited to share what he’s discovered.  However, many of our conversations have started by him asking, “Did you see that sky last night?”   Every time I look out my window and see gorgeous clouds and light above town, I assume Ernie is out with his camera, trying to find a foreground to put in front of that sky (and he usually is).  His landscape photographs are wonderful, and his paintings are sublime.  There’s no mistaking an Ernie Ochsner painting – he has a distinctive and beautiful style, characterized by colors that jump off the canvas.

I tend to look down, rather than up, as I walk prairies with a camera.  However, when a sky is striking enough that it causes me to lift my head and gaze at it, I often think of Ernie.  Today’s post includes photos of some of those skies.  I hope they give both Ernie and you some joy.

Niobrara Valley Preserve in the spring.

Bison, sandhills, and sky.

Early morning light at Konza Prairie in Kansas.

Showy evening primroses in the Platte River Prairies.

Plains sunflowers along a fenceline in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Gjerloff Prairie, one of Ernie’s frequent haunts – owned and managed by Prairie Plains Resource Institute, which Ernie has been part of from the beginning.

Posted in Prairie Photography | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Photo of the Week – March 2, 2018

Over the last three days, I’ve given three presentations and led a workshop.  I think I’m running out of words.  There’s no question I’ve run out of the desire to be around people.  I say this in defense of what is going to be a late and very short post at the end of this long week.

I scanned quickly through my February photos tonight and found two that are very different in scale.  One from early February is a close up of a grazed plant in the snow.  The other is a shot of Sandhill cranes that have been pouring into the Platte River this week as part of their annual migration.  I hope you enjoy this very brief (and admittedly lazy) overview of February on the Platte River of Nebraska.  I’m going to bed.

Some kind of plant that was nipped off by some kind of animal. Stiff goldenrod? Rabbit? Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Sandhill cranes on a mostly frozen Platte River this week.

Posted in Prairie Animals, Prairie Photography | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Thawing Frozen Bugs; The Grand Experiment

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about seeing insects frozen in ice, and speculated about how they’d gotten there and whether or not they might still be alive.  Several of you encouraged me to chip them out of the ice and thaw them out, apparently under the impression that I walk around with an ice axe in my camera bag.  Nevertheless, it was a fair point.  Why speculate aimlessly about something that’s relatively easy to test – especially since it wasn’t the first time I had speculated on the same topic?  (See this post from 2014 and this one from 2011.)  For my 2014 post, I actually did pull a beetle out of the ice and watched it thaw.  It was dead.

Yesterday afternoon, I went out to our family prairie with two of our boys.  Daniel needed to do some video work for a school project, and Calvin wanted to continue working on a project he’d started over the weekend, which seems to involve propping sticks against a tree.  Anyway, two boys wanted to go to the prairie – what am I going to do, say no?  We went.

The boys had a great time playing on the ice while I was looking at dead bugs.  I should maybe reevaluate my life choices.

It was about 60 degrees when we got to the prairie, and while the wetland was still frozen enough to walk on, the top of the ice was melting.  Scattered about the wetland and a nearby livestock watering tank were numerous insects that had been frozen yesterday but today were sitting in shallow puddles of water on top of the ice.  Ah ha!  No ice axe required today!  I grabbed a ziplock bag from my pack (an item even more essential to a naturalist than an ice axe) and starting scooping up cold insects and enough water to keep them in.

A cell phone photo of a couple insects on the frozen surface of a livestock watering tank.

When we got home, I dumped the bag of pond water and insects into a shallow bowl.  The following is a series of observations as I conducted this important scientific research project.

A bowl of bugs on my kitchen counter.

February 26, 2018

6:05 pm – Dumped 18 insects into a bowl, having collected them from thawing water on top of the ice at our prairie.  (No ice axe required, thank you.)  Initial observation: the insects appear to be motionless.  Some are floating, others are submerged.  Water is still very cold.

6:31 pm – Added a little warm water to the bowl.  Some of the insects moved as I dumped the water in, but seemed to settle back into stillness as the water calmed.  Brief movement considered inconclusive as to the status of insects as living or dead.  More data needed.

7:48 pm – Water is about room temperature now.  Wondering if the floating are the same that were floating earlier?  Probably.  A couple stray legs seem to be lying around on the bottom of the bowl.  If those insects are soon to be alive and kicking, it appears they’ll have fewer legs to kick than they had last fall.

A stray leg.

8:33 pm – Of the 18 insects I collected and put in the bowl, 18 still appear to be motionless.  Fighting boredom (me, not the insects).  Must remain vigilant in order to complete this project for my readers.

9:07 pm – Nothing to report.

10:15 pm – I’m pretty sure several of these insects are actually flies, and not aquatic insects at all.  Wondering if I should remove those from the dataset so as not to bias the overall survival rate.

Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.  Oh? What’s it doing?  Nothing.  (Not a funny joke at all.)

10:56 pm – So tired.  Can’t keep my eyes open much longer.  Have decided to call it a night and hope not to lose any insects that reanimate during the night and fly off.  Will cover the bowl to be sure. One of the water boatmen has a certain look in its eye – just waiting for me to go to sleep so it can make its escape?  Better seal the bowl tightly…

February 27, 2018

6:15 am – Woke up and immediately remembered the insects.  Hoped none had eaten each other or escaped.  Scurried out to the kitchen and did a quick count.  All 18 insects accounted for.  None seem to be moving.  Sleeping after a busy night of swimming?  Swished the water around a little, and got some movement, but didn’t seem to be the result of any self-propelling motion by the insects.  Hopes diminishing.

7:10 am – Have decided that maybe the water temperature needs to be higher in order to break diapause.  Added hot water to the bowl.  Awaiting developments.

7:15 am – Trying to fix breakfast and school lunches.  Need counter space.  Re-evaluating this entire project.

7:23 am – Adapted Monty Python sketch running through my head…  “These bugs are no more!  They’ve ceased to be!  They’ve expired and gone to meet their maker!  They’re stiffs!  Bereft of life, they rest in peace!…These are EX-BUGS!”

Figure 1. Number of dead bugs compared to number of live bugs.  Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

7:24 am – Ok, I’m calling it.  Experiment over.  These insects are dead, folks.  Of the 18 frozen insects removed from the surface of the ice, 18 died.  This evidence strongly supports the suggestion that insects found embedded near the surface of frozen wetlands are, in fact, dead.  This follows the findings of Helzer (2014) who similarly found a frozen beetle to be dead upon thawing.

Pining for the fjords?  Nope.

Ok?

Ok.  I’m going to clean out that ziplock bag now and get it back in my camera bag.  I don’t want to be left without it when the next scientific opportunity presents itself.

Posted in Prairie Animals | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Photo of the Week – February 23, 2018

Before I start this post, here is an important disclaimer.  I am not someone you should take advice from regarding aphids.  I don’t know much about the life cycle of aphids, I don’t know much about their potential to cause damage to crops or other plants, and I don’t know anything about whether or not you should control aphids in your garden/farm/prairie.  Ok?  Ok.

Aphids on whorled milkweed in our yard.

I think aphids are among the most interesting looking creatures in prairies.  I’ve also found them very tricky to photograph.  First, of course, they’re stinking small, which adds a degree of difficulty.  Second, they usually appear in big herds (which I assume is the proper term for a large number of aphids – please don’t tell me otherwise), and it’s hard to decide where to focus.  Regardless, I keep trying to photograph them because they’re just awfully cute.  One of these days maybe I’ll get an image I’m actually satisfied with.

Aphids on stiff goldenrod at The Nature Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie, Minnesota.

The milkweed plants in our backyard prairie garden often have pretty big herds of aphids roaming around them, especially by late summer.  Maybe I should be upset or worried about that, but I’m just not.  I’m not trying to make money from those milkweed plants, and I’m not hoping to eat them.  Sure, I’d be pleased if monarchs laid their eggs on them, but I have the plants mainly because I enjoy looking at them, and I enjoy seeing what kinds of little creatures I can find on and around them.

I hear that some kinds of aphids can be really problematic on some kinds of garden and farm crops, and I don’t doubt that.  I harbor no ill feelings toward people trying to control the population of aphids on crops.  However, in the prairies I work with, and in our family’s prairie garden, aphids are welcome.  I enjoy watching ants farming aphids, I like the different colors of aphids I find, and I like the fun little spikes coming out of their butts.

A particularly nice aphid herd on butterfly milkweed in my prairie garden.

If you’re waiting for some kind of profound or pithy statement on the ecological value or impact of aphids, you’re not going to get it from me.  I just like aphids, and as I was trying to figure out what image or images to use for this Photo of the Week post, I stumbled across a few recent shots of aphids.  Did I mention how cute they are?

Posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography | Tagged | 14 Comments

Measuring Our Influence as Conservation Scientists

I am a conservation scientist.  Like any other scientist, I develop and test hypotheses, trying to figure out how the world works.  Once I learn something, I publish my results in academic journals where other scientists can evaluate and build upon what I’ve learned.  Because I’m a conservation scientist, however, I also need make sure the people who directly impact prairie conservation (ranchers, land managers, policy makers, etc.) get my information and use it to improve the way grasslands are managed and restored.  If I fail to influence the actions of others in positive ways, I fail as a conservation scientist.

It doesn’t matter how much we learn about employing prescribed fire effectively if we’re not able to help others use the lessons we learn.

In science, keen observational skills and creativity often spark innovations, but rigorous collection of data is required to see whether a great idea actually makes sense or not.  While I’ve had some good ideas, I’ve also come up with plenty of grassland management and restoration strategies that turned out to be duds.  In each case, I learned a little more about prairie ecology and our land stewardship improved as a result.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done over the years to develop new and better ways of restoring and managing prairies.  I know those strategies are effective because I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time testing them, through both observation and rigorous data collection.  My computer is full of spreadsheets and graphs showing how prairie species and communities respond to various treatments.

I’m also proud of the work I’ve done to share what we’ve learned with others, but until recently, I’ve done very little to evaluate the effectiveness of that work.  I’m not alone – most of my colleagues in the world of conservation science do a great job of measuring the natural world and its responses to human activities, but do very little to evaluate whether their work is actually influencing conservation.  It’s fairly ridiculous when you think about it.  We would never think of devoting ourselves to a new invasive species control technique without testing its effectiveness, but for some reason we’re satisfied to rely on blind optimism that our outreach strategies are changing the world.

Come on, folks!  We’re scientists!  We love data, and we’re good at developing and testing ideas.  Why do we apply that passion and aptitude to only part of our work?  Why aren’t we testing whether our ideas are reaching the intended audience and influencing on-the-ground conservation work?  How can we adjust and improve our outreach strategies if we don’t have any data to work from?

To be fair, measuring outreach impacts requires a very different kind of scientific approach than most of us are comfortable with.  Instead of counting plants or observing behavior of birds, bees or bison, we have to assess the attitudes, motivations, and actions of people. Many of us took our career paths because we prefer the company of birds, bees and bison to people, but that doesn’t give us leave to just ignore people altogether – especially when the success or failure of our work hinges upon their actions.

Fortunately, we don’t have to work alone.  There are lots of scientists who are already good at studying people, and many of them are happy to work with us.  I’ve had very enthusiastic responses from those I’ve asked advice from, and their input has been very helpful.

We should probably take some of the energy we spend studying animals and put it towards studying the way people respond to our outreach efforts.

Whether you’re a scientist who actively shares your results with your target audience, or someone who relies on others to translate and transmit that information, there are some basic questions we should all be trying to address.  This is far from a comprehensive list, but it’s a start.

Defining Audience and Message

What lessons and messages from my work are most important?

Who is the audience for those?

What messengers/media will best reach the audiences?

What are the current attitudes/actions of my audience?  What are the main drivers of those those attitudes and actions?

Who are the credible voices my audience looks to for guidance?

How can I reach those credible voices?

Evaluating Success

Are my messages reaching my target audience?

How many people in that audience am I reaching?

Are my messages changing attitudes and/or actions?

At what scale, and to what degree am I making a difference?

Which messages, messengers, and media are most effective for reaching each of my audiences?

Many of us host field days, at which we can share what we’re learning with others.  How many of us are assessing the effectiveness of those field days and other outreach strategies?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about audiences and messages, and it’s really helped me focus both my research and outreach more effectively.  Recently, I’ve also started trying to answer some of the questions in the above “Evaluating Success” category.  I’m making some progress, but I need to do much more.

I can tell you how many presentations I’ve given over the last two years (40) and how many people were in those audiences (3,447).  I’ve also been keeping track of calls and emails asking for advice on prairie restoration and management.  Unfortunately, while I have a lot of numbers, I can’t easily translate them into acres of improved management or enhanced habitat quality.

I have, however, made at least some progress toward measuring conservation impact on the ground.  Much of that success came from survey work by one of our first Hubbard Fellows, Eliza Perry.  Eliza conducted interviews with some land managers and private lands biologists who had attended field days at our Platte River Prairies.  Among her many findings were that almost all respondents said what they learned from us had influenced their work, and they conservatively estimated that over 330,000 acres of land had been restored or managed differently because of that influence.  Beyond that, Eliza was able to identify key factors that led to our success and suggest ways to improve our effectiveness.

In addition, Eliza surveyed readers of The Prairie Ecologist Blog and I conducted a follow-up survey three years later.  Those surveys helped quantify the demographics of readers (e.g., about 2/3 of respondents have direct influence on prairie management).  The surveys also measured the degree of influence the blog has on readers’ understanding of prairies and approach to managing or restoring prairies (when applicable).  We even got a rough estimate of the number of acres on which management had been influenced by the blog (over 300,000).

Being able to quantify outreach impact, even when the numbers are fuzzy and incomplete, has been really helpful.  It helps me justify my job, for one thing, and assures both me and my supervisor that the time I spend writing, giving presentations, and consulting with others has value.  Most importantly, it helps me assess what is and isn’t working and adjust accordingly.

While it’s still not fully within my comfort zone, I’m trying hard to make sure I’m measuring the effectiveness of our outreach efforts, just as I do our prairie management and restoration work.  I would love to hear from people who are trying to do the same thing, especially if you’ve found effective evaluation strategies.  As more of us focus on measuring the success of our outreach work, we’ll be able to learn from each other and establish some common metrics.  Hopefully, we’ll also become more effective at translating what we’re learning into large scale and meaningful conservation impact!

Posted in General, Prairie Management, Prairie Restoration/Reconstruction | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Photo of the Week – February 16, 2018

Long-time readers of this blog know that I occasionally ask readers to tell me which of two similar photos they like best.  Usually, I don’t really have a favorite, and am struggling to decide which of two nearly identical compositions is better.  Or if I do have a favorite, I don’t say so, in order to not bias the results.

In this case, I have a clear favorite, but no one around here seems to agree with me, so I’m turning to you to prove that I’m right.  Don’t let me down…

Here are the two photos.  Both show a tiny backlit feather atop a prairie plant at Lincoln Creek Prairie here in Aurora.  The photos were taken last month.  That last part is completely immaterial to the choice, but I mention it because my word count on this post seems a little low otherwise.

Photo number 1.

Photo number 2.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with both images.  But the second one is better, right?  Sure, less of it is tack sharp, but it’s more graceful for its softness, and the way the feather leans with the breeze is more attractive than the more upright feather in photo number one.  Right??

If you have a strong opinion, you can vote here.

Thanks for your help on this.  I will adhere to the results of the poll, no matter which way they come back.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 22 Comments

Save the Date: 2018 Grassland Restoration Network Workshop

If you’re involved in conducting or studying grassland restoration, especially restoration aimed at achieving robust conservation objectives, you may be interested in attending the next Grassland Restoration Network workshop.  If you’re not familiar with these workshops, you can look for previous posts on this blog or visit the GRN website to learn more.

More information will be coming out soon, but here is the flyer for this year’s workshop in Illinois.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Seeds of Promise

It’s hard to describe the varied emotions involved in cleaning and mixing big piles of prairie seed.  There is incredible optimism embedded in those tiny packages.  After all, each seed has the potential to become a plant; maybe even the first of an entire colony of plants.  On the other hand, most of them will fail to produce anything other than a little food for some animal or microbe.

Alex mixes up a big pile of seed with a grain scoop.  Amber is helping too, but hidden behind a cloud of dust.

Yesterday was seed mixing day at our Platte River Prairies.  We dumped bags and buckets of harvested seed into piles to be mixed and taken out to planting sites.  In recent years, we’ve shifted our seed harvest focus; instead of aiming for the highest possible diversity of prairie species (150-200) to convert crop fields into prairie habitat, we’re now focusing on 30-40 wildflower species that are largely missing from some of our more degraded native prairies.  Those degraded prairies had years of of chronic overgrazing and/or broadcast herbicide use before we obtained them, and haven’t really increased much in plant diversity, despite over 20 years of the best management we could give them.  By increasing the number of plant species in those prairies via overseeding, we hope to increase the quality of pollinator and wildlife habitat, as well as the overall ecological resilience of the prairie community.

We process many of our seeds by running them through a heavy steel fan blade that used to be part of a riding lawn mower.  It’s a quick and effective way of breaking seeds out of pods and off of stems.

To be clear, when I say “we”, I’m mostly talking about the Platte River Prairies staff and volunteers who are actually doing the work these days.  For many happy years harvesting seed, but that torch has now been largely passed to others.  I still harvest a modest amount of seed on my own time, mostly during evenings and weekends, for use at our family prairie, but I’m just an advisor for the bulk of the restoration work going on at the Platte River Prairies.  Regardless, it was immensely gratifying to help out yesterday.  It felt great to run those seeds through my fingers and inhale a little seed dust into my lungs (though we wear masks to minimize the dust inhalation).

Alex dumps a bag of seed onto the pile.

While I like thinking about each seed as a potential plant, I also recognize how few of them will actually make it that far.  Even in cropfield restoration work, when we’re broadcasting seeds onto bare soil with no preestablished competition from other plants, only a small percentage of seeds really end up as plants.  Some are eaten by animals before they get a chance to germinate.  Others don’t land in a place where they get the light and moisture they need.  Still others germinate, but are then outcompeted by neighboring plants, eaten by something, or don’t get rain at the right time to sustain them.

When we’re overseeding an existing prairie, the number of planted seeds that turn into plants is far lower still.  We burn ahead of time to create bare soil, and graze to reduce competition, but there are still very few spots where a seed can land and have a good chance to thrive.  That means that the vast majority of those wonderful little seeds of promise just die.  Though, as we discussed yesterday while we worked, even the ones that die are feeding something – birds, mammals, insects, fungi, etc. – so it’s not that they’re really wasted.  It’s just that we didn’t really spend all that time harvesting seeds just to feed fungi.

Instead of focusing on how many of those seeds will become fungus fodder, though, I’d prefer to think about the good that will come from those that survive.  By harvesting and broadcasting those seeds, we’re transforming prairies with very few summer wildflowers into prairies with enough floristic diversity that they will support a more robust pollinator population and provide better habitat structure to a number of wildlife species.  Even if one tenth of one percent of the seeds we plant germinate, we’ll be making a big difference.

This overseeded prairie is not yet where we’d like it to be in terms of plant diversity, but it’s far better off than before it had even the number of flowers shown here.  Hopefully, now that some of these wildflowers are established, they’ll be able to spread on their own as we provide helpful management.

Soon, we’ll be releasing those seeds into the wild to take their chances in the world.  Most of our planting these days is done by machine, which helps us cover a lot of ground quickly, with fairly even distribution of seeds.  That’s all well and good, but I sure get a lot of joy from hand-tossing seeds at our family prairie.  Not only can I aim the seeds for areas I think (though I’m totally guessing) they might survive best, I can also give them a little good luck wish as they leave my hand.  Later in the season, when I return to look for seedlings, I can congratulate both the seed and myself on our success whenever I find a new plant.  With enough of those successes, we’ll slowly rebuild the diversity and resilience that will carry these prairies well into the future.

Alex, Amber, and a big ol’ pile of potential prairie plants.

Posted in Prairie Restoration/Reconstruction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments