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.)
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.