Category Archives: Prairie Restoration/Reconstruction

House “Sodsaver” Measure Would Protect Native Prairie Habitat

Protect Our Prairies Act would limit taxpayer-funded incentives to destroy native grasslands

02-14-2013 // Aviva Glaser
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Representatives Noem (R-SD) and Walz (D-MN) today introduced legislation to save America’s grasslands through a national sodsaver provision. The Protect Our Prairies Act, which has the support of eight bipartisan co-sponsors, is common-sense legislation that would reduce taxpayer-funded incentives to destroy vital grassland resources.

Aviva Glaser, Legislative Representative for Agriculture Policy at National Wildlife Federation, said today:

America is at risk of losing one our most iconic ecosystems. Native prairies, along with the wildlife that are dependent upon them, are disappearing at an alarming rate. The Protect Our Prairies Act will help protect this vital resource by promoting management practices that conserve native grasslands.

“Without a national sodsaver provision, we will continue to see native prairie habitats converted to cropland, despite the fact that this vulnerable land is often marginal, highly erodible, or prone to flooding. It’s time we get rid of the perverse incentives that encourage farmers to destroy native prairie for marginal financial gain.

“With this legislation we can protect vital habitat for declining wildlife and save taxpayer dollars while ensuring that some the riskiest land for crop production is kept in grazing use. It is critical that the House Agriculture Committee include this national sodsaver provision in the 2013 Farm Bill.”

Link to The National Wildlife Federation

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Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants Article Grass-carrying Wasps ~ Isodontia spp.

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Grass-carrying wasps are a flower-visiting solitary wasp, common in late summer and early fall. Because they are solitary-nesting, and not colonial like yellowjackets or hornets, they do not sting humans to defend their nests. It’s an important distinction to make with wasps in our landscapes, so many are solitary and not aggressive.

 

 

 

Bee2They perform important ecosystem services, pollinating the plants in our landscape, and preying on foliage eating insects, crickets and katydids in particular.

Females look for prey, stinging them several times to paralyze and immobilize them. They carry their prey back to their nests, which are preexisting cavities such as hollow stems or holes bored in wood.

 

Bee3 The prey are stocked for their developing larvae to feed upon. Using nearby grasses, nests are divided into sections with pieces of grass, they also close the end of nest with grass.

Bee4If you erect a mason bee nest board (board with nesting holes drilled in it), grass-carrying wasps will sometimes build nests in the cavities. Look for pieces of grass sticking out the ends of the board holes or plant stems.

I have several different variations of stem nests hung in the yard for solitary bees (and wasps), this one in particular has been utilized almost exclusively by grass-carrying wasps. Cup plant and pale Indian plantain stems work extremely well, both are hollow.

Bee5Here’s a cross-section of one of those stems with the wasp larvae and stocked prey. In my yard, the grass-carrying wasps like to use little blue stem to seal off the cavities.

Bee6Look for grass-carrying wasps in late summer. In my yard, they like to visit stiff goldenrod, common boneset and pale Indian plantain flowers for nectar.

 

 

 

 

 

Article Posted From Restoring The Landscape Website

If You Are Interested In Purchasing Our Pollinator Seed Mix Please Visit Us At Our Website Native Wildflowers & Seeds From Ion Exchange, Inc.

 

 

The Prairie Ecologist Article: Lessons From a Project to Improve Prairie Quality – Part 2: Overseeding and Seedling Plugs

Last week, I posted a summary of some findings from a long project to enhance prairie habitat. I focused that post on the lessons we learned from the fire/grazing management portion of the project, including impacts on regal fritillary butterflies. This week, I’m looking at the other half of that project – overseeding and adding seedling plugs to our degraded prairies in order to increase plant diversity. As with last week, you can find all the gritty details, including graphs, tables, and more, by looking at our full final report.

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Maximilian sunflower is one of the species we’ve found easiest to establish in degraded prairies. (These particular sunflowers are for illustration only – not from an overseeded site.)

During the five years of the project, we overseeded approximately 500 acres of prairie – focusing mostly on degraded remnant (unplowed) prairies that were missing many characteristic prairie wildflower species. We harvested our own seed from nearby sites, and broadcast it on degraded prairies right after burning them. The prairies were managed with patch-burn grazing, so cattle grazed those burned areas intensively for the remainder of the first growing season and then focused their grazing elsewhere in subsequent years. To measure success of the seedings, I used replicated plots to count the number of new plants that established from seed. Most of the seedings included multiple seeding rates, so I was able to look at the effect of seeding rate on establishment.

In addition to overseeding, we raised and transplanted more than 800 prairie and wetland seedlings into seven different sites, and added several hundred more seedlings to our nursery beds for seed production. Most transplanting was done in the late spring, and plants were watered on the day of transplanting but afterward. We marked (GPS and flags)and attempted to re-locate seedling plugs to evaluate survival, but that didn’t work out very well, and we didn’t find a lot of the plants we’d plugged in. Some of those plants surely died (which prevented us from finding them), but for others, flags disappeared and GPS points weren’t accurate enough to lead us to the small plants we thought were probably there. We did find some, but our estimates of success are pretty fuzzy.

We learned two major lessons from this portion of the project:

1. Overseeding after a burn in a patch-burn grazed prairie can re-establish at least some missing plant species, but the use of a high seeding rate is important.

2. Overseeding seems to be more cost effective than seedlings, assuming abundant seed can be obtained relatively cheaply.

In tallgrass prairies further to the east of us, people have had pretty good, if inconsistent, luck with overseeding prairies without necessarily having to suppress the vigor of surrounding vegetation. We’ve tried that here, and have seen very low success, maybe because our drier climate (25 inches of precipitation per year) increases competition for moisture? Regardless, our best results have come from seeding after a burn – for good seed/soil contact – followed by grazing of the dominant grasses that appear to be the primary competition for new seedlings. Patch-burn grazing works well, but we’ve also had good luck in the past by just grazing intensively for a month or so after seeding, and then pulling the cattle out.

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Trails from our ATV and broadcast seeder in recently burned prairie. Broadcasting after a burn helps get the seed/soil contact we need. Experiments with light harrowing as a way to get even more soil contact haven’t shown any obvious results. Note the absolute straight lines I made as I planted this site…

Seeding rate was very important. We started by seeding at about the same rate as we use when we converting cropland to high-diversity prairie – about 1-2 lbs of bulk forb seed per acre. As the project went on, we went as high as 8 lbs, and continued to see better results. At least in our prairies, seeding smaller areas with more seed seems to be more effective than spreading limited seed over large areas.

Because others have incorporated light tillage or harrowing to suppress competition and increase seed/soil contact, we tried some of that as well, but our results were mixed. Some tilled plots showed very high establishment, but others showed less than non-tilled plots. We did find that when we tilled a few inches deep, we didn’t seem to kill any plant species – remembering that these are degraded sites already. I would definitely not recommend that others try tillage on a large scale, but in small plots within degraded grasslands, it’d probably be worth some more experimenting. We had a beautiful set of replicated tilled plots that I hoped would clarify the situation in 2012, but the severe drought overwhelmed that attempt.

Even at our highest seeding rates of 8 bulk pounds of forb seed per acre, the density of established plants was relatively low (in our best sites, we established around 150 new plants per acre) but hopefully high enough to create self-sustaining populations that will grow over time. The plant species that established most readily included:

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
Sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus)
Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)
Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis)
Entire-leaf rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium)
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Purple & white prairie clover (Dalea purpurea and D. candida)
Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) – in some sites
Illinois tickclover (Desmodium illinoense) – in some sites
In terms of seedlings, we have found that most prairie plants are easily grown in greenhouse situations (with some exceptions) but that some take more than a year to germinate, and then perhaps a full year or more to grow large enough to transplant. When we planted the seedlings into prairies, we clumped them together in groups of 5-10 plants to help form populations that could cross pollinate, and to make it easier to find at least one of the plants we’d put in.

TNC greenhouse Platte River Prairies.

Compass plant seedlings and others in our greenhouse.

We had success with seeding plugs in some situations – particularly in terms of getting wetland sedge species established in restored wetlands – but transplant survival in degraded mesic prairies was mixed at best. Most of our transplanting was done in the late spring, as we hoped to synchronize our planting with the wettest time of the year, but we may experiment with more fall planting in the future. We felt that many of our seedlings may have died because they weren’t in the appropriate soil conditions, which we had to guess at since there were no existing populations of most of the species we were transplanting. Broadcasting seed is probably a better way to match up appropriate plant species with their specific microhabitat requirements.

In our situation, it appears that overseeding is a cheaper and more efficient way to increase plant diversity in degraded prairies. Of course, one big reason it makes sense for us is that we have existing capacity for large-scale seed harvest. If enhancement of degraded prairies is a high priority for a landowner or land management entity, it might make sense to build their own seed harvest capacity. That doesn’t necessarily mean large investments in equipment or people, though a pull-behind seed stripper or combine can be a nice way to harvest large amounts of seed quickly. Large amounts of wildflower seed can also be harvested by hand (our typical method) if you are efficient and organized.

By Chris Helzer from The Prairie Ecologist Website

For All Your Native Wildflowers & Seeds Visit Us At Our Website Native Wildflowers & Seeds From Ion Exchange, Inc.

The Prairie Ecologist Article Lessons From a Project to Improve Prairie Quality – Part 1: Patch-Burn Grazing, Plant Diversity, and Butterflies

We recently completed a large multi-year restoration and management project at our Platte River Prairies. Our specific objectives were to improve habitat quality for various at-risk prairie species and evaluate the impacts of our management on at-risk butterflies – particularly regal fritillaries. The project was supported by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, who funded our work with two State Wildlife Grants (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service money). Over five years, we conducted fire/grazing management in our prairies and enhanced plant diversity through overseeding and seedling plugs. We measured the results of that work by measuring changes in prairie plant communities and by looking at the use of our prairies by regal fritillaries and other butterflies.

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We’ve worked hard to get plant diversity in our restored prairies, including this one. We wanted to know whether or not our management was maintaining that diversity, and also how it was affecting butterflies. The prairie shown here was being grazed at the time of the photo – July 2009. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The following is a brief summary of the major lessons we’ve gleaned from the fire/grazing component of the project, including implications for future management and restoration work. I will summarize the overseeding/seedling work in a separate upcoming post. If you want more details, you can see our entire final report to the funding agencies here. As a warning, the report is 14 pages long, with an additional 21 pages of Appendices, full of tables and graphs.

What We Did
Between 2008 and 2012, we treated over 1,500 acres of prairie with varying applications of patch-burn grazing management. During that time, we altered the timing of burning and the intensity of grazing from year to year, and included years of complete rest from grazing in some prairies. For the purposes of this project, we evaluated the results of our work in two main ways:

– We measured changes in plant diversity and mean floristic quality.

– We conducted three years of butterfly surveys to evaluate how regal fritillaries and other butterfly species responded to our restoration and management work.

What We Learned

Here are the seven major lessons we learned from this project. Some of this information has been covered in previous blog posts, so in addition to providing you the link to our full final report for this project, I am also providing links to blog posts in which I covered these topics more completely.

1. During our use of prescribed fire and grazing, plant diversity and mean floristic quality have been either stable or increasing in most of our prairies. This holds up when looking at both short-term (3-4 years) and longer term (up to 10 years) data sets. In addition to collecting data on the overall plant community, we also tracked individual plant species. Even conservative forbs (those most vulnerable to prairie degradation) are maintaining stable populations.

With a few exceptions, we haven’t been able to compare patch-burn grazing against other management techniques (fire only, other grazing systems, etc.) in our prairies, so we can’t say our patch-burn grazing is better at promoting plant diversity than those other alternatives. However, we have been able to increase or maintain plant diversity while creating a mosaic of habitat patches that we think benefits a wide range of plant and animal species.

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Patch-burn grazing helps us maintain diverse plant communities while also creating patchy habitat that benefits many insect and animal species.

2. Periodic complete exclusion of grazing appears to be important to prevent annual grazing of a few plant species. Within our patch-burn grazing systems, cattle mostly constrain their grazing within recently burned patches to the exclusion of unburned areas. However there are a few plant species that cattle appear to seek out and graze regardless of whether they are in burned or unburned patches. These include common and showy milkweed (Asclepias syriaca and A. speciosa), Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis), and entire-leaved rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium).

All three plant species are still surviving in prairies that have been grazed annually for 10 years or more, but the vast majority of individuals within each species are being grazed each year before they can flower. If that continues, they will probably disappear over time, as existing plants die off without replacing themselves. To prevent this, we are building periodic exclusion of grazing into each of our pastures, either by pulling cattle out of the pasture for a whole year now and then, or by using electric fence exclosures that shift in location from year to year.

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Rosinweed is often targeted by cattle regardless of whether it’s in a burned or unburned patch. Completely excluding cattle from prairies now and then allows rosinweed and a few other cattle favorites to bloom and recover their vigor.

3. We can increase plant diversity in prairies dominated by invasive grasses, but it is less important to measure the extent of invasive grasses than it is to measure plant diversity. I dealt with this topic extensively in a recent post on Kentucky bluegrass, so I’ll skip over most of it here. Basically, we’ve found that we can increase plant diversity without necessarily decreasing the frequency or abundance of invasive grasses. Because of that, measuring the invasive grasses might indicate a failure in our management, even though we’re achieving our ultimate objective.

4. Butterflies are nectaring primarily on ”weedy” wildflower species in our prairies. Again, I’ve dealt with this in a previous post. Essentially, regal fritillaries and most other butterfly species in our prairies are primarily nectaring on hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), thistles (Carduus nutans and various Cirsium species), and milkweeds (Asclepias species) – which are considered to be weeds by many people. Those “weeds” appear to be awfully important to butterflies and other pollinators.

5. Regal fritillary populations appear to survive well under patch-burn grazing management despite some mortality from fire. This was one of our most important findings from this project, and it backs up similar results from Ray Moranz from Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa prairies. In fact, we worked with Ray to mimic his survey techniques to allow us to compare results more easily. In our prairies, we are certainly killing regal fritillary caterpillars with our spring burns. However, regals are doing very well in the unburned portions of our sites, which make up 2/3 to ¾ of the total area in most years. Could we have higher numbers of regals if we weren’t burning? Maybe, but we’d certainly see decreases in other species we also think are important, and it’d be much more challenging to keep invasive and aggressive plants at bay and create heterogeneous habitat structure.

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It was valuable to look at our prairies through the eyes of regal fritillary butterflies. We gained a greater appreciation for the importance of “weedy” plants such as the hoary vervain shown here. We also saw how well our restored prairies complement our remnants.

6. Our restored (formerly cropped) prairies appear to be complementing our degraded remnant (unplowed) prairies in terms of nectar resources. Most regal fritillary production – egg laying, larval feeding, and emergence as adults – seems to occur in thatchy portions of our remnant prairies, where we have high populations of violets (the sole food plant for larvae). However, once the adults emerge from their chrysalises and mate, they tend to spend much more time in our restored prairies, where the abundance of nectar plants is much higher. Since the main objective of our restoration work is to increase the effective size and function of our fragmented remnant prairies, this result is very encouraging.

7. While we looked only at butterflies for this project, we did some work with bees over the same period, and as we synthesize all of our pollinator work there are some apparent lessons that emerge. We know that to maintain plant diversity, it’s important to allow all desired plant species to bloom and complete their life cycles periodically. Because plant species respond differently to management treatments, that means varying those treatments from year to year. However, from a pollinator standpoint, it’s also important to stagger those management treatments across the landscape to maximize the availability and diversity of blooming plants for pollinators at any one time.

Because most bees, for example, have a very limited range of travel from their nest, haying or burning an entire 200 acre prairie at once would mean that the only plant species available for bees are those that do well under that management treatment. Since many bees are specialists on certain flower species, that can have important consequences for those bees, as well as for bees that need a variety of flower species in order to maintain steady food supplies. For bees and other pollinators (and likely many other species) it’s probably important to scatter a range of management treatments across space so that wherever a bee nests, there is a large variety of flowers available to it. However, I don’t know how to decide how many management units to use within a prairie, or how big each should be. I’ll explore this topic more in a future blog post.

Summary

As always, we still have a lot to learn about how to manage prairies for the diversity of species that live in them, as well as for overall ecological resilience. However, this project helped us better understand the impacts of our fire and grazing management on plant diversity and floristic quality. More importantly, it pushed us to look at the impacts of our management through the eyes of species other than plants – particularly butterflies. Overall, I think we’re doing well for both plants and butterflies, but we also learned some lessons that will help us tweak our management to benefit both.

Article From The Prairie Ecologist Website By Chris Helzer

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