Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring is here!

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  ~Charles Dickens
Last week felt like an anomaly. It was the last week of winter and temperatures hovered in the 70's and 80's. The sun was out, but the trees were still bare and the grass brown. It was reassuring this week when the temperatures dropped into the 50's and 60's (chilly, right?) and some rain fell on the Twin Cities. The weather made for the fastest and earliest greening that I have ever seen in this area. We spotted our first green sprout last week, and by the end of this week we had seen blooming wildflowers, budding trees and green lawns.

It was a good week to be outside. It was the first week of Spring Youth Outdoors, so, for the next 12 weeks, we'll be splitting our time between YO days and field days. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are YO days. This means we will be doing environmental education and service projects with high school age youth from Saint Paul. On days that the youth don’t work we will have field days, doing environmental restoration and improvement projects in the Saint Paul Parks.

Identifying garlic mustard
(Alliaria petiolata)
(Sanguinaria canadensis)
Wednesday, we worked at Crosby Park. We were managing garlic mustard which is an aggressive invasive species. We got a chance to do some plant identification while we were in the park, and spotted a few different types of wildflowers already in bloom, including bloodroot and Dutchman's breeches.

Thursday was our first youth service day, and after a quick name game and pep talk, we hauled brush along Hamline Avenue to get ready to replant the area with native trees. This area has recently had invasive species removed as well as a number of green ash trees. Funding from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Community Forest Bonding Grant will allow Parks and Recreation to plant more than 800 native trees on park property where green ash have been, or will be, removed as a part of the City's Emerald Ash Borer management program.

Friday started out overcast like the rest of the week but felt like summer by mid-afternoon. In the afternoon, we managed invasive species such as garlic mustard, motherwort, and burdock in the rain gardens and the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom (CWOC). It was slow work but we covered well over an acre by the end of the day.

If you have any questions about any of the projects we're doing, please ask!

Post contributed by: Youth Outdoors, Crew 1, Minnesota Conservation Corps

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Controlled burn at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

Sunset marked the end of the burn day and
graced us with a beautiful view of the Saint Paul skyline
The burn season is upon us. Prescribed burns, also called controlled burns, are an important management tool used by natural resource professionals. Fire can be intimidating, but when used properly the benefits are undeniable.

Protecting young trees
as the fire passes
Why are controlled burns used in Saint Paul's parks? As with most natural areas, the presence of undesirable plants such as invasive species and turf grass in Saint Paul's parks is unavoidable. However, with management techniques such as prescribed burning, we can keep the extent of their presence under control. Many undesirable species are 'cold season' plants. This means that they are able to leaf out earlier in the spring while soil temperatures are still fairly low. That ability gives these unwelcome plants a head start on the growing season and puts native 'warm season' plants in a tough spot. Once the growing conditions are suitable for native plants, the weedy species are already thriving. This leaves native plants struggling to get the sunshine, water and nutrients that they need to be healthy. 

A patch of garlic mustard
about to be consumed by flames
How does fire help? There is a short window of time during which many of the weeds and invasive species have already sent much of their energy from their roots to their leaves, stalks, and buds above ground. This is when they are most vulnerable. Meanwhile, native plants are still dormant--retaining their energy below ground, waiting for soil temperatures to warm up enough for them to begin growing. Using prescribed fire as a management tool allows land managers to knock back undesirable plants that have emerged from the ground after they have expended much of their energy reserves.  Simultaneously, the newly exposed soil can absorb the sun's energy--warming the soil, kick starting and extending the growing season for warm season, native plants. Win-win!

Want to know more? Check out this description on prescribed fire from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Go for a visit or check back on the blog for photos of Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary plant life emerging from the ashes in the next few weeks!