Saturday, May 18, 2013

Plant a tree, burn a prairie...All in a day's work!

Post contributed by Katie from Conservation Corps Youth Outdoor Crew 1:

These last few weeks have been jam packed with activity for the Conservation Corps crews and the youth crews. With the snow falling into May a lot of the usual spring projects were pushed back later than normal. But now with all the snow melted and the ground thawed spring has sprung!

The crews have been hard at work planting bare root seedlings all over St. Paul Parks these past weeks, thousands of them in fact. Bare root seedlings are small trees that have been grown in a controlled environment where they can get all the water and nutrients they need. They are then harvested and distributed without any soil, which makes them fast and easy to plant. We have been scrambling to get them all into the ground on time this year! Not all of these trees are going to survive, but by planting so many we’ve increased our chances that a few will grow into strong, healthy trees and shrubs.

Volunteers planting seedlings at Crosby Farm Regional Park
Thank you to all of the Arbor Month volunteers!
On the floodplain at Crosby Farm Park the Youth Outdoors crews worked with about 100 volunteers from around the metro area at an Arbor Day event where over 200 seedlings were planted. Species including silver maple, sugar maple, chokecherry, black cherry and swamp white oak were planted. If you walk through Crosby today, you’ll see where they were all planted because many of these seedlings are protected with tree tubes to give the seedling a better chance at survival through protection from deer browsing and other dangers. The Youth Outdoors crews also helped to plant about 1,500 shrub and tree seedlings at Highwood Nature Preserve, including juneberry, hazelnut, chokecherry, white pine, gray dogwood, and elderberry.

More trees were planted at the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom in the oak savanna and conifer forest with volunteers from the Great River School. The students are running an experiment with Saint Paul Parks and Recreation testing out different styles of tree tubes with different species. In the conifer section, you may see white pine, jack pine and basswood seedlings planted with a Tubex tube, a Plantra tube or without a tube at all. The tubes will stay on the seedlings for the next few years and the students will track the seedlings’ progress.

Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary after
completing a prescribed fire
More recently the conditions have been right for the crews to get out and do some prescribed burning in Saint Paul Parks. Fire has been used as a management tool in some areas as it mimics a natural process that some ecosystems depend on. In many cases it improves natural conditions for plant growth as it help to warm the soil. Some plants are even fire dependent, where they can only begin to grow once fire has been through the area. There is a very short window of opportunity for doing a prescribed burn in Minnesota, especially after such a long winter. The snow needs to have melted, leaving the ground dry, but the burn needs to go through an area before everything gets too green. If you look outside, you’ll see things have certainly started to green up. In addition, temperature, humidity and wind speed and direction are critical in planning a prescribed burn, and can make or break a prescription. The Conservation Corps crew got to burn 7.1 acres of prairie at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary that is on a 2 year burn cycle to encourage growth of native plants and to also reduce the impact of some invasives that may not be very fire tolerant.

Youth Outdoors Crew 2 after a long day of burning at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary
 (Jason, Katie, Meredith, Riley)
You may still see plumes of smoke being guarded by these trained wildland firefighters around city parks as we try to squeeze in the last few prescribed burns for the season. This management tool has really helped to improve the quality of our natural resources around the Twin Cities. One great example can be found at Bruce Vento, which used to be covered in invasive species like crown vetch. Today, there is a great biodiversity of prairie plant species restored to its native state.