Thursday, December 18, 2014

Glade Restoration

Overgrown glade before mulching
We have just started Plan B in our restoration of a 12 acre "cedar glade." We began the project with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in 2006 with the cutting of the cedars, selling those that were of commercial value.  Prescribed fire was the next step but it wasn't to be between schedules and unfavorable weather, alternately too hot and dry or too humid and damp.  As nature abhors a vacuum, it filled in with lots of mixed trees and shrubs, soon reaching 15 feet high and too dense to burn.

Edge of the mulching
Plan B consists of calling in a mulching machine to grind down the dense thicket and let it grow up a year before scheduling the burn.  The machinery is impressive, a tracked vehicle with a giant grinder with titanium wheels that shreds all the thicket down to the ground.  This isn't pretty, but neither was the impenetrable mass that had taken over the hillside.

Mulched glade - 180 degree panorama
Until sometime in the last 150 years glades were common in this part of Missouri.  Those familiar with the lake country (itself an artificial construct created by damming the White River) have heard the term "balds" as in Dewey Bald, which described glades on hilltops without trees.  With suppression of fire and the birds' transportation of cedar berries (actually tiny cones), these balds have become quite hirsute, a dense mound of perpetual green.

When Henry Rowe Schoolcraft made his historic trek through Ozarks, he rarely mentioned cedars in his detailed descriptions of the country.  Writings of Civil War soldiers from Kansas and Iowa described the impressive oak-hickory forests but still not cedars.  Cedars were certainly present  The oldest reported cedar, 795 years old, was reported here in Missouri.*

Cedars are fire intolerant and their low lying branches provide a ladder for fire to engulf the entire tree.  The removal of Native American tribes in 1830 ended their periodic burning which cleared new growth trees and shrubs that hampered hunting and also stimulated fresh grass for feeding game animals.  This and the later suppression of fire allowed cedars to take over these desert-like south and west facing slopes, adding the word cedar to the glades, the cedar glades that cover the southern Missouri Ozarks today.  Our eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) are actually in the juniper family.

Cedars are not all bad, just growing too densely in the wrong places.  Fallow fields are rapidly seeded.  Robins love a good batch of cedar berries before hopping all over the exposed ground, planting as they go.  Cedar berries also feed other birds such as cedar waxwings, and the dense foliage provides winter wind protection for birds as well.  Branson had a major pencil factory in 1908 until the commercially available cedar timber was gone in the area.  There is still a market for eastern red cedar wood products although the western species is preferred for many uses.

Glades of Christian and Taney County (dark green) - Click to enlarge
So what are glades and why go to all this trouble to restore them?  Friendsofcache.org gives a good description which I will quote in full.
"On steep, south and west facing slopes where soils are very thin and bedrock erupts at or near the surface we find prairie glades.  Unlike prairies, glades were always natural island communities, usually surrounded by woods.  Glade communities are determined by the type of rock below, such as limestone, sandstone, shale or chert.  Although their foundations vary, all types of glades have extremely shallow soil–a maximum of 15 inches and usually much less–frequently disrupted by frost upheavals. Often the bedrock itself is exposed. Dry conditions prevail throughout much of the growing season, although the ground may be saturated in spring, winter and fall.  Some glades even boast seasonal or permanent spring seeps. 
Glades are far more complex than they appear–and more fragile.  Many glade inhabitants, both plants and animals, are dependent on this special habitat. The beautiful spring wildflower hoary puccoon and the six-lined racerunner lizard are two such species. Wildflowers are abundant in prairie glades, and the species in bloom change constantly throughout the growing season. Glade life sometimes seems almost incongruous. Lichens are abundant, including reindeer moss, the same plant upon which the tundra caribou depend. Yet thriving nearby is prickly pear cactus, a settler from the Southwest." 
Our glade restoration at Bull Mills is on a typical southwest facing limestone hillside.  It has two wet weather seeps but is "dry as a bone" all summer long with the sun beating down on it.  Our original survey done by the MDC showed tiny remnants of glade plants struggling to survive in the cedar duff that covered the ground.  Based on a previous restoration we did 12 years ago, they will spring back to life within a few months after a spring burn.

Bull Mills glade project - note the south and west location of all the glades
Washington University in St. Louis has a large-scale experiment involving the restoration of 32 glades under three different management models.  I like their succinct description.  "Missouri glades, which ecologists sometimes call sunlit islands in a forested sea, are areas of exposed bedrock in the Ozark woodlands that create their own hot, dry, desert-like microclimates and have their own unique mixture of species, including tarantulas, scorpions, and prickly pear cactus."  These may not seem like the kind of neighbors you want next door, but we enjoy diversity which is all the part of a healthy ecosystem.

Jess at Landbeaver LLC uses a Takeuchi TL 150 Skid Steer with Fecon Mower which you can see in action on this video.

Wikipedia describes its role as an early succession plant and prairie invader.

Allthingsplants.com has folklore, history and other information on cedars. 

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