Friday, November 6, 2015

News from Hocking Hills

Hocking Hills State Forest and Park are arguably the most beloved of Ohio's natural areas.   Thousands upon thousands of people visit Hocking each year to commune with nature, view wildlife and hike the hills. Unfortunately the Ohio Division of Forestry looks at Hocking as just another "resource" to be timbered, mined or drilled.

Our dear friend, Paul Knoop, one of Ohio best known and well-respected naturalists, the National Natural Areas and Preserves George B. Fell award recipient for 2014 wrote to me today of his grave concerns for our State Parks and Forests. 

Paul's story starts here:

"The Keifel Road cut was a 20 acre section of Hocking State Forest that was put out for bid and sold to a local timber cutter earlier this summer. This cut is just down the road from our home so I was very familiar with the area, a ridge top with a community of old pitch pine mixed with older growth hardwoods on the adjacent slopes. Older pitch pine ecosystems are rare in Hocking County and I feel they should not have been cut. 

The bigger issue is the cutting of all the big oak trees, one with an age of 250 years plus (a chestnut oak). This tree started to grow before the Declaration of Independence and before Ohio was declared a state. Hardwoods of this age are rare today and common sense would say "leave it alone" to finish out its life. This tree weathered 250 winters and summers, warded off insects, diseases and numerous other maladies that impact live trees. This tree was a champion, it had good genetics and passed its strong traits along in bushels of acorns that were produced during its life time. Only we humans could defeat it and it was a chain saw and fifteen minutes of time and the old monarch came crashing down.

Many of us feel it is a criminal act to cut trees of this age but they are being cut on a regular basis in all Ohio state forests.These forests belong to all the people of Ohio and should be thought of as living museums and treasures for all of us."  Paul Knoop, Jr.

Doesn't Paul's writing raise a level of awareness and concern?  How does cutting down Old-growth trees in tourist areas help Ohio's economy or secure a better future for our children?  We've been told Ohio's State finances are doing fine, so why are we selling off our parks' and forests' trees?

Our highly visited parks and forests create annual tax revenue for their counties by attracting thousand to visit and view the most scenic areas in Ohio.  Who will come to Hocking to see the stumps?  This old giant served its ecosystem well for over 244 years, but now it will become pallets or pulp wood.  Is this the Ohio you envision for our children and their children?

Ohio has no shortage of timber products being produced on private land owners' property.  Why are we allowing our State to destroy some of the best natural habitats at a time the world is calling for an end to deforestation?  Short term profit is not a long term plan. We can do better. 

The Ohio Ornithological Society and seven other organizations are calling on our Governor to stop this needless cutting in our parks and forests. Help us protect our natural heritage. Please join us and send your letter of support to:
Governor John KasichRiffe Center, 30th Floor
77 S, High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-6117

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fall Colors, Flagging invasive species

 If the recent rains haven't knocked all your fall leaves to the forest floor, this weekend may be your last chance to take in a color tour. Or if you have travel in mind, here is a link to a fall color travel map.

An Ohio forest in full Fall display.
 Here in Ohio we are lucky to be a part of that small percentage of the world which experiences these beautiful colors of leaves changing from green to yellow, orange and reds in response to cooler weather.  An experienced color watcher can develop a feeling for the composition of a woods by its colors.  Yellow is expressed by Hickories, Eastern Hop-hornbeam, and Hackberry.  Beech leaves turn to the warm color of copper.  Sassafras trees are total show-offs,  likely to range through color expressions of red, yellow and orange! University of Tennessee  offers a nice fall color chart, you can download here.

Fall is also a good time to identify invasive plants in your landscape.
 This photo documenting stunning pinks and reds dominating the fall forest, makes me wish I were just a little less forest-wise.  While most people enjoy this as a lovely display of color, land managers see this as a brewing problem in our natural areas.  The pink and red coloration is the tell-tale sign of a nasty invasive, non-native plant: Winged Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus.  It comes out the landscape plantings and spreads into natural areas. Unfortunately, for all its beauty, it becomes an aggressive colony which can quickly out-compete the woodland flowers and native shrubs.

Michael Woogerd attacks non-natives.
Since non-native plants get their competitive edge over native plants by holding their leaves longer in the fall and greening up first in the spring, those are ideal times to assess your natural areas and plantings at home.  If something appears excessively robust this late in the fall, that maybe a good indicator to take a second look!  Michael Woogerd, land manager for North Central Ohio Land Conservancy, attacks all of the Burning Bush which has crept onto land trust properties with great prejudice.  It can't hide its true colors in the fall!

Winter Creeper, a menace in green.
Some invasives are not so showy; they calmly head into winter in their glorious green. Winter Creeper, another euonymus, Euonymus fortunei is a particular problem at my own home.  It was the legacy of the previous owner who planted it as a "nice ground cover." Too bad it doesn't stay on the the ground!  It is given to climbing up trees and throwing seed to the wind. It is probably on every invasive list in the U.S.

Winter Creeper over-runs a natural area at Lakeside, Ohio.
Given a little room and some time, Winter creeper will gobble up any and all ground vegetation.  It has even strangled my Hosta specimens at home!  Ohio's delicate ephemeral flowers of the forest, like Trilliums and Spring Beauties, don't stand a chance against this "creep"!  Since this photo was taken, we have removed a portion of the Winter Creeper from this flagged transect. I plan to monitor which spring flowers will respond and reestablish themselves when given the opportunity.

Spring flowers will be a great reward for the little bit of work it took to remove a section of that nasty Winter Creeper!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Battle Ahead

Today I am in our nation's capital city, Washington D.C.

A naturalist could hardly feel more out of her elements than here in the city, amongst honking taxis, navigating lanes of traffic and a gauntlet of valets at the hotel.  But I am here, for a purpose.

The Battlefield of the First Bull Run at Massassas, VA.
But few miles from Washington lies a peaceful scene, the first battlefield of our nation's Civil War. The fields outlying today's Manassas are a welcome rest from the hustle of the highway.  The wind blows softly though the high grasses. The tinkle of ground crickets belie the horrors of war this National Park commemorates.

This land set aside speaks to us of our nations history and past struggles.  It is easy to think politics are not a part of a naturalist's life, but we should each feel compelled to speak up against the movement to sell off our nation's great lands and parks.  These places not only commemorate our past, but the are also the front lines for a modern day battle.  The fields of Manassas have found new life and purpose as a urban oasis for grassland birds and wildlife.  This unintentional by-product brings new meaning and urgency for protection from the encroaching world.

Grassland Conservation is now a part of the mission of this National Park.  It is a habitat of historic proportions. In addition to the grassy fields, there are also large swathes of woodlands, shrub lands and streams which are a part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Manassas battlefield is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Audubon.

More over, it is an important people area.  Here we can undertake to study the manner mankind and nature each handle its affairs.  This site of an epic and bloody battle scene has been transfigured by a kindly Mother Nature.  I like what she has done with the place.

A single gnarled juniper remains.
On the field remains a gnarled tree, still fertile with fragrant juniper berries.  This lone sentinel bears witness to our horrific past and leans gently toward the future.  Let us stand up for these reservoirs of nature all across our great land.  What some might consider "wasted" undeveloped land has a greater importance to our history, both natural and man made. 
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community."  Aldo Leopold 1948

Friday, October 16, 2015

Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania

Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania is ensconced within the lovely Allegheny Plateau. It is a portion of the LEAP (Lake Erie and Allegheny Plateau) study area sponsored by The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  This week, LEAP had a training workshop at the Jennings Environmental Center and our field trips filled our hearts and minds with fall beauty.

The Jennings Prairie features Shingle Oak, Quercus imbricaria.
 When I arrived, my first thought was, "A Prairie?  You've got to be kidding me?"  I felt fairly assured in my belief that prairies are not a natural part of the Pennsylvania landscape.  Well, I was mostly right.  A native prairie in Pennsylvania is a rarity. That is exactly what made this area worthy of protection as the Jennings State Park.

Blue Willow- an unusual prairie component.
Blue Willow, Salix myricoides ("myricoides" means: like bayberry) forms small stands in this wet prairie formed from clay soils. It seemed to be an unusual component for a prairie, and a plant I have only previously seen in Ohio fens. Its attractive blue leaves are wider than most plants in the willow family and do resemble the leaves of the bayberry.

A Memorial wall for Ohio born botanist, O.  E. Jennings
This unique botanical area was discovered by Otto E. Jennings, a Pennsylvania botanist who was born in Ohio and attended OSU.  He was legendary in these parts and the Jennings State Park was named in his honor.  Follow this link to learn more about him.
Blazing star- the "prairie"giveaway!
 Jennings discovered this prairie when he found a large community of Blazing Stars, Liatris sp.  This photo shows the seed head in fall, but the link above takes you to an excellent photo of the purple flower in full bloom.  It is a standard for Ohio and Indiana prairies, but the plant is considered a rarity in PA.

 Another interesting component of this wet prairie is the Massasauga rattlesnake.  One was seen just early last week, but it was likely headed toward hibernation.

Botanist and land managers working on a rapid forest assessment.
 The workshop held at Jennings dealt with assessment of natural areas.  Our group which comprised of land managers, botanists and ecologist from both Ohio and Pennsylvania headed out to the woods to put our knowledge to work.  We enjoyed assessing this high quality Allegheny forest at Wolf Creek Trail which is part of the Western Pennsylvania Land Conservancy's holdings.

Wolf Creek at Slippery Rock, PA.
I'll leave you with a photo of the the colors along Wolf Creek Trail.  Nothing I can say will enhance the beauty this natural area already provides of its own accord.  Get out soon and enjoy a natural area, even if you are only able to assess it by the beauty which you behold. 

Fall is here...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Go take a hike!

October is the perfect time to take a hike in the woods.  The fall temperatures have been favorable, not too hot and not too cold. Fall colors have not peaked yet, but each day the show keeps getting better and better.

Extra parking at the old Clear Fork Ski Resort.
If you like to hike in the fall, here is an event you won't want to miss. The Grand Opening of the Clear Fork Scenic Trail will be held on Saturday Oct. 17th.  Mark your calendar and head towards Butler, Ohio to take advantage of this special opportunity.

This stream bed glistens as the colored leaves fall.
North Central Ohio Land Conservancy is opening up some very special trails that were not previously accessible by the public. These locations are now being decorated in fall's finest colors. The springs are springing and the trees are standing a little taller as Richland Public Health announces this big event.

Chief trail hiker, Eric Miller.
The trail opening is the culmination of 25 years of careful planning and a few fortuitous mistakes. Since the 1990's, North Central Ohio Land Conservancy has been piecing together this trail from Butler (and the B & O Bike Trail) to Malabar Farm.  Our chief trail hiker (and CEO) Eric Miller is inspecting every step and has personally raked and leveled off a lot of those miles. Major props also go to Larry Smith, Michael Woogerd and Zach Pocock for all of their labors and time spent with trail volunteers.

Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens
Special efforts went into siting those trails. One can easily see a huge colony of orchids,  like the pictured Rattlesnake Plantains. Their stunning striped foliage is quite visible in the fall.  You'll have to come back again in the spring to see our colony of hundreds of Showy Orchis,  Gallearis spectabilis (or Orchis spectibilis.) Right now they are more like "Orchis incognito".  Their foliage and flowers are hidden in the fall as they rest under the soil until next year.

Fall asters are abundant.
 Fall is still a great time to see floristic displays.  Many of our Ohio native prairie plants, like the asters and goldenrods, are still putting on quite a show.  The prairie portion of this Clear Fork Scenic Trail was featured during Flora-Quest 2015. Guy Denny and Larry Smith led a group on a hike through the grasslands of NCOLC.

Look for the signs.
 Come on out and look for our signs. The trails are well marked and often tagged with orange streamers.  We only ask that you stay on the trails and enjoy the views. While the trail was 25 years in the making, it took eons to arrange much of this scenery. Now we want to share it with you. Details are in the poster linked below.  

We'll look forward to seeing you there!

Download this poster