June 22, 2023
Naturalists are studying our wetlands.
Two weekends ago, 20 naturalists of various disciplines camped near our wetlands to take inventory. Several were here for three days, a number for two, and some for one. One couple drove down from western New York. These are typically retired scientists living within 100 miles of here. A few students participated as well. The objective was to identify as many species of nature as possible over the weekend. Each scientist has her own specialty: butterflies, plants, crawfish, moths, lichens, birds, amphibians, fish, and other. Some, of course, offered numerous specialties. They donated over 300 hours of time and expertise to this effort.
Camping and camaraderie.
John has installed numerous trail cameras around the property, and has captured some beautiful pictures of animals. Here is a mother Red Fox, a vixen, with her five cubs. How can she possibly provide enough food for all of them? Her den is only about 150 feet from our house. It has been posited the influx of coyotes over recent decades is driving foxes closer to houses and barns for protection. However, we haven't seen Grey Foxes on the property yet.
Below is a magnificent visiting Great Egret, presiding in paradise.
As we continue the mysterious process of becoming willing partners with vast amounts of water, we learn evermore about how little we know. Rehydrating soils that have been systematically drained for over a hundred years is a challenge. Every thirty to forty years a new drainage system would be installed, as the previous one began failing. What we are discovering as we close down the newest system is water finds its way to the next oldest and gladly reactivates its exit path to the creek. So, then we close that pathway down, awaiting an exit to show up in yet another location.
Below is an example of how the old clay-tile system reactivated after we closed down the plastic one of 30 years ago. It is hard to know when this clay tile was installed, but probably 60 - 70 years ago. We went to the wet outlet, dug down four to five feet, and compacted the soil going back about 50 feet. The round clay tiles are relics I put in place to show what we unearthed.
Revegetating a wetlands to strict ecological standards is a challenge. Government agencies that monitor wetland reclamation are very clear about species acceptable to the ecosystem. Of particular concern are invasive species, which will overrun a wetland and choke its biodiversity. Every two years, we submit reports on random sampling of grids. Tolerance for invasive species is allowed at less than 5%. If more, we have to address the matter post haste. So far, we have always come in below 5%, due to careful management.
This past February, we received from a very select nursery 60,000 native trees and shrubs. We planted them as part of our effort to reconstruct the ancient wetlands of this extensive valley, described by naturalist Lucy Braun (of the University of Cincinnati) in the 1950's, as Beech Flats. The plants went in successfully as previously recounted to you. They were bare-rooted and bare-leaved. Over the next two months, roots took hold and leaves sprouted.
By mid May, Jacob noticed something amiss. One of the shrubs we had ordered and planted, Ninebark, didn't look like Ninebark. As the plant leafed out, it look ever more like a Spiraea. We have a few bushes of Japanese Spiraea at our house, and the similarity between the two is clear. We then began communicating with the nursery that we have a problem, but wanted to confirm identification with plant specialists on the Bio Blitz team. The specialists confirmed it is a Spiraea of some sort. Below are Ninebark on the left and the cultivar of Spiraea planted in the wetlands on the right.
The nursery inadvertently sent us a mislabeled invasive species! 2,000 of them, now embedded in our reclaimed acreage. The nursery has been very apologetic and contrite. They apparently out-sourced that specie to another nursery, and wasn't aware it was mislabeled. We are in discussions with them about the liability. We can quantify the cost to replace and replant, but it is harder to identify the cost of unintended consequences.
Over three days last week, Jacob's intrepid team walked every row planted this February and pulled up 1200 specimens of Spiraea. They had to walk through annual rye and ragweed six feet tall. Fortunately, it was cool and recent rains made the job easier than it would have been two weeks ago. What about the plants we overlooked and didn't find? What damage will they inflict? How long will it take to extinguish this invasive plant, another year or two or perhaps never? What does this do to our performance data over the years ahead? And what is the opportunity cost of this small crisis? What is not being accomplished because of this issue now and in the future? Those are real costs, but they are hard to quantify. Below, pulled Spiraea plants are inventoried on nearby fencing.
Gary Stauffer is one of our intrepid wetlanders. His crew of three provide testosterone when we need the boost. He apparently spent many an afternoon as a boy looking for arrowheads along these bottoms. He is a neighbor, whose parents' land abuts ours. The other day, after a rain, he found this arrowhead along one of the rows we tilled for planting trees. Tillage brings the artifact to the surface and rain washes off the dirt so it is visible. He knew we would never be tilling again, so this would be the last opportunity to find such treasure. He discovered the one below near a depression we dug for water fowl.
Beaver are moving in to help rehydrate our soils.
I have found painting board fence to serve as highly productive means of meditating about family matters and else. It takes about 45 minutes to paint one section of this fence between posts. I have completed 40 sections so far and have been so pleased only to have 20 to go. But the other day, I strolled around back to admire the work, and discovered to my dismay an untouched peeling backside to the darned fence!... A great business idea would be for someone to invent a one-sided board fence. Now that would be a money-maker.
I just completed reading Fire Weather, by Canadian John Vaillant. He really does his research, and I have enjoyed thoroughly his two other books, The Tiger, and Golden Spruce. Fire Weather is about the "Petrocene Era", and specifically about the unprecedented wildfires unbridled consumption of carbon has wrought upon the world. This particular story is about the wildfire in 2016 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is the hub of Canadian tar sand development and has served as the largest supplier of oil to the US. That fire nearly destroyed the city and took a year and half to become extinguished. It was a self-induced apocalypse in every way.
But Vaillant notes that within three months of the horrible carnage, flowers began to push out of the desolate ground. He introduces the term revirescence: the earth's ability to heal, to become green again. The earth has been doing this for billions of years and always will. This is the basis for hope.