Archive for February 2021

Puget Sound Prairie Soils

Puget Sound Prairie Soils, Post by Elizabeth Carp and images as noted.

Lizzie Carp moved to the northwest to work as a wildland firefighter, but after working in two communities devastated by heavy metal soil contamination due to mining, she decided to earn a master’s degree in soil remediation. She now works as a soil scientist for USDA-NRCS, where she is currently mapping the soils of Olympic National Park.

Puget Sound Prairie Soils

The Puget Sound prairies are a unique ecosystem supported by unique soils. Droughty and nutrient-poor, these soils provide a leaner existence for plants than prairie soils in other parts of the country, but that is in part what gives them their unique ecology. This post will describe the origins of these soils and why they matter.

The formation of Puget Sound prairie soils began about 15,000 years ago with the retreat of the Vashon ice sheet, a massive glacier that formed the Puget Trough and terminated in southern Thurston County, Washington. As the glacier melted, it left scattered deposits of sand and water-rounded gravel throughout Puget Sound. Since then, this glacial outwash has weathered to form today’s prairie soils.

A recently formed outwash plain. (http://geologylearn.blogspot.com/2015/07/continental-glacier-deposition.html)

A recently formed outwash plain. (http://geologylearn.blogspot.com/2015/07/continental-glacier-deposition.html)

Five factors influence how a soil develops and behaves: parent material, climate, organisms, relief, and time. Parent material is the geologic origin of the material that weathers into soil. Glacial outwash is a parent material that consists of larger, heavier mineral particles, like sand and gravel, that were deposited by the torrent of meltwater, which carried off the lighter silt and clay. This coarse texture gives Puget Sound prairie soils their low water- and nutrient-holding capacity.

Spanaway, a Puget Sound prairie soil that formed in outwash. Note the water-rounded gravel. Photo by Dan Ufnar, NRCS.

Spanaway, a Puget Sound prairie soil that formed in outwash. Note the water-rounded gravel. Photo by Dan Ufnar, NRCS.

Climate influences what can grow in the soil, the rate of microbial processes like decomposition, and the mineral content of soils. Western Washington’s prolific rainfall washes away nutrients and minerals that balance pH, creating acidic and nutrient-poor prairie soils.

Organisms add, alter, and move materials in the soil. Microbes decompose organic matter and weather minerals. On the Puget Sound prairies, humans historically used controlled burns, which added charcoal to the soil, to maintain grassland cover, such as camas, and prevent forest encroachment. Due to their abundance of fine roots, grasses contribute large quantities of organic matter to the upper parts of prairie soils, giving them characteristically thick, dark surface layers. Roots host fungi that exude a sticky substance called glomalin, which strengthens soil aggregates, improving aeration and water infiltration.

Roots add organic matter and improve soil structure. (https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/composting/benefits-soil-inoculants/)

Roots add organic matter and improve soil structure. (https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/composting/benefits-soil-inoculants/)

Relief, or topography, is the physical shape of the landscape: its slope, aspect, and tendency to collect or shed water and sediment. Soils on warmer and drier south-facing slopes support different vegetation than those on north-facing slopes, which tend to have more moisture. Soils that form on convex, erosive surfaces, such as the shoulder of a hill, are shallower than soils at the bottom of a slope, where they accumulate thicker surface layers. Soils tend to be drier on sloping or convex surfaces, which shed water. Spana, a Puget Sound prairie soil found in swales and depressions, is somewhat poorly drained while Spanaway, a geographically associated soil found on flat or convex surfaces, is somewhat excessively drained.

A topographic map shows the location of different soils. (https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-topography.html)

A topographic map shows the location of different soils. (https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-topography.html)

Finally, soils need time to develop. Older soils function differently than younger ones. With time, soils undergo significant weathering by organisms and rain. Soils acidify, and their original minerals dissolve to form red clays. Leaching carries dissolved substances downward, creating discernible layers called horizons. Young soils, which may have been deposited relatively recently by a river or a glacier, contain the original minerals of their parent material and show little horizon development. At only about 15,000 years in age, Puget Sound prairie soils are considered young soils.

Left: A well-developed soil (Alfisol) with layers of clay and calcium carbonate accumulation (A.R. Aandahl, Soils of the Great Plains: Land Use, Crops and Grasses, University of Nebraska Press, 1982; https://www.uidaho.edu/cals/soil-orders/alfisols#gallery-cbc9288e-2c8a-4900-b81e-210206d4522c--slideshow) Right: A soil that formed in recent outwash in Alaska. (http://web.unbc.ca/~sanborn/Photo_Galleries/Yukon/Stewart-neosol-(nr-Mayo-YT)(L).jpg)

Left: A well-developed soil (Alfisol) with layers of clay and calcium carbonate accumulation (A.R. Aandahl, Soils of the Great Plains: Land Use, Crops and Grasses, University of Nebraska Press, 1982; https://www.uidaho.edu/cals/soil-orders/alfisols#gallery-cbc9288e-2c8a-4900-b81e-210206d4522c–slideshow)
Right: A soil that formed in recent outwash in Alaska. (http://web.unbc.ca/~sanborn/Photo_Galleries/Yukon/Stewart-neosol-(nr-Mayo-YT)(L).jpg)

The five soil-forming factors are a useful tool for understanding soil development, but there is still a soil mystery on the Puget Sound prairies: the mima mounds. These mounds have a thick, dark, less rocky surface and sit atop very gravelly soil. From these observations, scientists have come to different conclusions on how the mounds formed, including from earthquakes, shrink-swell action, or windblown soil. The first theory has been debunked, as recent earthquakes have not been observed to form similar mounds. More recent studies claim that the mounds formed over centuries as gophers built homes above the rocky surface or as plants depleted water and nutrients from the inter-mound spaces, leading to accumulations of soil—the mounds.

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. (Frank Zack/Shutterstock; https://www.treehugger.com/uncovering-the-mysterious-origins-of-the-mima-mounds-4867783)

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. (Frank Zack/Shutterstock; https://www.treehugger.com/uncovering-the-mysterious-origins-of-the-mima-mounds-4867783)

Understanding soil is essential for understanding prairie ecology. Relationships between native plants and soils can be specific. Native plants may specialize by nutrient or moisture levels in soil, sometimes because they can live in adverse conditions, like droughtiness or low soil fertility, where others cannot.

If you would like to learn more about soils for prairie restoration, you can see which ones are mapped at your location using NRCS’s Web Soil Survey and SoilWeb. With these tools you can explore soils’ uses, limitations, and intrinsic properties that determine what kind of vegetation they can support. You can also learn how to recognize different soils in the field based on their profile description and where they occur on the landscape. When in doubt, you can always contact a soil scientist!

Web Soil Survey: https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/WebSoilSurvey.aspx

SoilWeb: https://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/gmap/

Seedlings to See Now (Well, After the Snow Melts)

Editor’s Note:  I was supposed to get this posted yesterday.  Now you’ll have to wait for the snow to go away or do some digging.  At least the snow will protect the young seedlings from the very cold nights predicted the next few days.

Seedlings to See Now, Post and Photos by Ivy Clark

Lauren ‘Ivy’ Clark studied the hybridization of Castilleja levisecta and C. hispida in restoration sites for their Masters thesis at the University of Washington before becoming a restoration technician for the Center for Natural Lands Management.

Seedlings to See Now

Doesn’t it feel like lately every spring starts trickling in too early, with plants peeking up through the soil well before you think they should? We have had a warmer January than usual this year. I am already seeing a lot of spring early-blooming species growing vigorously and we are not in spring yet.

So now that we are starting to stare at the ground, and feeling a bit obsessive about it (if you’re like me), first- stretch your neck & check out the clouds for a minute. Second- let’s refresh on a little plant anatomy so we can identify what seedlings and other young sprouts are emerging right now. That way, you can tell which plants are ‘friends’ and which are ‘foes’ while it is easy to clear away some foes to give extra room to the friends. Give the enemy no quarter. We’re going to focus on dicotyledonous plants (those with two “seed leaves”) aka- broad leaf plants as opposed to monocots (grasses, sedges, lilies, etc). It’s only because monocot seedlings are hard to ID with the naked eye.

1- seedling anatomy

To know what seedlings we see pushing up through the soil we may need to refresh ourselves on seedling anatomy. Step 1 in germination is for the seed to absorb water so the embryo inside can start growing. That’s the wee little tiny baby plant that was dormant and waiting for a cue to awaken. That cue can be temperature change or just getting enough water to cross the seed coat to rehydrate the embryo tissues. Smaller seeds generally also need light to germinate because their smaller embryos won’t make it through a significant (dark) depth of soil before they run out of stored energy. A big seed like an avocado pit can grow 1-2 feet long before needing light for photosynthesis.

As the seed germinates, aka- makes a seedling, you will likely see two prominent parts- first the cotyledons and later some small true leaves, both on the young stem called first a hypocotyl (supporting the cotyledons) and then the epicotyl above the cotyledons that supports the true leaves. Cotyledons are very simple-structured “seed leaves”, having made up the major part of the seed. They are food storage for a tiny new shoot tip and the first root of the plant (the radicle) which are tucked between the cotyledons before germination. I think of cotyledons as the packed lunch provided by the momma-plant for its baby, and the bigger the lunch the bigger the seed thus the further it can grow before needing to make its own food via photosynthesis. Though cotyledons don’t give many clues to the identity of the plant, they do narrow it down a bit. It’s like seeing only a person’s feet and legs. Flowers are the face; the most useful in identifying a plant just like with people. But you can still get info from someone’s legs. Some are more athletic, longer or shorter, tanned or very pale. A professional hockey player will have different legs from a bikini model. Big thick cotyledons won’t be on an annual plant that makes many small seeds like a Collinsia but they would be present on a big perennial lupine.

The large fleshy simple cotyledons of a lupine seedling distinct among lush moss.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The large fleshy simple cotyledons of a lupine seedling distinct among lush moss. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Then of course the small true leaves will give us even more information about what species or at least genus the plant is because they will be the shape of the regular lower leaves you will see on that plant. Knowing all these clues, now we can start identifying some seedlings on the prairie. Location is of course the final clue since you probably won’t find non-invasive horticulture plants on a natural prairie. So a “wild lupine” (L. perennis) will probably not have jumped from the east coast to our western prairies, leaving one likely candidate for a big lupine-looking seedling we see there.

Speaking of lupines, Lupinus albicaulis is already popping up around their big remnant momma plants. They are probably our biggest seeds of the Washington prairie plants, looking like pea-sized pebbles. Below are two at progressively advanced growth showing the palmately divided leaf as it gets bigger.

Big young seedlings of sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis), with hairy cat ears around them. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Big young seedlings of sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis), with hairy cat ears around them. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Other native seedlings popping up right now, and quite early we may add, include biscuitroot, buttercups, larkspur, pink seablush, bluebell, blue-eyed Marys, and (drumroll please!……) lady tresses! I only spotted the lady tresses seedling while looking closely at another species because it was so very small and looked at first like a less interesting non-native plantain. I was definitely talking excitedly to myself and our cutesy prairie orchid baby for several minutes. You know…like we crazy botanists do.

Western buttercup seedling (Ranunculus occidentalis) Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Western buttercup seedling (Ranunculus occidentalis) Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Weed vs wildflower, can you spot the difference?  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Weed vs wildflower, can you spot the difference? Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The spikey trichomes (hairs) of the leaves on the top seedling give it away as the invasive hairy and very prevalent false dandelion/hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata), which I feel is misnamed because it looks more like a cat’s tongue. Don’t you think? Below to the right is what appears to be a native blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia spp.), an annual that is indicative of a prairie with enough disturbance like low-intensity fires to keep open ground for them to germinate and reseed. They have very round cotyledons with more elliptical first leaves which are similar to a young Hypochaeris but so very much less hairy and have more of a tapered tip from a fat middle of the leaf and a distinct short middle vein indentation. You can’t tell the difference yet between the species of Collinsia, grandiflora versus parviflora.

Another mix of native blue-eyed Marys (middle and lower right, I think) and an invasive ox-eyed daisy to far left and hairy cat’s ear to upper right.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Another mix of native blue-eyed Marys (middle and lower right, I think) and an invasive ox-eyed daisy to far left and hairy cat’s ear to upper right. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Perfect example of how much blue-eyed Mary associates with open ground, as a bunch of seedlings coming up at the cleared entrance of a small animal den.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Perfect example of how much blue-eyed Mary associates with open ground, as a bunch of seedlings coming up at the cleared entrance of a small animal den. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Not really a seedling any more, but a young Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). Note the narrowly elliptic leaves with velvety white hairs, no cotyledons anymore. Don’t be fooled by small plants in clumps as these are older growing up from rhizomes.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Not really a seedling any more, but a young Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). Note the narrowly elliptic leaves with velvety white hairs, no cotyledons anymore. Don’t be fooled by small plants in clumps as these are older growing up from rhizomes. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Pink seablush (Plectritus congesta), not pink but a bright green on delicate thin boxy-round leaves with clear web veination, clearly smaller than the moss’s long sporophyte (the diploid stage of those plants).  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Pink seablush (Plectritus congesta), not pink but a bright green on delicate thin boxy-round leaves with clear web veination, clearly smaller than the moss’s long sporophyte (the diploid stage of those plants). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The biscuitroots were the first new growth I noticed this year, being so feathery and bright. They are typically one of the first plants to grow and bloom but this year is a bit accelerated. They were popping up in the middle of January. JANUARY! Kids these days…. Slow down.

Four seedlings of biscuitroot/spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum).  See the non-lobed cotyledons?  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Four seedlings of biscuitroot/spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum). See the non-lobed cotyledons? Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Larger seedling without cotyledons or possibly regrowth on a young rhizome. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Larger seedling without cotyledons or possibly regrowth on a young rhizome. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Distinct fluffy tufts of regrowing biscuitroot seen all over right now.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Distinct fluffy tufts of regrowing biscuitroot seen all over right now. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Super early blooming biscuitroot.  Spring gold?  More like “late winter gold”.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Super early blooming biscuitroot. Spring gold? More like “late winter gold”. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Upland larkspur (Delphinium nuttallii) seedling or young adult.  Cotyledons are generally linear & simple. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Upland larkspur (Delphinium nuttallii) seedling or young adult. Cotyledons are generally linear & simple. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Another more red-edged larkspur with hairs visible along edges as well.  Young Luzula comosa to the right as well, like a long-haired grass but more closely related to sedges. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Another more red-edged larkspur with hairs visible along edges as well. Young Luzula comosa to the right as well, like a long-haired grass but more closely related to sedges. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Young, possible seedling, of a bluebell/harebell (Campanula rotundifolia).  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Young, possible seedling, of a bluebell/harebell (Campanula rotundifolia). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Some older bluebells flanking a young seedling of hooded lady’s tresses (Sprinanthes romanzoffiana)*. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Some older bluebells flanking a young seedling of hooded lady’s tresses (Sprinanthes romanzoffiana)*. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

This is likely an adult regrowing from its stubby finger-like bulb, but is still a lovely young hooded lady’s tresses. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

This is likely an adult regrowing from its stubby finger-like bulb, but is still a lovely young hooded lady’s tresses. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

*I’m pretty sure that is what these plants are, but it is very hard to find any photos of the young leaves. It’s a bit shallow of plant photographers to only snap the sexy flower photos, if you ask me. So if anyone knows better, let me know. But from my long digging this is our local orchid Spiranthes. Notably they look most like the classic nursery orchids before the inflorescence stalk develops, then the leaves look more grass-like, which is what you see in all the photos available online. Changing that! These are the only monocots on the prairie with fat leaves ending in very bluntly rounded tips and with perfectly parallel linear veins along with what I think of as an alligator color pattern. They are very different from chocolate lilies or shooting stars or the more riparian fawn lilies.

The densely shiny hairy regrowth of a paintbrush (Castilleja spp.).  Until they start blooming, you can’t tell which species (C. hispida or C. levisecta).  Note the small bluebell and larkspur at bottom.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

The densely shiny hairy regrowth of a paintbrush (Castilleja spp.). Until they start blooming, you can’t tell which species (C. hispida or C. levisecta). Note the small bluebell and larkspur at bottom. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Plenty of other plants are regrowing for spring now, like violets, yarrow, strawberries, saxifrage, and self-heal, plus vetches, ox-eye daisy and the various clovers not native to the prairie. But we’re focusing on the baby seedlings and I haven’t seen any of those natives as new germinants. Plenty of species germinate in fall as well, which is a common drought adaptation of going dormant in dry summer months then germinating and developing a good root system in fall and mild winter months to get a jump on spring growth later.

Strawberry’s common alternate form of reproduction which can create large patches of clones- stolon growth, shown as the long thin differently adapted stem connecting the top and bottom strawberry plants.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Strawberry’s common alternate form of reproduction which can create large patches of clones- stolon growth, shown as the long thin differently adapted stem connecting the top and bottom strawberry plants. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Now that you know what natives to look for in the next few weeks, keep an eye out for these non-native seedlings as well. The sooner you can pluck the interlopers from where you don’t want them, the easier it is to make sure they won’t regrow. Invasive seedlings will also likely be at a more advanced growth stage, with plenty adults of perennials having not really gone dormant during our mild winter which we are technically still in. Can someone tell these seedlings that? They think it is April.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) with very identifiable leaf shape.  Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) with very identifiable leaf shape. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Sheep sorrel has probably the most easily distinguishable leaves on our prairie, looking like a fancy spear head though the cotyledons lack the basal lobes, so these may be from older roots instead of seedlings.

 

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Long young Scotchbroom, probably germinated in the fall and is making a run for bloom-status through our mild winter. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Long young Scotchbroom, probably germinated in the fall and is making a run for bloom-status through our mild winter. Photo by ‘Ivy’ Clark.

Prairies Can Have Resolutions: And Won’t Break Them

Resolutions: a note from the editor

Now that it’s Groundhog Day and all those resolutions we made have been blissfully ignored into oblivion, maybe it’s time to sit back and look at what went wrong and make some new ones that we can actually achieve. Our regular contributor, Ivy Clark has some great ideas. And maybe we can all resolve to get out and help the planet a little more-whether it’s the prairies or the waters or the forests.

Prairies Can Have Resolutions: And Won’t Break Them, Self-help lessons from the prairie,  Post and images by Ivy Clark

Lauren ‘Ivy’ Clark studied the hybridization of Castilleja levisecta and C. hispida in restoration sites for their Masters thesis at the University of Washington before becoming a restoration technician for the Center for Natural Lands Management.

Prairies Can Have Resolutions, and Won’t Break Them:

Self-help lessons from the prairie

Yes…we’re using that January buzz word in the prairie blog, like pumpkin spice in October. And it may seem too unpredictable and scary in the world outside the gentle rolling mounds of winter-golden prairies right now, but I promise to make it fun & maybe even helpful to YOU if you keep going. Here’s a pretty sunset to remind us the world keeps turning on its axis and the sun will rise again with a new day’s hope and possibilities; or something else from a greeting card.

Recent lovely cloud streaked sunset over Glacial Heritage with smoke from neighbor’s burn pile, not ours. Photo by Ivy Clark

Recent lovely cloud streaked sunset over Glacial Heritage with smoke from neighbor’s burn pile, not ours. Photo by Ivy Clark

In restoration, we always have a goal- a determination- for our prairie sites, usually set at specific times like the start of a new grant or acquiring a new site. Probably more than the average person, we work very hard to keep these “resolutions” for our prairies; the resolution to shed those pesky extra pounds of invasive species, and gain a new six-pack of native ones.

Since you probably have already slacked or even failed on a resolution, if you took part in the custom this year, I have some helpful tips about them to go along how we do them on the prairie. You may have heard before- it’s important to set attainable goals. According to Forbs.com, about 80% of people’s New Years’ resolutions have already failed by February. So maybe our own six-pack abs should be a goal for later years. Make the baby-step goal of a healthier diet, then some added cardio activity once a week, then an attainable reduction in pounds. You get the idea. If you aim too lofty you are likely not only to fail, but also feel terrible and give up entirely, even slip back further from your goals. Our hearts are delicate organs when set on anything. Don’t set them up for failure right at the start. You won’t see us deciding to eradicate every SINGLE non-native plant from a site all in one year, while also keeping the native species- entirely unrealistic. That’s not how we roll…

A furry volunteer-greeter, dubbed “Loppers” by me.  Hitchin’ a ride to work!  Photo by Ivy Clark.

A furry volunteer-greeter, dubbed “Loppers” by me. Hitchin’ a ride to work! Photo by Ivy Clark.

There is also an inverted bell curve in our motivation, which affects a resolution’s success. In the beginning, we are pumped! Our aspirations are sky high, we make a plan, and then jump in! Then the novelty wears off and it feels like work but without any visible gain yet and after the first few all-out efforts, our motivation quickly sounds like a slow trombone slide- fizzles out. If you manage to stick with it, the closer you get to the goal the higher your motivation will climb again. But it’s that valley between that kills most resolutions. Call it “motivation death valley”? It’s actually called the “middle dip of motivation”, but that seems less imaginative. And it can happen fast when we set too high a goal. The cliché personal resolution is fitness and that’s often tackled at a gym (in other years obviously). We can see the results of this motivation death directly through gym memberships, or maybe for this year online workouts enrollment. We see it year after year go up early January then drop dramatically heading into February. One month! That tells me the membership was from a too distant a goal set by a lot of people. But whether it is a goal to get in shape, save more money, volunteer more, get a raise, build a tree house, or learn to cook more than just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (I’m looking at you sis…) the trick to successfully navigating “motivation death valley” is to not make it so extreme; set the end within reach by setting a series of smaller goals on a longer timeline. We won’t get rid of ALL the weeds on the prairies, but we can pull every visible Scotch broom within a certain unit of set acreage. Then next year, pull the neighboring unit. This taps into what’s called the “progress principle” where the perception of some forward momentum will itself give motivation. I’m sure that’s a law of motion too. It will become self-perpetuating if you can make some early progress. If only we could get abs one at a time… right? Similarly, in prairie ecology, initial achievements will lay the foundation for the end goal/ecosystem, such as clearing the trees from an area to open up new sunny land for prairie plants to expand to and that will support butterflies for the end goal of reintroducing our endangered butterflies. You definitely can’t just toss them in a forest edge and expect establishment. Shudder to think!

Cleared overgrown Douglas fir field at Cavness Ranch to expand prairie.  Photo by Ivy Clark.

Cleared overgrown Douglas fir field at Cavness Ranch to expand prairie. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Just like a personal resolution, our prairie goals require a lot more work in figuring out how to achieve them than to pick which one to aim for. We can’t expect 10 more native species to show up on a site without doing anything to make it happen. This is where we set ourselves up for success, the “how”. We figure out where to get the seed from, what’s obtainable in the numbers we need for establishment, and how likely to succeed they’ll be with all the other conditions there. We figure out the many details of a budget, worker hours, timing, etc. And then we get to work and assess progress as we go.

Once you have attainable goals, and planned hard, you can keep motivated and probably won’t fail. That’s good, because failure will come with consequences, even if only as mild as feeling a little bummed and then forgetting about it. Luckily we have a lot more motivation to avoid failing than the average champagne-infused New Year’s Eve aspirational planner, and more risk. It’s like there’s a twisty rope bridge across the “motivation death valley”. It may be scary and very difficult, but we WILL get to the end. Of course life in the field is unpredictable and big things happen like major droughts, sudden budget cuts from economic shifts, or say… pandemics. But those are set-backs, not total stops. Like when your personal trainer understands you can’t do the usual work-out with a broken leg, but you can do some upper body strengthening.

Seems some underground hungry critter found a plug staged for planting overnight.  Plant it anyways!  Photo by Ivy Clark.

Seems some underground hungry critter found a plug staged for planting overnight. Plant it anyways! Photo by Ivy Clark.

If we are all wise, we put buffers into our resolutions, both personal and for prairies. Add a few weeks of wiggle room for finishing some steps because the one thing you can rely on is unpredictability. And it’s all the better to finish early. If all goes well, then we wake up one morning with that savings account already at the set goal amount, or the four pack abs you were going for turns out to be a six pack. Can you get an eight pack, or is six the max? I’m a botanist, not a kinesiologist. Anyway, there is one special distinction that separates the personal resolution path from the prairie resolution path, and that’s the fact that us restoration workers will probably never give up even if we have a big set-back. That’s just not a viable option. We care too much and know there is so much at stake and the scope of effects reaches far beyond the area we can see or touch, probably even imagine. You don’t go into ecology work for the six-pack abs (why is that the example at the forefront of my mind??); aka- a single goal. We have an emotional commitment that most people would lack for mere resolutions. Sorry, but the prairie is bigger than your New Years’ resolution. It’s the special magnetism of such a complex interwoven world that also needs help and has so many interesting organisms in it. We’re suckers for the butterflies, the bees, and the balsamroots. That’s our rope bridge.

Here are some Prairie Resolutions I know we’re working on.

  • Keep Scotch broom weed from blooming & setting seed on any sites that have it
    • Clear more acreage of it entirely and prevent from establishing where it isn’t already
  • Decrease percentage of cover of other non-native plants
  • Increase percentage of cover and number of native plant species
  • Reintroduce endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies (as caterpillars) onto select high quality site(s).
    • Give them immense love and care, talk sweetly to their delicate little furry selves
  • Save more native seed in the “seed bank” for sowing on receptive fields (mainly- post prescribed burns)
  • Open up more acreage to expand prairie habitat by cutting down/girdling Douglas firs at edges
    • Open up sun access for baby Garry oaks
  • Plant more native plugs in future checkerspot release areas
  • Study how cattle can help reduce agriculture weeds, and improve Oregon spotted frog habitat
  • Increase habitat for bluebirds, and Vesper sparrows, and osprey, etc.
  • Get more bats in the prairie nights
  • Burn more acreage to improve and maintain high quality prairie
  • Drink a beer after a hard day’s work & toast to the diverse majesty of the prairies
    • Pour a little out for our lost friends.
The boss working along Dan Kelly Ridge by Port Angeles, making room for more colonizing Taylors checkerspots, working under what would become a DOUBLE rainbow.  Can you spot him?  “Where’s Wal-ders” ;) Photo by Ivy Clark.

The boss working along Dan Kelly Ridge by Port Angeles, making room for more colonizing Taylors checkerspots, working under what would become a DOUBLE rainbow. Can you spot him? “Where’s Wal-ders” 😉 Photo by Ivy Clark.

I hope you feel more inspired to tackle any resolutions you may have, knowing that the prairies are working hard toward their goals with a whole lot of motivation. One last tip: try to think of all the other people your goal will be beneficial to like how widely beneficial prairies are. If you need to save up money for your children’s college fund (not just to reach a number for “future stuff”), then you are more likely to succeed. From us among the mounds, we’re ‘rooting for you’.

Sorry, I’ll leaf you bee…