State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager, Blog and Photos by Sanders Freed

Sanders Freed- Thurston County Program Manager for CNLM began working on the South Sound Prairies in 2001 with the Nature Conservancy. Manages the restoration of 18 properties throughout the Puget Trough, with varying ownerships, and more recently a property in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Reptile, amphibian and bat enthusiast.

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager

It is hard to imagine the loss of our 25th annual Prairie Appreciation Day (PAD) due to a virus that has resulted in a step away from nature and into our homes. Each and every year, the prairies of the South Sound and the Willamette Valley offer us a renewed flush of fertility and showmanship- just begging to be seen and enjoyed- or eaten if you are an elk on Glacial Heritage Preserve. I can recall sending photos and declaring it the year of a different species annually- while 2020 is arguably the year of the paintbrush.

Paintbrush at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Photo by Sanders Freed

Paintbrush at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Photo by Sanders Freed

The job I agreed to complete as the manager of these systems was to restore them to their greatest grandeur, so that all species that ‘historically’ inhabited them can once again do so. Generally our focus lands on the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, who requires high quality prairie to persist- with abundant native flower diversity for both host and nectar, and limited to no non-native, invasive species. With habitat restored to this bar, the other prairie species are presumed to be able to persist as well.

Taylor's Checkerspot at the Tenalquot Preserve.  Photo by sanders Freed

Taylor’s Checkerspot at the Tenalquot Preserve. Photo by sanders Freed

Over my last twenty years, our battle has waged to remove invasive species- Scotch broom, tall-oat grass and a dozen noxious weeds- so that our less competitive native species have a chance to flourish. Our war has used many weapons- fire, manpower, chemicals and mechanical means. And with a robust toolbox, we have been successful at eliminating Scotch broom from several sites, and have a method that has proven successful. It has taken many years and all of the tools available to accomplish this behemoth task, not to mention a lot of stubborn individuals. Removing these invaders, including Douglas-fir, has allowed the return of native species through another immense undertaking- seed production. Our early attempts revolved around planting plugs, with limited survival and success. The game has changed with development of a nursery and seed production- replenishing the seeds of species long gone from once homogeneous Scotch broom forests. With our toolbox of invasive control methods, the reintroduction of fire has also improved the success of seeding, providing the perfect conditions for seed/soil contact. With our ever-improving restoration abilities, prairie quality is increasing at remarkable rates, with natural recruitment of native species. We have even begun to attempt transforming homogenized industrial agriculture sites back to native prairie- with some success and constant learning. Species evolved in these systems respond readily.

Balsamroot and other Forbs at Glacial Heritage Preserve.  Photo by Sanders Freed

Balsamroot and other Forbs at Glacial Heritage Preserve. Photo by Sanders Freed

The reintroduction of prairie forbs to sites once dominated by non-native grasses are readily colonized by the Mazama Pocket Gopher. Our restoration efforts have also resulted in the introduction of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly to several sites, with varying success. A recent reintroduction has begun at Tenalquot Prairie Preserve, a property obtained in 2005. This property underwent the typical restoration process- remove invasive species- repeat- introduce native species – repeat. Do these things enough with dedication and perseverance- they become ready to be called home once again to species that need them. There are always challenges, each year new problems are addressed and learning begins anew. An annual fescue is currently giving the conservation community trouble. A nasty little clover also lurks about. And Scotch broom annually tries to regain its’ foothold as the dominant prairie species, which it would quickly do without the commitment of so many to beat it back.

So as a whole, based on my limited knowledge, the prairies are doing better than when I began in 2001. There are more protected sites. More populations of listed species are established on protected sites. There are mechanisms being put in place to protect our remaining prairies- including the Tumwater and Thurston County HCP’s. We are developing methods to build prairie from scratch on agricultural lands. We are working with the grazing community to increase compatibility between conservation and grazing. And we are constantly learning, adapting and appreciating our prairies.

Oregon Spotted Frog Egss at New Conservation Site.  Photo by Sanders Freed

Oregon Spotted Frog Egss at New Conservation Site. Photo by Sanders Freed

My optimism is balanced by my pessimism. The prairies of the South Sound are fragile. They persist on the edge, between succession and active management. They were maintained by regular burning by indigenous people. They will require continual management to persist in perpetuity. They are under threat by development, agricultural conversion, succession, a horde of invasive species, climate change and the whims of politics and culture. They need our help. They need it more now than ever- a spring without broom pulling from our dedicated volunteers has strained my ability to manage these gems. Hopefully a spring without the prairie will inspire people to value it more.

Prairie Memories and Reveries III

Prairie Memories and reveries III, Post and Image creators as noted.

Prairie is where you find it, by Deborah Naslund

Growing up in Illinois, I lamented the disappearance of the vast prairie that used to cover the mid-western landscape. In college, I volunteered to help with research on a remnant tall grass prairie. It was a wondrous experience to walk through the tall grass that reached over my head, but disappointing that this prairie was maybe one acre in size! I also enjoyed wandering through the Forest Preserves in our area, set aside in the 1920’s and still dominated by native oaks.

When I moved to Seattle in the early 1980’s, I was surprised and delighted to find prairies and oak woodlands right here in western Washington. Since the early 2000’s I’ve been fortunate to have the chance to volunteer out at Glacial Heritage Preserve and on various other South Sound prairies. In those days, I was working full time with two kids at home, so it was the occasional “Second Saturday” work parties that I joined, and, of course, helping as I could with Prairie Appreciation Day. When I retired in 2016, I was delighted to have the opportunity to join the Tuesday volunteer group.

Prairie Appreciation Day is always the highlight of my prairie volunteering year. So many fun memories of sharing booths with friends, old and new, and of weather ranging from fantastic, to too hot and sunny, to cold, soaking rain, and everything in between. But it’s always the opportunity to share the wonders of the prairie with all the wildly enthusiastic participants that keeps me coming back.

Glacial Heritage Preserve, Prairie Appreciation Day set-up, 2018. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Glacial Heritage Preserve, Prairie Appreciation Day set-up, 2018.

One of my places to work is the “Oaks on the Prairie” station. In addition to getting to share with folks the story of our beautiful oaks and their weird galls, I love the enthusiasm and curiosity everyone has for the oak gall ink. Kids of all ages love to try writing in oak gall ink using quill pens, (almost) just like the authors of the Declaration of Independence. Last year, people visiting our booth used oak gall ink and quill pens to make this poster celebrating Prairie Appreciation Day.

Prairie Appreciation Day poster drawn in oak gall ink, Photo by Dennis Plank

Prairie Appreciation Day poster drawn in oak gall ink, Photo by Dennis Plank

The land has memories of the prairies and oak woodlands, too. Prior to European settlement, prairies and Garry oak (Quercus garrryana) woodlands covered extensive areas in a swath, from Georgia Basin in British Columbia, through the Puget Trough, down to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Now the Garry oak woodland/prairie ecosystem is one of the rarest in North America.

However, especially this time of year, we can still see remaining slivers of this ecosystem shining through here and there all around Thurston County.

Last week I ran from home, down Delphi Road SW. At the corner of Alpine Drive SW and Delphi Road SW, in the ditch, is a profusion of camas, blooming through the tall, weedy grass. There were even some wild strawberries in bloom, too.

 Common camas (Camassia quamash) in the ditch along Delphi Road SW. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Common camas (Camassia quamash) in the ditch along Delphi Road SW. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Further up the road, to the north, clumps of craggy oaks persist here and there. Under some oaks above the road cut, just out of the mower’s reach, I was delighted to find a patch of Oregon fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) in bloom.

Oregon fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) having escaped the road maintenance crew. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Oregon fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) having escaped the road maintenance crew. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Riding my bike out Steamboat Island Road NW, I found another lovely surprise. Across the street from the fire station was a field of camas in full glory. It is evident that someone has been working hard to control the Scot’s broom in this area, creating space for the camas to flourish.

Common camas (Camassia quamash) in a field across from the Griffin Fire Department. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Common camas (Camassia quamash) in a field across from the Griffin Fire Department. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Later in the week, as I drove south on Delphi Rd., I was delighted to see the old Delphi School standing in a lush carpet of camas, blooming with abandon.

On a bike ride this week, south of Millersylvania State Park, I found camas blooming in profusion in several fields and beautiful stands of Garry oak just leafing out.

Garry oak (Quercus garryana) stand along Leitner Rd SW, near Scatter Creek. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Garry oak (Quercus garryana) stand along Leitner Rd SW, near Scatter Creek. Photo by Deborah Naslund

Now that our public lands have re-opened, we can visit the jewels of our South Sound landscape, set aside to preserve larger tracts of prairie and oak woodland, like Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve and Scatter Creek Wildlife Area. But I challenge you to keep your eyes out for those hidden gems, tiny slivers of what once was, shining through with oaks leafing out and prairie wildflowers in full bloom.

A Life with the Prairie!

Jennifer K Lyne, EdD

After teaching public schools orchestra for 44 years, Jennifer Lyne is retired, living in Olympia.

Glacial Heritage on Prairie Appreciation Day. Photo by Jennifer Lyne

Glacial Heritage on Prairie Appreciation Day. Photo by Jennifer Lyne

I LOVE Prairie Days! I had lived in Olympia for years before friends invited me to attend Prairie Days. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t known about it – I was completely addicted from that point on!

Walking the trails on that first visit, I was amazed at the amount of preparation volunteers had done to provide so many educational displays for participants. Considerations were made for all sorts of weather, age, and ability levels. I love the tractor-drawn hay trailer that allows people of all abilities to BE IN the prairie! And it is just fun to ride on the wagon!

As we made our way farther down the path, I experienced the beauty of spirit that the gorgeousness and quiet of the Prairie exudes. The passion for the Prairie that was demonstrated by visitors and volunteers was contagious, and I also really enjoyed the quiet space as we walked farther. Near the river, I loved the docent who explained to us about the fire and how the oaks are fire resistant – often having a 10 foot tap root!!! Even though the top of the oak was burned, it was able to withstand the fire!

Spring of 2012 I ended up at Prairie Days by myself. The beautiful space provided an opportunity for me to reflect on the life and death of my father, who had died in January. It was good to be there with people who also love the Prairie, and it was also good to be alone as I traveled farther away from the displays. It was good to be in the wonderfulness of such a beautiful place as I was learning to live without my father. I remember coming across huge ant hills that I hadn’t noticed other years. I was surprised that I hadn’t ever noticed them before, but realized that perhaps I was simply viewing the Prairie (and many things) with a different focus.

I so look forward the Prairie Days now. I especially like to buy native plants and my yearly Prairie Days support shirt! Mostly, the weather is terrific (I probably jinxed that now, saying it out loud!) It’s breath-taking to see the delicate hues of the blooming camas as far as I can see! It’s a time when we Northwesterners are finally convinced that summer is actually coming! Last year I was able to help set up for the event – that was really fun! I couldn’t believe how many people volunteered! It takes a lot of organization and work – and, WOW! Is it ever worth it! Thank you Prairie Days!

Flowers in Bloom at Prairie Appreciation Day, Photo by Jennifer Lyne

Flowers in Bloom at Prairie Appreciation Day, Photo by Jennifer Lyne


Camas Prairie by Elizabeth Pagan

Camas. Photo by Elizabeth Pagan

Camas. Photo by

In 2011 we purchased a small part of the Prairie. Six acres didn’t seem like much compared to the 21 acres we had owned previously in north central Washington.

When I found the property the For Sale realtor sign was knocked over and buried in a tangle of foot tall grass and weeds. A year later, and two listing realtors we made an offer.

We were looking for acreage to support our love of country living and to accommodate our mule. We took possession of the property in July. Long past camas blooms. The property was basically six acres of grassland, with just four evergreen trees behind the house.

We moved our riding mule to the property in September once we got some preliminary fencing done. Fencing here was easier said than done. Of course if you live near the Scatter Creek prairies or near the Glacial till areas you soon discover the abundance of buried rocks and small boulders that challenge any digging efforts beyond several inches. However we were grateful for challenges that were NOT posed here as in north central WA-like rattlesnakes, cactuses, noxious weeds like Russian knapweed and puncture vines who’s thorn can actually puncture your tractor or car tires. None of those things we missed.

We embraced the Prairie with all its fauna and flora. Summer soon became fall, fall eased into winter. Then came Spring.

We walked our property daily. Each morning, with coffee cups in hand we started observing our land. We started recognizing some plants – Phlox, Yarrow, Prairie rockets, Ladies Mantle. We were also learning the weeds of the prairie-notably Scotch broom -asking questions of neighbors and friends.

In April we started observing spots of bluish buds. Two weeks later we observed larger spots of blooms, from pale to purple bluish blossoms. As the days passed we had acres in camas. We stopped mowing. We read up on the uses of their oniony bulbs. We learned about camas ovens that our indigenous people used to roast the bulbs. We felt blessed.

Eight years have come and gone. We are still learning the soils, the various micro-climates on our property. We still feel blessed that we can be stewards of our small piece of this precious home planet.

A field of Camas. Photo by Elizabeth Pagan

A field of Camas. Photo by Elizabeth Pagan

Day After Prairie Appreciation Day Reflections

Day After Prairie Appreciation Day Reflections, Post by Dennis Plank, Photo by Margaret Allen

Day After Prairie Appreciation Day Reflections

Starting in 2005 through last year one of my most pleasant tasks associated with organizing Prairie Appreciation Day and being “Official Cat Herder” has been to send a message of thanks to all the volunteers who made the day possible. One person can no more put PAD together than one person can build a 747. It takes an incredible amount of volunteer effort leading up to the event and even for a few days thereafter in addition to all the people (around 100 each year) who help out on the day of the event. So it has felt very strange this year not to be the person doing the organizing and then agreeing with the rest of the board of Friends of Puget Prairies that we had to cancel the event and finding myself with little to do besides write blog posts and help get others to do so; a very minor amount of work in comparison to years past. So today, driving home from running errands on a what has been a 16 hour day in years past, I got to thinking about all those volunteers over the years, some of whom have gone way beyond the call of duty.

Cliff Snyder, who always loves a good story, used totell people the mounds were made by prehistoric Blue Gophers.  I jokingly suggested we make him dress up like one for PAD.  Marion Jarisch tooke me seriously and made him the suit and he wore it every PAD for years.  Photo by Margaret Allen

Cliff Snyder, who always loves a good story, used to tell people the mounds were made by prehistoric Blue Gophers. I jokingly suggested we make him dress up like one for PAD. Marion Jarisch took me seriously and made him the suit and he wore it every PAD for years. Photo by Margaret Allen

So I assembled a list of all the volunteers I could find. Unfortunately, I only had spreadsheets going back to 2008 and the old email lists didn’t give names, so there are a number of people missing. Also our partner organizations often brought people who were not on our lists or I recruited people at the last minute like last year when I shanghaied a regular volunteer who normally doesn’t do PAD except for cleanup to relieve the person at the turnoff to Glacial Heritage.

Aaron Slattery, Adam Erickson, Adam Martin, Adam Sant, Adrian Wolf, Aimee Richardson, Aleta Poste, Alex Bell, Alexandra Lincoln, Amber Carver, Amber Hailey, An Le, Andrea Martin, Andrew Deffobis, Andrew Wilkens, Andy Dechaine, Andy Jacobson, Andy Morgan, Angela Winter, Angeline Blattenbauer, Angie Cahill, Anita Goodrich, Ann Busche, Ann Frosch, Anna Baker, Anna Thurston, Anne Schuster, Arthur Limbird, Ashley Smithers, Audrey Lamb, Barbara French, Barry Bidwell, Becca Pilcher, Becca Reilly, Becky Beswick, Ben Waldron, Beth Juvik, Bethany Hoskins, Bev Heebner, Beverly Bensching, Bill Brookreson, Bill Funk, Bill Grantham, Bill Krause, Bill Kronland, Birdie Davenport, Blake Bird, Bob Branberg, Bob Wadsworth, Bonnie Blessing, Brad Gill, Brandon Drucker, Brandon Hendricks, Breanna Trygg, Brenda Tincher, Brian Santos, Brian Spang, Briana Abrahms, Bridgette Mesa, Brittany Gallagher, Brittany Oxford, Bruce Livingston, Byrna Klavano, Candise Sorensen, Cara Applestein, Carl Elliott, CARLO ABBRUZZESE, Carola Tejeda, Carolyn Burtner, Carri Marschner, Casey Dennehy, Catherine Langefeld, Cathy Baker, Cathy Cook, Charlene Rubenstein, Charles Pratt, Charlie Heebner, Charlie SittingBull, Charmaine Monk, Cherry Pedrick, Cheryl Fimbel, Chin Li, Chris Madsen, Christina Chaput, Christine Henderson, Chuck Court, Chuck Groth, Cindy Levy, Cindy Marschner, Cindy Wolbert, Clem Starck, Cliff Snyder, Colleen O’Shea, Corky Remboski, Cyndy Dillon, Cynthia Lee, Dan Grosboll, Dan Montague, Dan Kim, Daphne Niemann, Darlene Bidwell, Darlene Krause, Darold Rhodes, Dave Clouse, Dave Hayes, Dave Schuett-Hames, Dave Wilderman, David Hepp, David Wesolowski, David Z.–Ashley’s spouse, Davin McKinley, Deanna Lynch, Debbie Naslund, Dennus Aubrey, Deston Denniston, Diane Gallegos, Dominique Shorter, Don Butler, Don Guyot, Doreen Packel, Dorothy Crowder, Doug Harshfield, Doug Rodgers, Doug Whitlock, Drew Schneidler, Dylan Jones, Eli Evans, Elisabeth Peelor, Elise Krohn, Elizabeth Rodrick, Elspeth Hilton

Kim, Emily Phillips, Emily Teachout, Eric Delvin, Erica Baker, Erica Guttman, Erin Acker, Erin Caldwell, Erin Kiley, Erin Leslie P’s daughter’s friend, Etsuko Reistroffer, Eva Donjacour, Faye Peebles, Fern Schultz, Fern’s daughter, Frederica Bowcutt, Gabrielle Spickard, Gail Trotter, Gene Orth, Glen Buschmann, Grace Diehl, Greg Dunbar, Greg Eide, Greg Falxa, Greg Voelker, Guy Maguire, Hank Stein, Hannah Anderson, Hannah Armstrong, Heather Ostle, Heidi Jump, Heron Brae, Howard Selmer, Ina Schmidt, inkynote, Inti, Irene Matsuoka, Iris Banks, Ivy Clark, Jackson Axley, Jacob Powell, Jacqueline Earnest, Jam, Jameson Honeycutt, Jamie Hanson, Jan Strong, Janet Asbjornsen, Janet Partlow, Jason Holmes, Jason Keyes, Jawad Frangieh, Jean Pope, Jeanie Jonason, Jeff Compton, Jelli, Jennifer Fields, Jennifer Fortin, Jenny Fausey, Jeremiah Anspach, Jessa Patton, Jessica Crosby, Jessika Blackport, Jim & Libby Nieland, Jim Lynch, Jim Michaels, Jim Pedrick, Jim Racle, Jim Reistroffer, Joan Villa, Joanne Polayes, Joanne Stellini, Joe Arnet, Joe Bettis, John Crawford, John Richardson, John Skidmore, Jon Bakker, Jordan Stark, Jordin Jacobs, Josephine Coury, Josh Cook, Joshua Gomez, Joshua Stephani, Joshua Trotter, Joslyn Trivett, Joyce Caudell, Judith Mason, Judith Upton, Judy Hickman, Judy Lantor, Judy Russell, Julianna Hoza, Julie Edwards, Justin Averre, Justin Hellier, Justin Yim, Kameron Lantor, Kanaiya Mungra, Karen Guyot, Karen Wells, Karen Knutsen, Karen Laing, Kate Benkert, Katherine Jesser, Katherine Sather, Kathryn Hill, Kathy Duden-Daviess, Kathy Jacobson, Kathy Package, Kathy Whitlock, Katie Sandbom, Kay, Kaye Lakey, Keith Arnold, Keith Martin, Kelli Bush, Kelly McAllister, Kelsi Potterf, Kerry Hibdon, Kevin Hansen, Kim Flotlin, Kim Mai Pham, Kristin McDermott, Kyle Pinjuv, Kylea Johnson, Lacey Wright, Lalita Calabria, Laney Widener, Larry Kent, Laura Brusson, Laura Henke, Laurel Carver, Lauren Miheli, Lauren Poulos, Lawrence Jacobson, Leighton Olive, Leslie Propp, Leslie Romer, Liam Horner, Lila Muller, Lily Hynson, Lily Winter, Linda Andrews, Linda Fretts, Linda Saunders, Linda Shue, Linda Storm, Linda Wolfe, Lindsy Wright, Linnea Leslie’s daughter, Lisa Hintz, Lisa Turner, Lisa Younger, Liza Norment, Logan Flitton, Loni Ronnebaum, Lori Salzer, Lorna, Luke, Lydia Treischel, Lynn De Danaan, Lynne Skidmore, Madalyn Thorpe, Margaret Allen, Margaret Rader, Marianna Bissonnette, Marie Spealman, Marilee Massari, Marilyn Pratt, Marilyn Ridings, Marion Jarisch, Marisa Whisman, Mark Muller, Mark Upton, Mark Roth, Marnia Lassen, Martha Jensen, Mary JoRice, Mary Mahaffy, Mary McCallum, Mary Sue Gee, Mary Sue Martens, MaryAnn Spahr, Mason Mckinley, Matt Trokan, Matthew West, Maura, Maya Buhler, Mel Walters, Melissa, Melissa Brunt, Melissa Crowe, Meredith Rafferty, Merran Owen, Michael Stacey, Michaella Long, Michele Boderck, Michelle Blanchard, MichelleTirhi, Mike Jarisch, Mike Miller, Milton Swecker, Miriam Villacian, Mo Puffer, Molly Steele, Naomi Korchonnoff, Nardine Sandberg, Natalie Footen, Nathan Johnson, Nick Miller, Noah Realm, Noel Ferguson, Noreen Roster, Pam Goodman, Pam Remboski, Pat McLachlan, Pat Montague, Patrick Dunn, Patrick Murtagh, Paul Allen, Paul Griffith, Peder Englestad, Peggy Butler, Penny Kelley, Pete Holm, Peter Dunwiddie, Peter Gallant, Phil Hall, Rachel Blomker, Rachel Brooks, Rachel Elam, Rachel Nehemiah, Rachel Sawyer, Regina, Rena Johnson, Renee Mitchell, Rick Mortensen, Rob Schanz, Roberta Davenport, Rod Gilbert, Roger Cummings, Rose Edwards, Rusty Burlew, Sabra Noyes, Sadie Gilliom, Saff Killingsworth, Sally Alhadeff, Sam Hain, Sammie Riedman, Samuel Payne, Sanders Freed, Sandra Butterfield, Sandra Romero, Sarah Bruemmer, Sarah Gabel, Sarah Hamman, Sarah Krock, Sarah Moorehead, Sarah Wooten, Sarelle Caicedo,Sasha Porter, Scott Meyer, Sean Winter, Shauna Alexander, Shawn DeCew, Shelley Spalding, Shirley Kook, Sierra Smith, Sierra Swan Alexander, Spencer Alexander, Stacy Klein, Stephanie Holz, Stephanie Schreiner, Stephen Bao, Steve Daviess, Steve Rutkowski, Stuart Olshevski, Sue Cook, Sue Danver, Sue Oliver, Sue Selmer, Susan Harshfield, Susie Saalwaechter, Suzanne Hostetter, Tanja Scott, Taylor Goforth, Taylor Pittman, Ted Thomas, Tel Vaughn, Terry Liberty, thesaucyspoon11, Tim Leque, Tim Romanski, Todd Lasko, Todd Stamm, Todd Zuchowski, Tosh Hickman, Tracy Eales, Val Knox, Van Perdue, Vicky Gorny, Vince Harke, William Eifler, Yianna Bekris, Zac Scott, Zach Fleig

Many of the nearly 450 people on this list participated every one of those 15 years and many of them put in countless hours of preparation, and this year they all had a chance to relax and hopefully get out a day or two to actually enjoy the prairie. I know I have, including getting out to enjoy a prairie sunrise this morning.

So even though we didn’t have an event this year, my thanks go out to all those people and to everyone else that has helped make our prairies better be it no more than controlling Scotch Broom on your own property.

Thank You,

Dennis Plank

Scatter Creek South, 7 May 2020

Scatter Creek South, 7 May 2020, post and photos by Dennis Plank

Scatter Creek South, 7 May 2020

I paid a quicker than desirable visit to Scatter Creek yesterday morning and chose the south unit as I’m more familiar with it. Leaving the parking area, I turned right toward the creek. The first path down toward the creek is carpeted with vines having large blue flowers. These are left over from the original residents and are ornamental Vincas. In the past, that would have been more obvious, but the house and barn were burnt down in the Scatter Creek wild fire a few years ago and most of the remnants have been removed.

The Fire Tanker on the Scatter Creek Fire turning around over our property, photo by Dennis Plank

The Fire Tanker on the Scatter Creek Fire turning around over our property, photo by Dennis Plank

Proceeding along the track that parallels the creek, the first thing that came to my attention was the Giant Camas, Camassia leichtlinii, that grows profusely in this area. At first I wasn’t sure whether it was truly the Giant Camas or whether it was just the relatively rich, well watered soil in the area, but I was soon convinced as the bud structure is considerably different.

Giant Camas, photo by Dennis Plank

Giant Camas, photo by Dennis Plank

Giant Camas Buds, significantly different from common camas, photo by Dennis Plank

Giant Camas Buds, significantly different from common camas, photo by Dennis Plank

 

There were several Serviceberry (Amelanchier), also known as shadbush, shadwood or shadblow, serviceberry or sarvisberry, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum, wild-plum or chuckley pear-take your choice, along the track. The blossom clusters on this plant look so disheveled, but on closer inspection can be seen to be made up of a tightly bunched group of rather simple flowers with the long thin petals giving them their odd look.

Serviceberry blooms, photo by Dennis Plank

Serviceberry blooms, photo by Dennis Plank

 

Once the track left the immediate vicinity of the creek, the spring flowers started appearing in clusters-how many of them from the post fire planting and how many were there before, it was difficult to tell. The violets (Viola adunca) were abundant and scattered, so I’d guess they were there before the fire.

Prairie violets, Viola adunca, photo by Dennis Plank

Prairie violets, Viola adunca, photo by Dennis Plank

 

However, I suspect the Collinsia and field chickweed (Cerastium) were seeded after the fire. It looked like someone got rather liberal with the former in this location.

A large patch of Collinsia at Scatter Creek, photo by Dennis Plank

A large patch of Collinsia at Scatter Creek, photo by Dennis Plank

 

And a very nice patch of Field Chickweed right nest to the Collinsia, photo by Dennis Plank

And a very nice patch of Field Chickweed right nest to the Collinsia, photo by Dennis Plank

 

When I reached the power lines, I crossed over to the south side of the central strip of oak woodland and started back toward the parking lot. Toward the beginning of the crossover, there was a large dense patch of violets on the left which I failed to photograph. Shortly after turning back, I encountered an area of Balsamroot. The plants looked healthy and there were a lot of young starts in the area, but this bloom looked a bit decrepit.

A bedraggled Balsamroot, photo by Dennis Plank

A bedraggled Balsamroot, photo by Dennis Plank

And a pristine Balsamroot from four years ago, photo by Dennis Plank

And a pristine Balsamroot from four years ago, photo by Dennis Plank

 

Right next to the Balsamroot was a very nice group of Harsh Paintbrush backlit by the morning sun.  This was a photo worth spending a little extra time on.

Harsh Paintbrush, photo by Dennis Plank

Harsh Paintbrush, photo by Dennis Plank

A bit further on, there’s a place with a few oaks on the right side of the trail and under them was a very nice patch of Chocolate Lilies in full bloom. I was lucky to get any photographs as the wind was picking up ant they were at the end of a tall stem waving in the breeze. Focus was pretty much a guess, but a few shots came out nicely. I liked the bug riding the terminal leaf on this one.

Chocolate Lily, photo by Dennis Plank

Chocolate Lily, photo by Dennis Plank

 

Finally, less than 100 yards from the parking lot, I encountered a small patch of Yarrow that was already in bloom. It always amazes me how radically different the microclimates are between our location at the foot of the Black Hills and the area along I-5, about 2 ½ miles away.

Yarrow in bloom while ours is still tightly closed buds, photo by Dennis Plank

Yarrow in bloom while ours is still tightly closed buds, photo by Dennis Plank

Prairie Memories and Reveries II

Prairie Memories and Reveries II, Blogs and images by those noted.

Prairie Memories and Reveries II

Keeping in a more or less chronological order of the contributor(s)’ presence on the prairie, this next group of four recollections is all from what I would consider “old timers” amongst the prairie restoration volunteers. The first, and most important to me, was here at the beginning, but was still being shuttled around by the army, so she didn’t get in on the “Scotch Broom Attack Team”.

Michelle Blanchard

It’s pretty hard to pretend objectivity about one’s wife, but I met Michelle in the early days of volunteering on the prairies. I remember planting Oaks with her and dibbling holes in the prairie for fescue plugs while she put them in the holes. We worked well together from the beginning and I was always impressed with her energy. I still can’t keep up with her.

Michelle the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

Michelle the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

Glacial Heritage BR (Before Restoration)

In 1992 I bought my property just north of Glacial Heritage. Before the trees grew up in the abandoned gravel pit, you could see it from my home. It was not then a prairie. It was a wasteland, a sea of scotch broom and invasive Douglas fir. The original owner had run so many cattle on the property that it had been completely denuded, and, as we all know too well, allowed scotch broom to take over.

At night, I’d see transients campfires along the railroad tracks (that paralleled the gravel pit), and hear shouting and gunfire. People used the gravel pit as an illegal dump. A neighbor’s boys vandalized and torched the abandoned farmstead. At least twice a year, a local aging hippie, “Gideon Israel”, would stage a four-day music blasting; drug and alcohol soaked mini-Woodstock bacchanalia on his property just across the Black River. His ‘guests’ would camp on Glacial, and, on several occasions, come knocking on my back door, expecting food, a bathroom and a shower as they were ‘friends of Gideon’. That property, then dubbed “Rainbow Valley” is now CNLM’s native plant nursery, its original name of Shotwell’s Landing restored.

The scotch broom on Glacial was so thick and tall that when we rode our horses there, you could not see them. All you would see was our disembodied heads, bobbing along at the top of the broom canopy. At that time there was no road other than a narrow, graveled track, worn by the original settler’s cattle, that circled the interior. An even smaller track went through the forested area.

There was little, if any, wildlife on Glacial. Once in a while you’d hear a common yellowthroat singing, and a red-tailed hawk nested in one of the firs, but otherwise, Glacial was silent and lifeless. The only open space of any size was found around the homesteader’s house. They’d planted non-native trees such a Russian olive and pines. The grassy areas around the house were non-native grasses and thistle.

The only wildflower to be found was camas, and even that was sparse, struggling to bloom in the breaks in the broom canopy.

In 1997, I was riding my horse on what we now call North Road on Glacial when a small car blocked my way. Dan Grosboll got out and, in what I was later to learn was his typical diplomatic way, politely informed me that he was the new steward and that horse riding, biking, hiking, camping, etc was prohibited, as Glacial Heritage was now a preserve. Glacial Heritage was the last segment of glacial outwash prairie (other than Ft. Lewis) in the state, he said, and the plan was to restore it to a semblance of its original configuration. The entire time we were talking, Dan kept his distance from me. I wondered, is he afraid of me? I was unarmed and bareback on a small horse. Did I look threatening? I learned much later that Dan was extremely allergic to horses!

Being that I was born a biologist and a tree hugging environmentalist, and had a deep interest in environmental and wildlife habitat restoration, I said to Dan, “Okay. How can I help?”

I could no longer ride on Glacial, but in return, I made so many friends pulling broom. Larry, Cliff, Mike and Marion, Penny, Barry and Darlene, Doreen, Doug and Kathy, John and Margaret, Dan; all are STILL my friends. Best of all, the nicest man I’ve ever met, the one who was everyone’s favorite volunteer, Dennis Plank, became not only my friend-but my husband as well!

When you look at Glacial Heritage now, you see a rolling expanse of native wild flowers. Countless hours of work from many dedicated volunteers has been rewarded with the return of wildlife, to include bluebirds, meadowlarks and northern harriers. I am one of the few who remembers what it looked like then, and can see the results of the ongoing work when I look at it now.

Michelle and Dennis at Wedding Reception, Photo by John Crawford

Michelle and Dennis at Wedding Reception, Photo by John Crawford

Dan and Pat Montague

As you’ll read below, Dan and Pat came along a little later. They soon became stalwart volunteers, particularly for anything having to do with plants. They spent countless hours surveying Glacial Heritage to create an inventory of the plants there, were always on hand for seed cleaning and planting, and did pull their share of Scotch Broom, despite Dan’s protestations to the contrary. They’ve now moved to Whidbey Island and we miss them tremendously.

To Dennis, Michelle and other Glacial Friends,

Dan taking a water break and Pat far right manning the Plant ID station at Prairie Appreciation Day, Photo by John Crawford

Dan taking a water break and Pat far right manning the Plant ID station at Prairie Appreciation Day, Photo by John Crawford

Pictures in our minds and miscellaneous thoughts about the past are fading as we age. Perhaps our most striking memory about Glacial Heritage was the first time we went out to volunteer there. It was sleeting that day in January 2005 when we met at the gate at 9:00 am. None of us wanted to get out of our cars as the volunteer coordinator Carri Marschner urged us to do. Finally she asked “Does anyone want to pull broom?” Only one hand went up! Mike Jarish was willing to go. No one else joined him! Bev Heebner invited us to their house nearby with a warm fire where we could clean seeds and the rest of us did that for our “volunteer day.” Mike worked outside all that day.

Mike Jarisch and a couple of young helpers pulling Broom, Photo by Dan Montague

Mike Jarisch and a couple of young helpers pulling Broom, Photo by Dan Montague

This is not the day; I did not have my camera with me that January day in 2005 but this is Mike.

Farms are visible in the distance with the Black Hills beyond. One of our older neighbors in Olympia told about playing on the fields at the Glacial location when he was a boy and there was no broom at all in the area then. He was born in about 1925 or so and grew up nearby.

We have always enjoyed wildflowers and gardening; getting out and exploring, so after we moved to Olympia in 2000 we looked for opportunities to continue our interest. The local chapter of the native plant society soon sent us up onto Mt. Rainier to help with their revegetation program. We went up to Mt. Rainier to pick seeds and then to work with propagation in their greenhouse at Ashford. So we thought we could do the same at Glacial Heritage; it was much closer. The glossy magazine from the Washington Nature Conservancy office in Seattle mentioned but did not show a picture of their greenhouse at Shotwells Landing, the plant propagation facility for Glacial Heritage just south of Little Rock. That was exactly what we had been doing at Mt. Rainier. We had trouble finding the greenhouse

Why Shotwell's Landing was so hard to find in 2004, Photo by Dan Montague

Why Shotwell’s Landing was so hard to find in 2004, Photo by Dan Montague

but Gabby Byrne of the Olympia office said it was there and her husband, Daeg who ran it would appreciate help. We were soon directed to work on the prairie. So for the next 13 years we pulled broom, located plants, gathered seeds, cleaned seeds and planted seeds by hand for Glacial Heritage.

We went not just for plants alone!

Male Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

Male Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

 

Female Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

Female Harrier, Photo by Dan Montague

Spider on Grass Head, Photo by Dan Montague

Spider on Grass Head, Photo by Dan Montague

Lunch Time at Glacial Heritage, Photo by Dan Montague

Lunch Time at Glacial Heritage, Photo by Dan Montague

Doug and Kathy Whitlock

Like Dan and Pat, Doug and Kathy seemed to come out of nowhere, and immediately became an integral part of the prairie volunteer group. Both of them had incredible energy and worked extremely hard at whatever needed doing. Doug was our chainsaw and brush cutter wizard and Kathy was great at organization and finances. Both have finally had to step back from active roles, but are still involved, and both worked at the 2019 PAD.  (PS  I have no idea what this software is doing to Kathy and Doug’s input.  I’ve reformatted it ann retyped it and it insists on putting it in this strange format.)

Doug and Kathy, front and center, Photo by Dennis Plank

Doug and Kathy, front and center, Photo by Dennis Plank

Some prairie memories, by Kathy and Doug whitlock

We started volunteering when the Nature Conservancy was still managing the south sound prairies. Having been long time members of TNC we thought it would be fun to work with them and continued when CNLM took over.

We started out on Weir and Johnson Prairies, pulling scotch broom and gathering seeds and then moving on to Glacial Heritage, Mima Mounds, and West Rocky Prairies. During the years of TNC work we also went to many other locations, such as, Yellow Island, Moses Coulee, and Zumwalt in Oregon, and even a small prairie near Reardon where we had previously lived. Those were mostly weekend trips with overnight stays at the sites We spent many nights star gazing and watching satellites and meteorites besides building fences or trails and controlling invasive weeds during the day.

There are so many things to like about the prairie. It is an incredibly beautiful place when it is in full bloom with camas, or watching a squall blow in through the Chehalis Gap with out-of-this-world light. Most of all there is the people we worked with: Mike and Marion with their seeds, Barry and Darlene chasing butterflies, Dan and Penny with their leaky roof, Cliff whacking broom, Steve in his full dress broom pulling regalia, teaching Grace how to throw an axe (she was pretty good for a Jersey girl), Margaret and John singing their hair making smores on the slash pile, building Bluebird boxes for Steve, Dennis and Michelle setting up for PAD, Gail and Paul gathering seeds, evenings by the fire enjoying a beer and hot dog with good friends after a hard day’s work.

Doug just reminded me of working with Bev and Charlie too, both here and over in Eastern WA as well. Also he remembered Phil Hall, who used to come up from somewhere over on the coast.

Incidentally, we grew up in central Idaho where fields of camas are everywhere, but we didn’t know the significance of it back then. Wasn’t until we got over here we found out what it really was.

Anyway, fun to go back through our memory bank and think of all these things and people.


 

Doug the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

Doug the Lumberjack, Photo by John Crawford

 

Kathy showing off a Prairie Appreciation Day T-shirt, Photo by Margaret Allen

Kathy showing off a Prairie Appreciation Day T-shirt, Photo by Margaret Allen

 

Toshua Hickman

I was very pleased that Tosh agreed to send something for these memories. More than any of us, he is part of the prairies. The rest of us came to them late in life, but Tosh grew up at Tuesday workdays on our prairies and probably got a better education those days than anyone his age sitting in a classroom could have. Tosh is out of college and working for a living now, but I know he’ll be back on the prairies.

Tosh at Prairie Appreciation Day helping with the Prairie Pollinators Station, Photo by John Crawford

Tosh at Prairie Appreciation Day helping with the Prairie Pollinators Station, Photo by John Crawford

 

The Puget Sound prairies are a hidden gem that comes to life every spring. Camas colors the landscape blue and a multitude of other more uncommon native plants are also in full bloom. As a kid, I was lucky enough to be a part of the restoration efforts to bring the prairies back to their natural habitat. All credit goes to my dad for bringing me to the prairies at a young age. Every Tuesday for many years, we joined other volunteers to clear invasive scotch broom, re-plant native plants, and free oak trees where fir trees had overtaken. I got to learn a lot about native plants and experience all seasons of a landscape that used to be much more expansive over the Puget Sound region. I will always cherish the memories of days spent working on the prairies and the group of dedicated volunteers we worked along with.

Tosh many years later helping build the tool shed on Glacial Heritage, unknown photographer

Tosh many years later helping build the tool shed on Glacial Heritage, unknown photographer

Prairie Update and Mima Mounds Visit

Prairie Update and Mima Mounds Visit, Blog and images by Dennis Plank

Prairie Update and Mima Mounds Visit

Spring is proceeding apace. The camas appears to be quickly approaching it’s peak. A visit to Mima Mounds on the 5th was a bit disappointing in that respect, with not a lot of camas visible (see below). I’ll be checking Scatter Creek on the 7th. However, lots of other plants are coming along nicely. I’ve spotted Yarrow in bud all over the place:

Yarrow in Bud, photo by Dennis  Plank

Yarrow in Bud, photo by Dennis Plank

Oregon Sunshine, so aptly named, is also starting to form buds. You’d never guess from this rather drab bud:

Oregon Sunshine Bud, photo by Dennis  Plank

Oregon Sunshine Bud, photo by Dennis Plank

that flowers like this could develop:

Oregon Sunshine in Bloom, photo by Dennis  Plank

Oregon Sunshine in Bloom, photo by Dennis Plank

Better yet, the plant forms an extensive mat and blooms profusely.

In addition to those, my Balsamroot is showing it’s first blossom. The plants are only three years old and don’t produce much that’s very luxuriant, so I haven’t bothered to photograph it. Hopefully, I’ll find some good stands at Scatter Creek.

The native Columbine in my gardens is also starting to form buds, so it should be blooming in the next week or so and will be showing up on the prairies shortly thereafter. Look for it in the swales as it likes a little extra moisture. I planted one under a small group of fir trees on our property where I have a bird photography setup and keep it watered. It grew to over four feet tall and bloomed all summer (though I had to fence it to keep the deer away).

The birds are proceeding with raising families. All our swallows seem to have gotten their nests built and we’ve started to see them mating. We watched both the male and female Western Bluebird taking bugs to their box, so they must have their first batch of young out of the egg. This image was taken in mid-June five years ago, but conveys the idea:

Western Bluebird with Spider for Young, photo by Dennis  Plank

Western Bluebird with Spider for Young, photo by Dennis Plank

There’s a Black-capped Chickadee that set up housekeeping in a swallow box, but the swallows are still perching on it and acting like it’s theirs. We’ve even seen the female swallow go in the box, but the chickadee is taking insects into it. This evening we saw the male American Kestrel land on a tree with a snake and call it’s mate from the box to get it, so we’re pretty sure she’s sitting on eggs (it takes their eggs about a month to hatch, so we’re pretty sure they don’t have young yet).

Also yesterday I found my first Silvery Blues of the season. These are actually two different butterflies.

Silvery Blue, photo by Dennis  Plank

Silvery Blue, photo by Dennis Plank

Silvery Blue on Lupine, photo by Dennis  Plank

Silvery Blue on Lupine, photo by Dennis Plank

As mentioned above, with access to state lands reinstated, I went to Mima Mounds Natural Area yesterday morning. It’s open 8:30 am to 8:30 pm this time of year and I got there about 8:40 in the morning. Only one other car was there, but I suspect it will be packed later this week with the predicted warm weather. Since I want to do a post later this year on the theories of formation of the mounds, I stopped at the concrete kiosk (I refer to it as the Mushroom), to take some pictures of the excellent displays there.

Mima Mounds Display, photo by Dennis  Plank

Mima Mounds Display, photo by Dennis Plank

Since I had limited time, I stuck to the concrete loop where I took the pictures of the Yarrow and Oregon Sunshine bud above. I think the asphalt path holds enough heat to make the plants along it bloom a bit earlier than elsewhere. At least they were a few days ahead of anything on our property that I’ve found.

I kept looking for that elusive “sea of blue” from the camas, but it doesn’t appear to be a good year for it on Mima, so I settled for stopping at the viewing platform and shooting a couple of panorama shots that I’m sure won’t show up very well on the blog-they really need a huge screen.

Mima Mounds, Panorama 1, photo by Dennis  Plank

Mima Mounds, Panorama I, photo by Dennis Plank

Mima Mounds Panorama 2, photo by Dennis  Plank

Mima Mounds Panorama 2, photo by Dennis Plank

The stretch of the path that goes through the woods was spring fresh and full of birdsong and fully worth the trip for its own sake.

Prairie Memories and Reveries I

Prairie Memories and Reveries, part I,  Posts as images authored as indicated.

Prairie Memories and Reveries I

So many of the people who responded to this request have been working on the prairies for such a long time that I thought I’d include a couple of pictures of the lunch crowd from a second Saturday workday on June 14, 2003. It was a beautiful day and we had a wonderful turnout.

Lunch Crowd at Glacial Workday, June 14, 2003, photo by Dennis Plank

Lunch Crowd at Glacial Workday, June 14, 2003, photo by Dennis Plank

Lunch Crowd at Glacial Workday, June 14, 2003, photo by Dennis Plank

Lunch Crowd at Glacial Workday, June 14, 2003, photo by Dennis Plank

I recognize Barry and Darlene Bidwell, Bill Funk, Larry Weinberg, Mike and Marion Jarisch and Cliff Snyder as some of the very early volunteers in these.

Since Bill and Larry responded to this request, I thought I’d start this series with them and with Fayette Krause who was instrumental in The Nature Conservancy’s involvement in the South Sound.

Bill Funk

Bill was one of the very early members of the Scotch Broom Attack Team. When he retired early sevral years ago, he started a second, albeit unpaid, career of environmental restoration. He routinely volunteers five or six days a week. In addition to restoration, he volunteers for numerous human service organizations. He keeps threatening to move to Seattle and if he ever does, he’ll leave an enormous hole in Olympia.

Elk on Glacial Heritage, photo by Bill Funk

Elk on Glacial Heritage, photo by Bill Funk

Some people who enjoy the prairies are plant people. Some are bird people. Some of us look forward to being the cause of the morning alarm for the red tail hawk as we arrive in the morning. Or seeing the aerial artistry of the harrier as it glides just feet above the prairie mounds. But I most look forward to the two osprey pairs rebuilding their nests and promptly laying their eggs. Listening to them talk to each other like an old married couple.

Glacial has at least a couple of resident deer does. But we rarely see any big bucks on the prairie. But each year, they seem to find the does, and that results in fawns ever spring.

Last winter, February 2019, we finally had enough snow, so I finally was able to snowshoe the prairie road for the first time in 22 years. As I did, I first noticed elk tracks. Then I discovered 4 young bull elk. The first elk I have seen on Glacial in 22 years of working. December 2019 not only were they still around, but they found a few elk cows, and formed themselves a nice little elk herd 14 strong. They even posed by one of Glacial’s “Christmas” trees for my Christmas card photo (see above). Then shortly after New Years, things got really unusual. There has been an elk herd approximately 80 strong wintering for years at the Black River NWR north of Littlerock on an old dairy farm with plenty of pasture along the river. However, sometime between Christmas and New Years, they decided to move, all 80, down the river to Glacial. At first, it was quite wonderful to see a 80 head elk herd on Glacial. But there was a big problem. They seemed to like to stay the night on Glacial. But they liked to feed on the adjoining active dairy farm’s silage field. This is a problem since this is feed for his dairy cows, and 80 head of elk can eat a lot. Seems like the elk preferred this planted sileage rather than our native prairie grasses. Not sure if it was a plan, an accident, or just a coincidence, but when the farmer started to fertilize the field with liquid cow manure, like he does routinely, the 80 head of elk moved back “home” up river to the Black River NWR. Probably for the best.  However, a small splinter group of 8 elk, maybe some of the original 14, stayed. So maybe we’ll have our own sustainable elk herd year round or at least over winter. Now if we could only see a bear once in a while, we would have a complete native zoo.

Bill at work. while he likes pulling broom more, he helps enthusiastically with planting, photo by Dennis Plank

Bill at work. while he likes pulling broom more, he helps enthusiastically with planting, photo by Dennis Plank

Larry Weinberg

Larry and I both worked at Boeing and were members of an informal Thursday after-work hiking group. One October (1998?) he mentioned that there was going to be a planting party on a prairie where he volunteered once a month. I thought that was a cool idea and came down to help. That started a marathon volunteer journey for me and until he retired and moved to Bend, we carpooled to an incredible number of volunteer events. I suspect neither of us wanted to be outdone by the other. Larry is still a very active volunteer for a number of organizations and causes in Bend.

DSC00319

Larry at work on the prairie, photo by Margaret Allen

Thoughts on weed wars on the South Sound Prairies.

When I first moved to Washington in 1987, I noticed a plant growing near my home in the Seatac area. It bloomed early in the Spring, with pretty yellow and red blossoms. I thought it was quite attractive. As it turned out this was like visiting Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, seeing some SS members and stating they have really nice uniforms. Little did I know, hidden behind those pretty flowers was a devious enemy ready to do battle. It was Scotch Broom!

Flash forward a few years and I was in the trenches fighting these devilish plants on the South Sound prairies. There were battlefields at Mima Mounds, Glacial Heritage and even Fort Lewis. A successful day for me was leaving the field of combat strewn with dead broom and not having a sore back.

When we started working at Glacial Heritage, the broom looked more like a row crop than a weed. But; several years of committed work by an energetic team of volunteers began show progress as more and more of the prairie and the oak woodlands were freed from the broom. In just a few years the camas began to bloom again in great profusion. The reward was seeing a sea of blue where once there had only been broom.

There were times on weed work Saturdays when it was tempting to sleep in, but always there was the pull of work that needed to be done. Also, I would catch a lot of flak from Dennis Plank if I didn’t show up at our carpool meeting spot on I-405. As we drove through Tacoma and Olympia, I often thought of why would one take off half the weekend to drive 70 miles to pull weeds. The answer was clear when we would get to the work site – there were invasive weeds to be pulled and you could see the progress, not just in dead plants but in returning flora and the animals that relied on them.

The other draw was the wonderful group of volunteers and Nature Conservancy staff who did the work. There was a fascinating chemistry between folks and many of us still keep in touch even though some, like me, have moved from the Seattle metro area. We had after-work potlucks and Christmas parties. On several occasions I would be back in the Seattle area on a work day and was able to get to the prairies either to work or to enjoy Prairie Appreciation days.

Looking back on the actual work, it was nice after a week at Boeing dealing with technical matters, to have a somewhat mindless activity that you could do while taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world around you. The biggest success that I experienced was taking down an ‘old-growth’ broom that was well over 12 feet and high and so thick that our biggest weed wrench did not fit around the base of the plant. I hacked and dug and pried and cursed, and I finally got the monster out of the ground. Most of the time our work was a little less stressful and easier on the body.

I look back at the time that I spent working with friends on the South Sound Prairies as a wonderful part of my life. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a group of friends and a dead broom, oh were paradise enow.

Larry at play at a Nature conservancy Volunteer Picnic, photo by Dennis Plank

Larry at play at a Nature conservancy Volunteer Picnic, photo by Dennis Plank

Fayette Krause

Fayette was Washington Land Steward for the Nature Conservancy for 30 years. In that role he was instrumental in the acquisition of Rocky Prairie by TNC which held it until the DNR could acquire the funds to buy it. As the location of the last remnant population of Golden Paintbrush in the South Sound and one of only 13 in existence, it was crucial to the reintroduction of this plant that we see blooming so prolifically at places like the Glacial Heritage Preserve.

Golden Paintbrush on the prairies, photo by Dennis Plank

Golden Paintbrush on the prairies, photo by Dennis Plank

Rocky Prairie

At Rocky we had an annual work party; sometimes two annual parties.  The volunteers who showed up were excellent workers and ultimately made Rocky Prairie a model for volunteerism.  Barry Bidwell is correct.  Initially I (very foolishly, in retrospect) brought lunch meats and cheese from DeLaurenti’s (not so foolish) and designer beers for the end of the day (foolish).  It was NOT foolish to ply volunteers with good beer.  They deserved every last drop.  What was foolish is the liability assumed.  In the end I wised up to the liability and canceled the beer.  A number of volunteers were not happy with that arrangement.

TNC leased Rocky Prairie from the Nelson family, who owned the tract.  The lease expired when DNR bought Rocky Prairie, or traded DNR land to the Nelson’s.  With the expiration of the lease, TNC’s connection to the property ended.  There may have been one or two TNC work parties after DNR secured ownership to Rocky Prairie, but ultimately DNR assumed management responsibilities for the land.

Rocky was a good example of what can be accomplished without using herbicides.  The volunteers removed Scot’s broom from the preserve, by pulling and with a weed wrench.  In the south end, where the broom was the largest, occasionally it was necessary to use loppers.  Generally, when “old-growth” broom is cut, it does not resprout.  Alas, this is not the case with young to “middle-aged” plants.  If cut, even at or below the soil line, the plant frequently resprouts.  The “fan” created by the resprouted plant covers even more territory, and, unless removed the following year, has an increasingly deleterious effect on adjacent vegetation.  The lack of herbicidal use presupposes that volunteers or paid managers will be at Rocky on at least an annual basis to remove the resprouted or new broom.  Without this diligence, much can be lost to the recurrent broom — especially since the seeds retain viability for up to 50 years or more in the soil.

The entire reason for interest in Rocky Prairie is the Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) found there.  To my knowledge Rocky Prairie had the largest and most robust population of this Federally Endangered species in the world — so volunteers were engaged in saving a globally rare plant.  At the time, there were no more than a dozen separate populations known from the Puget Trough — the only place in the world where C. levisecta grows.  More populations may have been discovered than were initially known, but a number of them are of 25 or fewer plants and could easily disappear over time.

The Rocky Prairie and Yellow Island work parties were among my favorite activities in my 30 year career with TNC.  I want to specifically call out Barry and Darlene Bidwell for their consistent work on the Prairie.  Their work, and that of other steadfast volunteers, made a huge difference in what was accomplished.

Fayette Krause

Fayette and other board members of the Olympic Forest Coalition. Fayette is in the green hat. Photo taken from the web.

Learning From the Prairie

Blog and Photos by Sarah Hamman, PhD, Restoration Ecologist at the Center for Natural Lands Management

We wanted to start this week leading up to the traditional PAD date with a bang.  So who better to do a post than Sarah Hamman, a shining star in the field of prairie restoration science, and a very nice person.

Learning from the Prairie

“The…pairing of purple and gold is lived reciprocity; its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass

Dr. Kimmerer was referring to the complementary colors of the late summer flowering Solidago and Erigeron on the prairie, but I think the same harmony can be found in the spring golds and violets, the buttercups and camas.

The rich colors of the early blue violet, Photo by Sarah Hamman

The rich colors of the early blue violet, Photo by Sarah Hamman

These harbingers of spring tell us that the prairie is waking up and ready to support a wide range of plants and animals, also rising from their winter dormancy. The prairie is literally buzzing this time of year with thousands of pollinators zipping from flower to flower, meadowlarks and purple martins gathering nest material and defending their chicks, snakes slithering through the fescue bunches, and butterflies fluttering in the sunshine.

Buttercup with Pollinator, Photo by Sarah Hamman

Buttercup with Pollinator, Photo by Sarah Hamman

Most prairies here in the South Sound also usually have scientists, managers, students, volunteers, and prairie enthusiasts out monitoring and admiring all that is growing. While each season provides its own lessons, spring gives us an exceptional opportunity to learn from the land.

Monitoring seed germination, Photo by Sarah Hamman

Monitoring seed germination, Photo by Sarah Hamman

Prairies require human stewardship in order maintain their open structure and diverse ecology. These cultural ecosystems were maintained for thousands of years with regular fire and harvest by indigenous people. Now, with a suite of invasive weeds, a century or more of fire exclusion, little to no cultural harvesting, and a deeply fragmented landscape, human stewardship generally involves intensive removal of invasive species (hello scotch broom!), re-establishment of a fire regime, and reintroduction (seeding and planting) of native plants and animals onto small prairie preserves and private lands.

151103Tuesday Crew Glacial-IMG_6125

Volunteers Planting Thousands of Forbs-a November Ritual, Photo by Dennis Plank

Each restoration practice involves many years (sometimes decades) of (re)learning and fine-tuning to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. This knowledge gain can come from: 1) a close cultural connection with this habitat (traditional ecological knowledge), 2) repeat monitoring of plant and animal responses to restoration treatments at a particular site (adaptive management), or 3) planned experiments that evaluate effects of specific restoration actions on a targeted organism or ecological metric (scientific research). Traditional ecological knowledge provides invaluable information about the cultural priorities and practices that maintained this unique ecosystem for millennia. Incorporating these priorities and practices into current management through close partnerships with regional Tribes will help to revive and maintain the productivity of first foods and medicines (camas, biscuitroot, rice root, balsamroot, and many others) in this ecosystem.

Blooming Balsamroot, camas, nineleaf biscuitroot and buttercup, Photo by Sarah Hamman

Blooming Balsamroot, camas, nineleaf biscuitroot and buttercup, Photo by Sarah Hamman

Riceroot Bulb, photo by Sarah Hamman

Riceroot Bulb, photo by Sarah Hamman

Adaptive management helps us improve our restoration treatments bit-by-bit each year, learning as we go about the techniques that work and species that get established. Scientific research can provide very specific guidance on the what/when/where/how/why details of various restoration tools (e.g., appropriate season-frequency of herbicide application for tall oatgrass removal or effective mycorrhizal inoculants for improved reproductive capacity of butterfly nectar species). A combination of indigenous knowledge, adaptive management and scientific research will generate holistic knowledge about this unique ecosystem with species- and site-specific guidelines for restoration.

Through years of hard work and learning, we are slowly gaining a better understanding and appreciation of the complex relationships and restoration needs of the prairie. In exchange for maintaining and restoring the diversity and bounty of this ecosystem, we are rewarded with valuable knowledge and brilliant spring beauty in the ultimate expression of reciprocity.

Spring Gold and Camas, Photo by Sarah Hamman

Spring Gold and Camas, Photo by Sarah Hamman

May 1, 2020 Prairie Memories and Reveries

Post and photos by Dennis Plank

Prairie Memories and Reveries

Spring on Glacial Heritage, Photo by Dennis Plank

Spring on Glacial Heritage, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

As we approach the second Saturday of May and the traditional day we have set aside for appreciating our prairie heritage in this area, We decided that in addition to trying to keep up with the advancement of spring on the prairies (which is just bursting with the recent rains), we would solicit recollections and reveries concerning the prairies. To do that, I reached out to as many people as I could think of who have been working on the prairies for a long time and asked them if they would write something for us. I’ve been astonished and very pleased at the number of people who have agreed to do so and several have already submitted their offerings. Those responses will be posted over the course of this coming week.

The Olympian agreed to do an article on Prairie Appreciation Day and its virtual replacement and in corresponding with Molly Gilmore, the reporter, Sabra Noyes, our Publicity Chair, noticed a quotation in her signature block that she found intriguing. In tracking it down, she discovered that it was part of a poem by Lynn Ungar titled “Camas Lilies”. I found it singularly appropriate and contacted Lynn for permission to post it here:

Camas Lilies

Consider the liles of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.

By Lynn Ungar, http://www.lynnungar.com/

Camas After the Rain, Photo by Dennis Plank

Camas After the Rain, Photo by Dennis Plank

If any of you reading this blog have memories or thoughts on the prairies that you’re willing to share, please write them up and send them to our email and we’ll be happy to post them. If you have photos you’d like to share please include them as attachments as it’s easier to post them that way.

With the relaxation of the restrictions on public lands, you should be able to get your spring prairie fix at Mima Mounds Natural Area or Scatter Creek Wildlife Area (starting May 5th-please don’t try to jump the gun). Since they will be monitoring for over usage, try to avoid peak usage times and if the parking lots are full, don’t try to crowd in or park on the road (I’ve seen Mima that way), just find somewhere else to go and come back another time. Always remember that there are a lot of people working hard to make sure the prairies will still be here a year from now (you too can be one of us).

PS: The Garry Oaks are starting to leaf out:

New Garry Oak Leaves Unfolding, Photo by Dennis Plank

New Garry Oak Leaves Unfolding, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

May 1, 2020 Castilleja Relationship Status-It’s complicated

Blog Post and photos courtesy of 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.

Castilleja Relationship Status- It’s Complicated

The plant genus Castilleja is somewhat notorious among the botanical types. It’s the paintbrush genus with showy columns of frilly warm hues artfully blended from the green frilly leaves below. Paintbrushes, like the endangered golden paintbrush and harsh paintbrush of our South Sound prairies, are aptly named- resembling chunky bristles dipped in color. Yet like so many plants they are more complex than they look.

First off, those aren’t petals. They are more like leaves. Showy leaves adapted to drawing in pollinating bees, called bracts. These are a step between true leaves and true petals, which are themselves fancy adapted colorful leaves shaped to enfold or encircle the reproductive organs the pollinators will transfer pollen between. The true petals of a Castilleja flower are much smaller tubes of color forming a “galea” or beak enclosing the other flower parts. Color coordinated, of course. Those chunky brushes are more interesting than first meets the eye. And when you go even deeper, or later in the flower’s “story”, so to say, it gets downright daytime soap opera dramatic, evil twins and casual affairs and all.

The two species that overlap in the remaining lowland prairie system today look fairly similar and very much like most other Castilleja species. Golden paintbrush, Castilleja levisecta, is truly golden and only ever this rich burnt yellow hue with more tightly formed flower spikes jutting out of the warm prairie soil like dipped brushes.

Castilleja levisecta, photo by Ivy Clark

Castilleja levisecta, photo by Ivy Clark

Harsh or hardy paintbrush, Castilleja hispida, is most commonly orange but ranges across the warm hues from a deep crimson to a very uncommon Mary Kay pink and even yellow with a flower form more like you flicked the paintbrush out after dipping it; more splayed and with frillier looking bracts. Not petals, remember? There will be a quiz at the end. Harsh paintbrush is hardier, growing in more habitats than just the prairies and able to withstand more disturbances. This is part of why Golden paintbrush is so rare. Yet bees love both. As do the caterpillars of butterflies, including the also endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. It’s getting complicated already, can you tell?

Castilleja hispida, Photo by Ivy Clark

Castilleja hispida, Photo by Ivy Clark

The prairies are home to both paintbrushes and they look fairly similar, and indeed bumblebees as well as others bees pollinate both plants.

Bumble Bees on levisecta and hispida, Photos by Ivy Clark

Bumble Bees on levisecta and hispida, Photos by Ivy Clark

There’s an interesting thing about Castilleja species that overlap in their population territories. It’s what I like to call a promiscuous genus, where different species can relatively easily interbreed and blur the lines of which species is really separate from which. They aren’t solely capable of reproducing with their own species. And they form hybrids. Like mules. Think of a plant population Venn diagram, with a new hybrid species (so to say) where the circles overlap.

Castilleja Hybrid, Photo by Ivy Clark

Castilleja Hybrid, Photo by Ivy Clark

The normal occurrence with two relatively common species is no concern to botanists. Let nature do its thing and study it for interest. But we have a rare Castilleja species that indeed interbreeds with a common one on the South Sound prairies. Cue the gasp from the soap opera audience, or the botanists. The concern is that the rare species could be outcompeted and out bred by the common one and their hybrids. Do the plants care? They just go with however the bees move their pollen. But the humans care, especially because people removing golden paintbrush habitat is a major reason it is at risk of totally disappearing. That is why, like the brilliant and attractive doctor who tries passionately to pull the nearly dead costar from their coma to be reunited with the long lost twin they never knew, the people caring for the prairies take a little extra care reintroducing these paintbrushes into recovering sites. The great news is golden paintbrush populations are being pulled back from the brink with great success. To keep the bees from cross pollinating the plants, just in case, they are kept at a distance from each other. You can still see both however at certain sites, usually with a wide buffer of land chaperoning the members of this promiscuous, passionate, and radiantly beautiful genus of Castilleja. Their relationship is complicated, at least how we humans see it, but we so enjoy watching them develop.