Forestry field day showcases work to restore prairies near Isinours Unit
Tuesday, August 05, 2014 10:17 AM
A gathering of approximately 30 hikers attended the fourth annual Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Forestry Field Day, held last Wednesday, July 30, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The group converged on a trail of the Isinours Unit of the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest, just north of Preston off County Road 17.
Nature Conservancy representative Rich Biske, left, and DNR forester Jim Edgar explain what is being done to restore this hillside to its original bluff prairie state. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
“We plan to bring back the bluff prairies – they’ve grown in with red cedar and buckthorn – and bring back the sunshine to the floor, eventually bring fire back and bring this back to prairie,” said Rich Biske of The Nature Conservancy.
The tour was held to share conservation and reforestation – or in this case, re-prairie – sites within the Fillmore SWCD’s boundaries.
DNR forester Jim Edgar explained the Isinours Unit was purchased as part of the Dorer forest in 1965 and it has undergone several transformations, both natural and man-influenced, through the past 50 years. A white pine plantation, established there in 1966, was cut in 1992 when every third row of trees was taken out for timber. The most recent Isinours white pine timber sale took place in 2007.
The other plantation within the unit was a butternut plantation that was machine-planted in 1967 but is no longer maintained for commercial timber production.
The forestry field day included stops to show the bluff prairie restoration, white pine, red pine, Scotch pine, Norway spruce, white cedar and black walnut plantations, as well as hardwood management sites.
The hillside the DNR has been working on restoring to prairie, within the 120-acre forest unit, is a steep mountain-goat’s climb that Edgar and Biske noted was overtaken by buckthorn. This shrub is a plant formerly used as an ornamental hedge but now regarded as an invasive species due to its propensity for growing a thick cover that outlasts the native plants, starving them for light, nutrients and moisture, and red cedar.
The hillside was first burned by the DNR in 1994 through 1996 in an effort to restore its original state through the control of undesirable vegetation and the spread of native species’ seed production. Since then, the DNR has set forth a plan to clear seven acres of buckthorn, red cedar, elm, hackberry and box elder from that part of the Isinours Unit.
Biske pointed out that the demonstration plot the tour group had the opportunity to climb “was mostly covered in mature buckthorn and had a dense canopy of cedar,” and that the undergrowth of native species didn’t have enough light to reach upward and dominate.
A question arose from the hikers – “What is an invasive species, and can an invasive species be a native species?”
Edgar answered, “They can be native but invasive, like box elder, and then there are non-native species that are non-invasive.”
The SWCD and DNR distributed information at the beginning and end of the hike on buckthorn as a non-native invasive species. An educational pamphlet from the DNR related that buckthorn becomes “an impenetrable, messy thicket that outcompetes native plants for nutrients, light and moisture, degrades wildlife habitat, threatens the future of forests, wetlands, prairies and other natural habitats, contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor, serves as a host to other pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphid, creates messy fruits that stain sidewalks and driveways, and lacks ‘natural controls’ such as insects or disease that would curb its growth.”
The cooperating organizations also distributed boot picks to field day participants before they embarked on the hike, as Edgar reminded them that every little seed that sticks to their shoes can change the landscape, sometimes drastically, resulting in a hillside of buckthorn that wasn’t meant to be.
SWCD administrator Donna Rasmussen thanked the hikers for attending the field day, relating that the input the SWCD receives from participants helps the organization educate and connect the residents of Fillmore County with the county’s natural resources.
For more information or questions on forestry and water conservation, contact the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District at (507) 765-3878, ext. 3, or Fillmore County DNR forester Jim Edgar at (507) 765-2740.