Please excuse our mess: Major habitat restoration project set to begin at Horseshoe Bend

By Aric Ping, vegetation specialist

There is a reason no one wears nice clothes while painting or working in the garden.

It’s going to be messy.

It just is.

But it’s worth it, right?

You might get some splatter on your old pair of jeans, but that nursery is going to be so bright and cozy with a fresh coat of paint. You might get dirt under your fingernails pulling weeds in your garden, but those tomatoes are going to be perfect in your summer salad.

Where is this going? I thought this had something to do with conservation? (It does, it does, I’m getting there.)

The same thing is true in conservation. (See?)

A black prairie after a prescribed fire, a pile of recently cut brush, while these might look good to someone like me who sees these things as necessary signs of progress, they are not broadly accepted as aesthetically pleasing things. They are the paint-splattered jeans and dirty fingernails of conservation in the tallgrass prairie region, the temporary blemish before the beauty.

Horseshoe Bend is about to get a new coat of paint, and there will be some spills.

Photo of people at the Horseshoe Bend overlook

Our goal for Horseshoe Bend, and all our natural areas, is to provide recreational and educational opportunities while providing critical habitat for wildlife and ensuring generations to come might enjoy what is here. In order to achieve these long term stewardship goals, we need to toughen up the wetland, oak savanna, and prairie ecosystems in the park.

We need them to be resilient. We need our plant and animal communities to be adaptable, able to deal with flooding, drought, disturbance, invasive species and a changing climate.

(Read about Horseshoe Bend’s 45th anniversary in 2016 here.)

In order to do that, we need to remove invasive and introduced species, reintroduce extirpated species and provide conditions for these plant and animal communities to thrive. Diversity is key.

Diverse plant and animal communities are more adaptable than those made up of only a few species. If one member of an ecosystem is impacted by disease, drought or flood, another member will be able to pick up the slack. These contingencies within the system provide alternative resources for insects, birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fungi, invertebrates, microorganisms, and whoever else might need them.

Like parents-to-be painting their nursery or a gardener making plans in late winter, we are very excited to be announcing a project that will bring us closer to our goals of diversity and resilience.

Thanks to funding support from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Partners Program, the National Fish and Wildlife Fund Monarch Habitat Grant, and the Conservation Foundation of Dickinson County, we will be removing eight acres of introduced and invasive tree and shrub species from the center of the park, and reseeding the area to a diverse prairie.

The project will reconnect upland and lowland grassland and savanna habitats, provide resources for imperiled grassland insect and bird species, reduce erosion, improve water quality and greatly increase biodiversity.

The long-term benefits of this project are exciting, but in the immediate future it will be a bit of a mess. This winter, there will be heavy equipment doing the initial removal of the introduced and invasive trees and shrubs, and this coming spring and summer will be a battle against the remaining herbaceous invasive plant species in that section before we are able to reseed the area next fall.

If you plan to visit Horseshoe Bend, please excuse our dirty fingernails and paint-splattered jeans as we work to restore diverse, resilient ecosystems.

(See another blog entry by Ping about the Horseshoe Bend oak savanna restoration.)

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