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Friday, December 14, 2018

Getting Bigger For Birds (and a universe more)

The high quality Somme Prairie is increasing from two acres to seventy acres. Hundreds of vulnerable species that have been hovering on the edge of oblivion because of fragmentation, now may have a sustainable future.

If you had stood on the highpoint of Somme Prairie two hundred years ago (or 2,000 years ago), you would have seen rich treeless grassland rolling majestically to the horizon – to the south, the west, and the north. To the east, you would have seen a mile of prairie backed up by savanna and woodland on the moraine. Today from that same spot, off to the south, west, and north, you see businesses, parks, roads, and homes for people. Many of those people are glad a prairie survives and can recover. 

Forty years ago at Somme, two acres of very high quality prairie remained, in scattered patches. Most plant and animal species are not sustainable in a two acre habitat. The prairie species, you can imagine, were shivering in fear. When we first started to rescue biodiversity here, the surrounding brush was gobbling up more prairie every year. In the absence of fire, brush kills every grass, flower, bird, butterfly, nematode, and fungus of the prairie. For forty years, volunteers cut back shrubs and trees. Brush tried to grow back as fast as we could cut it. We concentrated on the biggest and best quality openings. We lost some. Brush obliterated some, but most of those remnant patches recovered more and more, year by year. Yet, we didn’t have as many troops (or as much fire and seed) as we needed to make faster progress. 
 
When we first saw Somme Prairie, the best parts looked like this. I took this photo standing in the edge of one brush wall, looking past a few shrubs and out into a high quality prairie opening. Behind the prairie, you see a few trees and a narrow wall of shrubs. Behind that is another opening (hidden behind the brush), and then further back, bigger, taller brush again. 
By 2010, Steward Laurel Ross and the volunteers of the North Branch Restoration Project had about thirty acres of prairie under restoration. But forty acres were still under shade. Volunteers are mighty, but we are spread over many sites. Thousands of generous friends and neighbors have contributed here, from a few hours to hundreds of hours each, but we have only been able to do so much. 

Increasingly in recent years, Forest Preserve staff and contractors have focused resources on Somme. In 2014, President Preckwinkle and the Forest Preserves board approved its “Next Century Plan.” By 2020, according to the resulting project plan, there will be no brush in Somme Prairie. This is huge.

On September 20, 2018, conservationists met to refine bird conservation elements of the plan. Shown here, from left, are Laurel Ross (volunteer steward), Dr. Doug Stotz (ornithologist, Field Museum), Becky Collings (Senior Resource Ecologist for the Forest Preserves), Debbie Antlitz (Forest Preserve ecologist for the northeast region), and Dr. Jim Herkert (ornithologist, Illinois Audubon Society).  (See Endnote 1.)

This work is a model of collaboration. Forest Preserve staff, volunteers, partners, and scientists work together. (See Endnote 2.) The following is a summary of the discussions the bird conservation planning group had that day. Bird conservation was just one part of the overall plan. (See Endnotes 3 and 4.)

1.    The most important overall conservation goal for the 70-acre Somme Prairie is the restoration of its original prairie community – as large and fully diverse as possible. The birds are just one part of that community, but our main goal today is to focus on the birds part.  

2.    The basic bird-conservation objective is a large and unbroken grassland of good structure for breeding prairie birds, especially Henslow’s sparrow, dickcissel, sedge wren, savanna sparrow and possibly meadowlark.

3.    Currently no prairie birds nest in Somme Prairie. But with increasing size and quality of habitat, breeding birds can be expected, in time. Currently, some prairie species breed at Air-Station Prairie (a few miles to the south) and Willow-Sanders preserve (a few miles to the southwest).
The rare Henslow’s sparrow, if you get a good look, has a greenish head and rufous wings. It’s considered a high priority for conservation, as its habitat is the eastern tallgrass prairie. Currently much of this species survives on agricultural lands – in temporary habitats. Populations in preserved grasslands may be crucial to this bird – and to the quality of the grassland.
4.    Grassland areas the size of Somme may have significant contributions to make. There are potentially about 100 acres of quality prairie habitat here, if we remove the brush barrier that separates Somme Prairie from formerly contiguous habitat in Somme Prairie Grove to the east. Recent studies suggest that the value of smaller urban grasslands can be higher than previously thought. The proposed work at Somme could combine with, inform, and inspire similar work at scores of existing and potential grassland bird breeding sites in the Chicago Wilderness region.

5.    Would we be wise also to save shrublands here? No. For a site of this size, a single focus on grassland bird habitat is far superior to a compromise that would attempt to restore both grassland and shrubland. Other sites (including the adjacent Somme Prairie Grove) are successful and superior for shrubland bird conservation. More importantly, shrubs are a main threat to grassland birds – and challenging to manage. The agreed-on best strategy here is for the entire site to be restored as prairie.    
In the photo above, the 19 acres of brush to be removed in winter 2020 have black backgrounds. The brush and trees removed by contractors last year have white hatched lines. The pale areas are original and recovering prairie. The darker areas are trees, brush, tall goldenrod, or other prairie-destroying invaders. As you can see, even after the brush has been cut, the “seeds and weeds” stewards have a lot of work to do. 
6.    After trees and brush have been cleared, there’s still a lot of work to do to eliminate such malignant and habitat-destroying invasives as crown vetch, reed-canary grass, purple loosestrife, and teasel. 

7.    But the major first-step threat here is shrubs and trees. When just a foot or two tall, shrubs are not in themselves a detriment to the grassland birds. But, in two or three years, between burns, woody plants with well-developed root systems tend to grow sufficiently to shade out the species of grasses and other conservative plant diversity that make for successful grassland bird nesting habitat. The plan is to treat shrubs, trees, invasive weeds, and seed planting in a step-by-step process. (See Endnote 3.)

8.    Another principal threat is aggressive forbs such as tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) and saw-tooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseseratus). These and other rank species can create a vegetation structure that blocks or retards the desirable establishment of natural prairie. Such “thug” vegetation is also not nesting habitat for most grassland birds. These areas frequently do not burn under the moderately flammable conditions of most controlled burns, as the fuel quality is low. The rank species are thought to obstruct better quality vegetation by shading it out and possibly by emitting chemicals from their roots that inhibit the growth of other species. One solution to this problem that has been effective in some cases is to seed diverse prairie vegetation and then mow the rank growth when it becomes too dense for the survival of desirable seedlings. 
The new Forest Preserve plan (above) shows Somme Prairie outlined in red, Somme Prairie Grove in orange, Somme Woods in yellow and green, and Chipilly Woods in blue. 
9.    We next visited the 85-acre Somme Prairie Grove (adjacent to the east) and considered relationships between it and Somme Prairie. A coordinated plan for the two preserves now makes more sense. The prairie portions of these two preserves are divided from each other by the North Branch of the Chicago River (which flows unnaturally in a deep, straight ditch) as well as by the Metra railroad tracks. Neither the ditch nor the tracks would impede prairie birds from using both sides as one larger grassland. (More on the opportunities here will come in a later post.)

Most prairie birds have lost 90% or more of their numbers. This dickcissel could one day return to the Somme preserves. The five bird species likely to return here feed their young mostly on insects that few birds are now eating. The return of prairie birds may thus restore a component of the natural balance to the prairie here. 
10.  A special feature of Somme is a continuum from quality prairie to quality savanna and shrubland to quality woodland (as we go east from Somme Prairie to Somme Prairie Grove and the adjacent 450 acres of Somme and Chipilly Woods. The restoration of such a rare continuum would benefit birds, plants, invertebrates, herptiles, and the ecosystem generally. (See Endnote 4.)

11.  Relative conservation priority of shrubland, savanna, and prairie birds: They’re all important, but the prairie species are a higher priority, especially for Somme Prairie. Birds of shrubland and savanna are second priority. 

12.  We were entertained during our walk in Somme Prairie by a merlin (an uncommon mid-size falcon) which was being mobbed by blue jays in between bouts of the feisty merlin harassing a kestrel (a smaller falcon) and a sharp-shinned hawk. Perhaps this performance was a good omen for our bird conservation planning efforts here. 

Then, one last thought:

Will Somme Prairie someday truly revel in 70 acres of very high quality prairie? No one knows. No one has ever seen very high quality prairie restored. But even “good” prairie would be a blessed improvement over the formerly advancing brush – and many plant and animal species are already thriving in some of the restored areas. How fast and how much the ecosystem can recover will be a fascination and inspiration to experience over the years ahead.  

Endnotes

Endnote 1

The planning session on bird conservation was assembled by Becky Collings and Laurel Ross. The full roster for that field meeting included: 

Forest Preserve staff: Becky Collings and Debbie Antlitz
Bird conservation and ecology: Jim Herkert (Illinois Audubon), Doug Stotz 
and Dave Willard (Field Museum)
Stewards: Laurel Ross, Lisa Culp Musgrave, and Stephen Packard

Steward Laurel Ross has also long been a conservation leader as staff of The Nature Conservancy and the Field Museum. She is also on the Conservation and Policy Council that helps guide the implementing of the Next Century Plan. Thus, many contributions make a difference. 

Endnote 2

In case "model of collaboration" sounds Pollyanna to anyone, let me hasten to assure you that "collaboration" does not mean an absence of problems. It means we all pitch in, respect each other, and work problems out, as best we can.

Endnote 3

Step by step. 

Most of what was rich prairie long ago had degenerated into solid brush, as seen behind the sign below. 

The transformation of Somme Prairie became visible from Dundee Road on December 13th, 2018 with step one. A large "mower" chopped up the understory brush, as shown below: 

Step one, as seen from Dundee Road, looking north, with the small brush clearing just completed. The existing prairie is that pale horizontal line behind the trees.
Photo by Forest Preserve resource project manager Troy Showerman.
 
This is the machine that did the work.
Photo by Troy Showerman.
Above, from the Post Office parking lot, you see the mowed area compared to a still untreated area on the right. One of the next big challenges will be to keep the brush from growing back by herbiciding brush re-sprouts and seedlings, to be done during the 2019 growing season. Those invading trees will be cleared when the ground is frozen solid enough to support heavy equipment. Starting in fall 2019 and continuing for some years, rare prairie seed will be broadcast. Staff and stewards will combat new infestations of invasives. The ecosystem is temporarily in an "intensive care" stage. Well into the future, when the scene is all waving flowers, grasses, butterflies, and birds, people will find it hard to believe that the prairie was for a time reduced to this.

Endnote 4

Does this post make too much of a fuss over birds, compared to the rest of the ecosystem? Yes, but. Birds often rightly get extra attention because the data for them is especially clear and strong. We know better how big preserves need to be (and what vegetation structure needs to be) for bird conservation than we do for most other species. Part of the reason for that, is that people have done more research on birds, in part because they have more constituency and support. Birds bring more supporters to conservation efforts than do rare walking sticks or snakes.

As conservationists, we care equally for now-rare ants, weasels, slime molds, etc. - but we have less complete data on their conservation needs. But there's data for many species in many habitat types that confirm the value of larger habitats. Thus, restoring size and quality for birds will likely help many other plants and animals for which we have less detailed knowledge.

Midwest invertebrate expert Dr. Ron Panzer, who studied Somme years ago, published data that strongly supported the value of large habitats and higher quality vegetation for invertebrate conservation. But he cautioned against relying on size and vegetation alone. Burn regimes and other features may be equally or more important. Conservation will be on increasingly solid footing as we learn more about the needs of more and more species.

Credits

Beyond those already mentioned in this post, as always, there are many more who deserve recognition. To mention a few, let’s acknowledge:

John McCarter, Wendy Paulson, Arthur Velasquez, and Eric Whitaker: co-chairs of the Next Century Conservation Plan Commission – along with the scores of people who contributed to the planning process. And forest preserve President Toni Preckwinkle who coordinated the adoption of the plan. 

Dozens of Forest Preserve staff and contractors as supervised by John McCabe who has much upgraded the professionalism of the Forest Preserve’s Resource Management Division.

Volunteers by the hundreds, including Somme Prairie co-steward Lisa Musgrave and Eileen Sutter who, with many leaders and volunteers, has headed up the seed-gathering crews of the North Branch Restoration Project.

Jeanne Muellner who took the great photos of the Henslow’s sparrow and the dickcissel at the Orland Grassland, where they both thrive in restored habitat. 

Thanks for proofing and edits of this post to Becky Collings, Troy ShowermanLisa MusgraveEriko Kojima, and Kathy Garness.

References

For an introduction to Somme Prairie Nature Preserve, check out captions and photos of Somme Prairie from a walk in late May - and a set of very different photos and comments from July.


Summary of the Somme Prairie plan


Chicago Region “Bird Conservation Network” birds of concern

The birds of conservation concern of the Somme preserves:

Woodland birds regularly breeding in Somme Woods include red-headed woodpecker, American woodcock, and northern flicker.

Shrubland and savanna birds regularly breeding in Somme Prairie Grove include brown thrasher, willow flycatcher, field sparrow, American woodcock, northern flicker, and eastern kingbird. 

Prairie birds currently breeding in Somme Prairie include none at all, for decades. The pitiful fragments of surviving prairie are too small. Thanks to all who are helping the recovery of the plants and animals of Somme Prairie. 


Friday, December 7, 2018

Impatient Hero of Natural Areas

Force of Nature: George Fell, Founder of the Natural Areas Movement. 
by Arthur Melville Pearson. 
University of Wisconsin Press. 2017.

It's a dramatic and important book - not simply because the man was great (though he was) but because it documents the launching of biodiversity conservation. 

I worked with Fell for a few years and then, for decades, with his organizations. So this post is initially a summary of Arthur Pearson’s book and then my own observations.

George had lofty ideals and was dedicated, introverted, and not the easiest person to get along with. 

Great Illinois academics like Cowles, Vestal, and Shelford seemed to be trying to establish biodiversity conservation in previous decades, but had little on-the-ground success to show for it (See Endnote 1). They worked through existing government and academic institutions but found, as William Hornaday’s 1914 address to the Yale School of Forestry put it, most of those people:

“… stick closely to their desk-work, soaring after the infinite and diving after the unfathomable, but never spending a dollar or lifting an active finger on the firing-line in defense of wildlife. I have talked to these men until I am tired, and most of them seem to be hopelessly sodden and apathetic.” 

Fell, after years of failing to interest politicians and potential donors in an Illinois nature preserves program, moved to Washington, D.C. and finagled an unpaid job with the struggling Ecologists’ Union (which had $300 in the bank). Thus, on failing at the state level, Fell went national. He first sought legislation to establish a federal Nature Conservancy agency by statute, despite his attitude toward government, which he expressed as: 

“I would, if I were running things, throw out of Washington about ¾ of all public employees to start with and then proceed to weed out the remainder of the crop. I am obviously very prejudiced about the matter, but it can’t exactly be said I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’ve worked under 3 departments of the federal government.” 

Yes, he’d had experience, and was fired or forced out all 3 times. He wanted to enlist the power of government, but he wanted effectiveness, not bureaucracy. His wife Barbara was equally dedicated and willful. While trying to make it in his unpaid Ecologists’ Union position, George searched for actual paying jobs in Washington but failed. Barbara got a job in a doctor's office and supported them both. When they went on the road for organizing or to work a conference, they packed enough sandwiches for the whole trip – and slept in the car – to save money.

Another iron George had in the fire was the private not-for-profit route, and here, in time, his efforts resulted in a powerful and effective national Nature Conservancy – launching its trajectory toward becoming the world’s biggest and richest conservation organization. But Fell’s singlemindedness was two-edged. He built power and effectiveness in part by recognizing and teaming with other dedicated, forceful people, but he often didn’t get along with them. Although promoting Nature Conservancy chapter leaders, he “didn’t play ball with these people and encourage them.” Soon “some wanted to break off from the Conservancy.” Instead the Conservancy fired him and hired a new director in 1957. 

Was he disappointed, after years of sandwiches and hard-won success? Yes, bitterly. Was he discouraged? No, he returned to Illinois and resumed efforts to establish an effective government nature agency. Barbara found a job as a lab tech. By 1960 he had established the not-for-profit Natural Land Institute, drafted a bill for an Illinois nature preserves commission, mailed copies to every garden club, conservation organization, and civic group, and set up a Citizens Committee for Nature Conservation (which lobbied for the bill). After great battles, in 1961 the bill was passed by the legislature and then vetoed by the governor, who found the creatively designed commission too independent.   

Two years later, with deeper support, his bill passed again, but a “similar” bill also passed – without the independence or funding. Thus the governor could veto Fell’s bill while pacifying the constituency by signing the similar-looking, weakened one.

Next, Fell sought ways to make the imperfect new Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) succeed. With no funds for staff and little support from the Department of Conservation, which now semi-controlled the Commission, Fell got himself elected “Secretary” to the Commission and worked full time for results. He received no pay, again. He recruited volunteer conservationists. He raised funds through the Natural Land Institute (NLI) to hire a skeleton staff. His not-for-profit NLI made the Commission effective. 

Once a piece of property is dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve, a healthy ecosystem there is legally protected as that land’s “highest and best use for public purpose.” It can’t be usurped for a road, a university campus, or a dog park. It is safe – unless “un-dedicated,” which requires the approval of the Commission, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Governor. Impressively, that has never happened during the Commission’s 57-year history (so far).

The first protected land was 829 acres of sand prairie and savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. One of the most important biodiversity sites in the Midwest, Illinois Beach was recommended for protection by Jens Jensen in 1888. Many advocated for it over the years, but a vigorous Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society was organized in 1944. The first land was bought by the State in 1948. The preserve is a glorious example of persistence.

Any landowner can dedicate ecologically important land. The next eleven Nature Preserves were dedicated by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Soon other agencies and even private landowners stepped up. But battles continued – thanks to many people’s eagerness to “develop” or “improve” nature, bureaucratic tendency toward compromise, and the primitiveness of our culture’s understanding of ecology. Despite ecologists’ concerns about fragmentation, the DOC director opposed dedicating large areas. He cautioned against Fell’s ambitious proposals, writing: “The Commission should endeavor to secure dedication of … quality rather than … quantity.” He advocated “the utmost multiple use of all … areas and facilities for all types of outdoor recreation” The problem, of course, is that prairie birds can’t breed on grasslands that are mowed for equestrian contests. Rare fish and amphibians may not survive in ponds stocked with exotic game fish. 

Fell wanted as many and as large high-quality preserves as possible and eloquently rebutted arguments to restrict boundaries because of blemishes that could be nursed back toward good nature. He wrote that all Illinois natural areas:

“… are in jeopardy and in most cases the samples available are pitiful, partly mutilated remnants that have escaped complete destruction only by accident. Probably there is not an acre of ground in the State of Illinois that can be considered as virgin land, unchanged by the influence of civilized man.”

By 1973 there were 52 nature preserves totaling nearly 15,000 acres. In 1978 I had the great privilege of joining the growing, vigorous, dedicated staff (thanks to a major grant from the Joyce Foundation). I oversaw the dedication of Somme Prairie, Braidwood Dunes and Savanna, O’Hara Woods, and many more. By 1981 there were 80 woodlands, prairies, and wetlands dedicated – totaling 18,559 acres. Bit by bit, it seemed to be working as Fell envisioned it. Every preserve required work for research, debate, compromise (as little as possible), boundary decisions, and stewardship that took special needs and features into account. 

So far as I could tell in 1978, my boss Jerry Paulson then ran the organization. George did special projects, saving money by fiddling with equipment that didn’t work, lobbying Commissioners and other important people. Jerry supervised the staff and led our strategic planning. I helped write the 56 pages of the “Illinois Nature Preserves System 1979-1980 Report.” I’m impressed still by its grit and vision. The INPC now had ten “principal staff members,” eight Commissioners, twelve advisors and consultants – a list that included the most dedicated, expert, and influential conservationists in the state. But George Fell and those other nine “principal staff” were on the road to getting fired again. 

Reports like the one I helped write had been issued every two years. Coming across one had been part of what compelled me to take this mission to heart. The reports were outspoken about urgencies and needs. That frankness rankled many agencies that resented their failures being publicized. Here are examples from the 79-80 Report.

CRANBERRY SLOUGH NATURE PRESERVE: Part of the preserve is dominated by hawthorn and European swamp buckthorn. A dam maintains the water in the slough at an artificially high level. 
COLORED SANDS BLUFF NATURE PRESERVE: Damage to the sand bluff from erosion and disturbance by climbers should be controlled. 
CHESTNUT HILLS NATURE PRESERVE: Exotic species (black locust, Japanese honeysuckle, and multiflora rose) should be controlled. 
SAND RIDGE NATURE PRESERVE: Prairie Vegetation is being replaced by invading brush. A telephone anode field mistakenly installed in the preserve by Illinois Bell is being removed. 
THORNTON-LANSING ROAD NATURE PRESERVE: The high quality prairie and savanna areas have suffered badly from lack of fire. Poor supervision at the youth camping area in the preserve has resulted in the digging of pits, chopping of trees, and other vandalism. Trespass by off-road vehicles is a serious threat to the sand area…

Fell had continued to seek consensus on ambitious goals, define what was needed, and doggedly work to make the vision real. One sign that the bureaucracy was becoming restless was the politics surrounding the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory. It was clear that the Natural Land Institute's ecologist Jack White would be the best supervisor. But the DOC objected to so much Fell influence. White resigned; the University of Illinois got the $650,000; they then contracted with the NLI to staff the Inventory with White as supervisor. According to the INPC 1979-1980 Report, the Inventory recommended the preservation of 208 additional privately-owned sites totaling 38,563 acres and worth $24,000,000. The DOC, Nature Conservancy, and forest preserve districts started buying them. 

It is typical of the George Fell mentality that 32 areas were classified as being held by “charitable or quasi-public” entities. No funding to buy these - the idea was that "quasi-public" agencies should dedicate their land for free – being responsible to the public trust. These agencies included power companies, cemeteries, universities, railroads, etc. that saw themselves as businesses, responsible to their boards and stockholders. We negotiated. Many of them dedicated properties. But would they care for them in the long run? 

At one point Fell told me enigmatically the vultures were circling. Nature Conservancy urged me to come work for them, as Fell’s days were numbered. In 1982 the axe fell. DOC cut off all funding. Many Commissioners were now professionals that benefitted from DOC funding. Without any good alternatives, they voted to scrap NLI and its staff and turn the Nature Preserves Commission over to DOC. As Jack White said, “At least several of them looked scared and embarrassed, and they acted it all out as if they didn’t really want to admit what they were actually doing.”  

The Commission continued, with some outstanding staff (and some not so outstanding) hired through DOC (now DNR, the Department of Natural Resources). (See Endnote 2.) Many volunteers, staff, and partner agencies have continued the work. Pearson’s book has a hopeful conclusion – as is appropriate for a biography of this kind. But some reality checking is appropriate as follow up. 

My diagnosis is that INPC constituency (including people influential in business and politics) needs to be re-inspired. Especially during the terms of Governors Blagojevich and Rauner, the Nature Preserves program has suffered. 

According to the Commission itself, many goals are not being met because of:
“ … an aging INPC workforce, members of which are at or near retirement. The INPC is supported by IDNR, which also has high rates of retirement, placing high demands on the agency’s ability to fill positions. INPC vacancies have not been filled for retirees and for other key positions. Administrative capacity has been decimated. … The Commission has been … letting some critical work go unaddressed. It is in this dire economic and political environment, that this plan is being developed.” 
This grim analysis is from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, which was posted in draft on Sept. 15, 2015. As of December 2018, the unfinished draft is still posted. You can check it out at … 
 … perhaps only until someone notices it’s still on line.

George Fell’s life-long dedication produced The Nature Conservancy, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, Natural Land Institute, Natural Areas Association, and more – including, by extension, according to Pearson, Chicago Wilderness and $1.3 billion in voter-approved referenda to buy and restore an additional 40,000 acres of forest preserve land.

Yes, many parts of the natural areas mission thrive. Other signs look ominous. Some examples have been presented by this blog - though not outspoken language – which perhaps we need more of. 

https://woodsandprairie.blogspot.com/2014/08/survivor-langham-island.html
https://woodsandprairie.blogspot.com/2016/08/prairie-yells-for-help.html
https://woodsandprairie.blogspot.com/2015/08/dystopian-prairie.html

Pearson’s book is wonderful. We need more of this history – and more vision for the future. (Well, see Endnote 3.)

Endnotes

Endnote 1

Henry Cowles “discovered” ecological community dynamics and inspired Chicago area folks to care about them. His students Arthur Vestal (botanist) and Victor Shelford (zoologist) did ground-breaking (no, ground-saving) research. Shelford played a major role in establishing the Ecological Society of America (which disappointed him), the Ecologist’s Union (which disappointed him), and ultimately The Nature Conservancy. 

These visionary people are worth studying. Does anyone have recommendations for early biodiversity conservation history books or articles? 

A quick summary is that, in the decades before George Fell, wildlands were protected for two reasons: 1) resources (for example, production of lumber and grazing for cows and sheep) and 2) recreation (for example hunting, fishing, boating, hiking in scenery, family vacations). In other words, the priority was put on immediate human use, often to the long-term detriment of the natural ecosystem, which was not then recognized as being worth much. These days, “biodiversity” and “nature as such” are also on the table. 

Endnote 2

Most of the time, bureaucracies don't hire dedicated, creative innovators. Following Fell's ouster, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission went entirely without staff for some time. The first DOC-selected director was a first-rate leader, Karen Witter, who did much to restore dedication and resources to the Commission. She was followed by Brian Anderson, also an effective conservationist. But the constituency dwindled from what it was, for reasons worth exploring, sometime. I lost track of most Commission details in recent years, but many preserves have deteriorated. The strategic plan quoted above sounds like a cry for help. I wonder who is working on what - to engage our new governor.

Endnote 3

This blog is mostly about inspiring work and discoveries. Perhaps more balanced views can come from other kinds of books and articles. 

But sometimes, as here, we try to delve into the infinites of politics and biography. A summary of the history of Chicago region biodiversity conservation battles, successes, and setbacks from 1996 to 2016 can be found at: 
https://woodsandprairie.blogspot.com/2016/05/after-miracle.html
Or, rather than “summary” – should I write “tidbits about”?

In case the timing of this post is not clear, I think Arthur Pearson's book is a good one for you to get yourself during this season of buying stuff – or to give to someone who might be inspired. 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Arthur Pearson for generous edits and corrections. Thanks to Mark Kluge, Kathy Garness, and Eriko Kojima for more edits and corrections. 


Arthur's book is available at bookstores, Amazon of course, libraries, and through the University of Wisconsin Press

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Broadcast Seeds Into What?

This post is somewhat technical - intended for people working to upgrade grasslands from poor or fair quality to good or high quality. It tries to show the kinds of areas where the most important rare seed will thrive - as opposed to areas where rare seed will just die.

It is basically ten photos and comments that illustrate some principles.

To find the best spots or areas, it will help greatly if you can recognize common plant species like daisy, Queen Anne's lace, bluegrass, wild strawberry, etc. And you'll have to be able to recognize them without their flowers, because you'll be broadcasting most seed after the vegetation has died back in the fall.

If you don't have the time and inclination to learn the common plants, it's possible that you can just learn to recognize plant structure, as described below. So, it's not hopeless, but you'd do better to learn the plants on the land where you're working - or find a friend who can.

SUMMARY PHOTO 1:  A GREAT SPOT TO PLANT:

The photo above shows the kind of place where you could successfully sow seeds of downy gentian, purple prairie clover, leadplant, Leiberg's panic grass, dropseed, and alumroot. If you don't know why you might want those species to replace the ones above, check out this discussion of "conservative species" and "quality ecosystems."

What are the species most visible in the photo above, and why would they welcome rare conservative seed? 

The most obvious species in the photo above are daisy, wild strawberry, bluegrass, prairie rose, and other common species of "weedy" or "damaged" habitats. The most important structural elements of this photo are the diversity and the fact that you can see through the plants to the soil.

If you broadcast conservative seed into this open turf in fall or winter, those seeds will germinate late next spring, put down roots, raise up a few small leaves, and strategically invest most of their matter and energy into sinking those roots deeper and deeper. That's how they'll ultimately replace most of the vegetation above. Seedlings of many quality species will be less than an inch tall for the whole first year. The open structure here will allow sun to get to them all summer. By the second year they may be two or a few inches tall - but have roots that go down two or three feet. Within a few years, they'll be big burly plants with huge root systems and perhaps twenty high-quality species will have replaced most of the dominant ten or so disturbance-dependent species in the photo.

By spring, on a hot, dry day, there will be enough dead bluegrass and other leaf little for a pathetic little burn here. But that burn will discourage the bluegrass and very much encourage the fire-adapted prairie species. So burning would much help the recovery process.

SUMMARY PHOTO 2:  UGLY, BAD SPOT. DON'T PLANT HERE.

Three reasons not to invest your precious rare seed here: First, the main plant here is tall goldenrod, and it grew so dense last summer as to shade out (and possibly poison) most other vegetation. This mess would next summer likely kill most of the seedlings that germinated from your seeds. Second, those green leaves you see here and there are young buckthorns - one of the few species that gradually grow up under the tall goldenrod. You would be smarter to control the thousands of buckthorn plants per acre before you plant the seed. Third, goldenrod areas typically won't carry a fire. Thus no fire would help control the buckthorn here nor promote the fire-adapted prairie species.

We follow these two summary "good" and "bad" photos with a variety of photos illustrating various opportunities and dangers.

PHOTO 3:  GOOD IN THE FUTURE

The photo above shows dense Kentucky bluegrass. This will be a great place to broadcast the seed of quality species - but not yet. This grass is so dense that it would shade out the little prairie seedlings next summer. However, if you give this area a nice little burn in the spring or early fall when the bluegrass is green, for a year or three, the grass will suffer. It will thin out enough to let sunlight down to the soil all summer long and will welcome prairie seedlings. If you do this (or if you're just burning as best you can, given fickle weather conditions), watch carefully. Plant wherever the bluegrass - or smooth brome or most other cool season grasses - are starting to thin out. If you burn for too many years, the bluegrass will be replaced by tall goldenrod or meadow fescue, which will not be so welcoming to your prairie seed. Be sure to keep burning annually if possible for a few years after you broadcast that precious seed. That will help the good guys and hurt the bad.

PHOTO 4: URGENT
This photo has much in common with the first, but with some twists. More bare ground and even moss are visible along with some seedheads of annual foxtail grass, trumpeting that this area is highly ready for some new succeeding vegetation.  What will it be? A few stalks of big blue stem grass indicate that it has started to drop its seeds here. Buckthorn is visible. Broadcast diverse conservatives here soon, while you have the chance.

PHOTO 5:  BIG BLUE AND INDIAN, BUT NOT TOO DENSE
Though true prairie species, big bluestem (above, darker and redder) and Indiangrass (above, paler) when planted too much and too soon can grow so dense as to crowd out most other prairie species. But if you look close, above, you can see that the tall grasses are still in well-separated clumps, with a lot of space in between where I can see many short-statured, non-conservative species. There's a reasonable chance of establishing many conservatives here, especially if this area is burned annually for a few years. Huge amounts of tall grass seed has certainly fallen here - to compete with the much smaller amount of rare conservative seed that we'd be able throw into the competition. But sometimes large amounts of one kind of seedlings, trying to do the same thing and relying on the same resources, out-compete each other. Diverse species with varied timings, nutrient needs, root strategies, etc. get a chance to establish. So I'd invest some seed here, but not as much as in a place like the preceding.

PHOTO 6: DENSE TALL GRASS
On the other hand, I wouldn't invest much seed in this thatch, unless I had huge amounts. This big blue stem is so dense that it would be a tough competitor. If you don't burn, the seeds would germinate in dark and death. If you burned annually, some fine species could slowly establish here, but there are better places for most seed.

PHOTO 7: NOT SO EASY
I'll use the photo to make the point that priorities are often not all that clear, or at least that the fellow who's drafting this post doesn't feel like he knows all the answers.

On the one hand, in the photo above, the cool-season grasses are so rank that I'd be reluctant to invest too much quality seed here. On the other hand, I see the airy seedheads of foxtail grass, an annual, suggesting that new seedlings can establish, at least for the first year after a burn (as in this case). Perhaps if there were no burn the following year, conservative seedlings would get shaded out then. On the other hand, there is some diversity visible, and possibly more niches for new plant establishment. Perhaps if I had extra-large quantity of more robust prairie species, I might invest some of it here.

PHOTO 8: TRICK PHOTO
What do you think of this one?
It's a trick photo, perhaps, or a change of pace to ease your mind.
This is Grade A prairie.
It does not need any more seed.
On the other hand, notice that it has some elements in common with the "most seedable" areas. It's highly diverse, and you can see through the bigger plants all the way down to the smallest and to the soil (perhaps not so obvious in this photo).
In any case, this is the structure that prairie species ultimately are adapted to reproducing in.

PHOTO 9: UGLY PHOTO; BEAUTIFUL PLACE
This tedious photo is nevertheless beautiful to the eye of a person looking to restore a glorious ecosystem. There are many clues - that you might want to learn. As discussed before, it's a good indicator that you can see all the way down to the dirt; it is not covered with dense thatch. An encouraging species here is Queen Anne's lace (also called wild carrot). Learn that lacy foliage. The plant is a biennial; its presence tells us that new species may readily establish here. Another clue is ox-eye daisy, another leaf for you to learn; it's a plant that needs ample light penetrating to near the soil surface all summer long. Of course, many prairie seedlings need the same, and after a few years, daisy will give way to them.  Most of the vegetation in this photo, aside from the bluegrass, is rigid or early goldenrod. These are non-conservative prairie goldenrods, that sometimes win out for a while in degraded areas. They will happily give way to other prairie species as the bluegrass burns out.

PHOTO 10: PRETTY FOR NOW
The tenth photo may help you learn to identify some of the most promising "before" plants - and even inspire you to go out looking for them? (Note, they won't be so colorful a month or two from now when most seed is planted.)

Three leaves with sharp teeth pointing toward the end of the leaf means wild strawberry. Some of this plant's leaves are green in this photo, and some have turned red. This species is common in high quality prairies and in highly plantable areas.

Ox-eye daisy leaves are often half-buried under other plants. They are wider toward the end and have rounded lobes or scallops. The easiest one to see here is a rosette on the right side of the photo about a third of the way up from the bottom.

Bluegrass is those very fine leaves that will stay bright green until December.

The dark green and purple-blotched leaves belong to beard-tongue, a common species of succeeding old fields that lives more sustainably in the savanna. Here it contributes to a diverse turf and will politely fade out as more conservative species become established.

TWO FINAL QUESTIONS:
  • What would happen if we didn't restore prairie in the "most plantable" places shown above?

Answer: If we don't burn, buckthorn or other woody plants will shade out all the species in the photos. (There are already small buckthorns visible in some, if you look close.) If we do burn but don't plant seeds, the bluegrass (which seems to be the main element holding this community relatively stable) will fade out and probably be replaced by tall goldenrod or similar tall thug. Then, most of the diversity present above will also die, and the buckthorn will slowly grow tall and dense enough to shade out the goldenrod. Thus, getting these kinds of places to stay stable is not an easy option. 

  • Yeah, but what will happen to the "more challenging" places shown above, where seeding wasn't recommended? 

Answer: If we don't burn, they'll become brush. If we do burn every year or two, they may become prairie - if there's recovering prairie all around them. Perhaps we'll restore enough good vegetation that we overwhelm the invasives and thugs with an annual seed rain. Over the years, varied weather conditions, plant diseases, etc. will provide the openings that some quality species need. As some conservatives become established, the new niches they create will pave the way for others. We understand only bits of how these things work, but we've seen many examples of quality overcoming obstacles. We've also seen examples of that not happening. Then perhaps brush triumphs, and we start over. Or we mow for a while to disadvantage the thugs. Some people herbicide.

Restoring damaged ecosystems is a new field. We do first what we know how to do. Then we experiment with approaches to the next challenges.

Thanks for proofing and editorial suggestions to Eriko Kojima and Kathy Garness.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

What Damage Might Deer Do?

A Drama of Many Mouths, and Some Data

There are things we think we know but cannot prove. Indeed, we don’t want to inflict the necessary damage. (Does this sound unscientific?) How much stress will it take to shatter a priceless gem? In this case, the gem is an ancient, original prairie.  

Below are stories of both a degradation and a recovery. The drama begins when, from love and curiosity, we did some science. We of the North Branch Prairie Project were now stewards of one of the finest black-soil tallgrass prairies surviving. (Really? See Endnote 1.)

Our story features defenseless ecosystems, innocent animals, the shooting of deer, and evolving ethics. Also: compelling data on both the deer and plants at Somme Prairie.

Many good people oppose eating meat, or wearing fur, or leather, because those materials signify death to an animal that did us no harm. Other good people hunt. Some vegetarians and some hunters work to save endangered species and ecosystems. When we conservationists protect nature from capitalist developers, quite a few folks cheer. Others damn us for killing jobs. 

When we rescue out-of-balance ecosystems by shooting deer, hardly anybody cheers. That’s too bad, because without that culling, numerous defenseless plants (and many animals that depend on those plants) are being deleted by deer from the gene pools of the universe. Public opinion, though divided, makes it difficult for agencies to execute deer control programs, especially in metro areas. 
Sarah Palin campaigned in support of hunting. Was she the ecosystem’s ally?
A former Vice-presidential candidate became the archetype of the hunter. We associate Sarah Palin with shooting wolves out of airplanes and standing proudly over bloody bodies of a big-antlered vegetarian caribou. Her politics, to some, corroborate the evil of hunting. Politically, Palin was very much on the wrong side of history. But as a hunter, does she have a redeeming virtue? 

Biodiversity conservation scientists and agencies support deer control programs (see Endnote 2). Many folks’ preference would be for the ecosystem to have enough wolves and mountain lions to do the job without the apparent ethical pollution of macho human killers, and, indeed, I’m not one to vote for the macho. But it’s important for some humans to regain our station as predators, in principle and practice. 

At Somme (and so many sites) degradation by out-of-balance deer became severe in the early nineties. For millions of years white-tailed deer (a very old species) were natural members of savanna and woodland communities. Then, prior to the 1980s, deer were gone from Somme for nearly a century. Hungry settlers had eaten the last of them in Illinois, hard to believe as that seems today. But their numbers soared once they returned, and by 1992 at Somme, they had reached about ten times (that is 1,000% of) their natural, sustainable numbers. 
They are precious, as all animals and plants are precious. They are nature.
But more is not always better.
Aerial surveys of Somme by Forest Preserve biologist Chris Anchor showed a deer population of more than 160 per square mile. Scientists were reporting that 7 to 15 per square mile would be a natural, balanced population. Before we had caught on to what was happening, many thriving populations of the prairie lady-slipper (Cypripedium candidum) were wiped out at Somme, never to be seen again. Belatedly, we caged a few survivors, which are with us still. 

Our large yellow lady-slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) was eaten, and we’ve not seen one since. Many species were reduced to such low numbers that they likely lost some of their genetic robustness. Some wildflower species didn’t bloom for decades. “So what?” you may ask. One “what” is that pollinators and other species that depended on those specific blossoms or seeds are now also gone, likely for good, short of highly-challenging research and restoration. It’s too bad. 

How heavy was the depredation? At first we had no numbers to measure it, but simple observations were painful and shocking. On many occasions when I walked into 85-acre Somme Prairie Grove in the early evening I would count 25 to 30 deer on a short walk. Across the river in 70-acre Somme Prairie, I’d count 10 or 20 deer, heavily concentrated in the two little Grade A acres. I know what deer like. They like Grade A prairie. They voted with their feet and mouths, clearly preferring the best remnant area to the surrounding degraded landscape, and even to the 10 acres of “Grade B” remnant nearby. Two acres is very small to feed so many deer. On the basis of 15 per square mile – the sustainable number that 2 acres would support is 0.047 deer rather than 10 or 20. The rare prairie remnant was deer candy. Highly palatable rare plants (shooting stars, prairie lilies, alumroots, valerians) were there in large numbers at that time – and nowhere else on the site.     
 
This old photo – from before the deer explosion – shows an impressive density of conservative plants. Prominent here are cream false indigo, hoary puccoon (orange), shooting star (white), downy phlox (pink), and prairie dock (the big leaves). 
Prairie species stood up to the grazing of wandering herds of bison and elk for millennia. But they can’t tolerate high numbers of predator-free resident deer. Fortunately, both the Village of Northbrook and the Forest Preserve District began culling deer in 1993. (Is “culling” the right word? See Endnote 3), and deer numbers since have been very much lower. But have they been low enough? Has the prairie recovered? 

The graphic below tells a powerful story. It compares three sets of vegetation sampling (for the years 1987, 1992, and 2011) – before, during, and after the population explosion. 

In 1987 we had laid out a 170-meter transect, marked by metal stakes at fifty meter intervals. We stretched the meter tape between stakes and monitored the plants in ¼ mcircular quadrats, every five meters along that line. Within each quadrat, we recorded which plant species were present and how much of the ground was shaded by their leaves (their “cover”). We repeated the sampling in 1992 and 2011. 

Table 1 shows cumulative results for the 63 species with the highest total vegetative cover in the twenty Grade A quadrats – shown in rank order starting with the highest “Sum Cover.” 


In 1992, when the deer numbers were so high, eleven species had plummeted. These eleven species are among the most “conservative” (see Endnote 4) and therefore the most significant of the remnant. Their trajectories are indicated by colored lines. 

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) had a total cover (again, the amount of total leaf surface recorded in the 20 quadrats) of 272 in 1987. That value dropped to 68 in 1992 – one quarter of the original value. 

Two classic prairie species that are a bit more “conservative” are golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) and alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii). The Alexanders plunged from 75 to 11. The alumroot plunged from 67 to 10.

Three even-more-conservative (and thus more significant) species did yet worse. Heart-leaved Alexanders (Zizia aptera) dropped from 35 to 4. Even after nineteen years of deer control, it had recovered only to 9. Prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa) dropped from 42 to 9 and then disappeared from the table. As a tweet might say, “Sad.” Cream false indigo (Baptisia leucophaea) dropped similarly from 19 to 2 to gone. As we know from other sites, long-term over-grazing wipes out species permanently. 

To consider the (mostly weedy) species that increased, see Endnote 5.

These statistics represent a bad wound to one of the planet’s best prairie remnants. Our squeamishness about being predators caused this. It was an abdication of our responsibility not to start culling sooner. But it was an act of political courage on the part of the Forest Preserve District that culling began as soon as it did. 

Deer control at that time was also supported by police departments in surrounding communities, which recognized the problem differently. As deer wandered out of depleted preserves looking for food, numbers of deer/automobile collisions soared. People were injured; some died. Diseases related to deer were rising.  

Village police and forest preserve staff both requested and received authorization to shoot deer to reduce numbers after public debate, confusion and ill-feelings. (See Endnote 6.) By 2018, the strife has died down. But much more public engagement and consensus is needed. (See Endnote 7.) This is especially true for our few, very-high-quality remnants. 

This data also deserves better analysis than my simple-minded colored lines approach. Is there perhaps someone with a math and science background who might be interested in participating in (or taking charge of) writing that paper? (See Endnote 8.)
  
Endnotes

Endnote 1

A study by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory in the 1970s found Somme Prairie to be one of the best in Illinois. In the 1990, a study by Marlin Bowles of the Morton Arboretum found it to be one of the two best in the Chicago area. 

This is the kind of treasure people used to call a “virgin” prairie. Virgin? Awash with sex, we now say “original prairie” or “remnant.” Not only is this ecosystem a cauldron of genetic exchange, reproduction, life, competition, and death, but our increasingly “woke” human friends no longer think of so-called “intercourse” as a degradation or diminishment. Language improves. Prairie, rife with complexity, is tender. Vulnerable these days. Fragile, in the face of certain threats. 

We of the North Branch Prairie Project in 1977 were authorized to restore only some badly degraded areas. But within a few years our work was respected enough that we were entrusted with responsibility for clearing brush from and doing the controlled burns for this rare remnant. 

Endnote 2

There is a broad consensus about the need for deer control among Forest Preserve staff, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, conservation biologists, and conservation agencies like Audubon and Nature Conservancy. Some have clear explanations on their websites. For one example see: Lake County Forest Preserves. Also check out The Illinois Department of Natural Resources - which authorizes and supervises deer control in this state.
  
Endnote 3

Is “culling" the right word? My first draft repeated the words “executing deer control programs” here. Somehow the suggestive word “execute” seemed to balance the bureaucratic jargon “deer control programs.” In the second draft I replaced the jargon with “shooting deer.” It’s plain and factual. But in context it seemed abrupt and cold-blooded. We feel compassion for individual deer.  

When culling controversies heat up, some people divide into the conservation equivalents of Red States and Blue States. Partisans on one side may refer to shooting deer as “murder.” Partisans on the other may refer to deer as “hoofed rats.” Children are drafted into the fray and are taught, painfully, to see conservationists as heartless “killers.” Language can hurt people and wound the human community. 

To me it seems right to use words like “shoot” and “kill” in some contexts. In others, “cull” or even the dreary “deer control programs” seem better. 

Endnote 4

For a relatively simple explanation of “High Quality” and “conservative species”, see the middle and the endnotes of the post: A Myth Coming True

Endnote 5

Figure 2 is the same basic table as in Figure 1. But in this case, rather than the decreasers, the increasers are highlighted. 

The big winners were wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and the tall prairie grasses, for example big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), which are common in the average prairie restoration. (Deer leave the grasses to the bison and elk.) So, yes, some win; some lose. But what the precious Grade A area of Somme was losing … was irreplaceable. 

Other increasers include prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), which is commonest in recovering prairies, and the nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum), a conservative plant, but apparently not quality as the deer taste it.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) behaved strangely. It initially rose in rank order but dropped a few points in “SumCover.” Then it tripled its cover after deer control began. It is a conservative prairie species and yet one that increases rapidly if there’s extra space for it. I wouldn’t make too much of this odd behavior beyond commenting that there are a lot of shortish-term dynamics at play. And this data set is, of course, a small one.   

Endnote 6

A bit of Illinois and Somme deer history

“Reports during the early 1800s indicate that deer were more abundant than when Europeans first began settling the area. The population grew in response to reduced pressure from predators, as people eliminated wolves and cougars, and from an increase in available edge-habitat as forests were cleared to make way for agriculture. The large numbers did not last long. White-tailed deer were virtually eliminated from Illinois by the late 1800's … Even into the 1970s, it was not that common to see deer in Illinois.” 

We North Branch volunteer stewards found no deer in Miami Woods or other southern North Branch preserves when we began working as stewards in 1977. We were excited to find deer tracks in Miami Woods forest preserve (seven miles south of Somme) starting in 1978. We recorded deer as "common" at Somme starting in 1980. Soon we found stashed ladders that led to deer-hunting platforms. One such (in the mighty tree we dubbed the "Deerslayer Oak”) would, in autumn, collect beer cans underneath. As a volunteer crew was collecting seed one day, our ears were suddenly blasted by the largest boom I’d ever heard. We looked at each other, wondering if we should leave. A few minutes later, three young men came out of the brush with sheepish looks on their faces. They tried to act nonchalant. As if to be casual, one said to me, “Hey, where’s your camera.” In those days, I spent a lot of time at Somme alone, taking photos. I’d never seen this person before, but obviously he’d been watching me, from a camouflaged hide. With a loaded gun. It was a bit creepy. All three had beer cans in their hands. To make the case that they were good conservationists, they discussed participation in the local Izaak Walton League, an organization once famous for ethical sportsmanship. At this point, as the deer were increasing and increasing, we were already starting to realize what a threat deer overpopulation could be, which gave us mixed feelings about the tipsy “sportsmen.” But we never saw evidence of them again. 

The Village of Northbrook adopted a resolution committing to deer control in 1991. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County began its program of deer control at Somme in 1993. 

From the Chicago Tribune. Nov. 24, 2010
“For most of the state, archery and firearms hunting seasons, which run October to January, go a long way toward thinning the herds, with more than 189,000 animals harvested last winter…
A secondary means of deer management — and an unfortunate population gauge — are deer-vehicle accidents, which have averaged about 24,000 a year in Illinois for much of the past decade, according to the state Department of Transportation. Cook County tops the state, averaging nearly 1,000 crashes a year.
With hunting not permitted in much of the Chicago area, the Department of Natural Resources launched sharpshooting programs in 1988 to help manage robust urban and suburban herds, where densities in some forest preserves topped 100 deer per square mile ...
Annual deer culling, which runs November through March, has been adopted by Cook, Lake and DuPage county forest preserve districts. A number of North Shore communities have culled periodically, including Glencoe, Northfield, Northbrook, Glenview, Riverwoods, Lincolnshire, Bannockburn and Lake Forest.
Last winter, 14 agencies and communities culled 31 sites, harvesting more than 1,300 deer. Since the late '80s, the program has resulted in more than 400 tons of ground venison donated to food shelters and charities…”
Endnote 7
I had introduced this post differently in its first draft. I had written (as shown in blue):

HOW MUCH DAMAGE MIGHT DEER DO?

The Lament of Some Prairie Conservatives

I know what deer like.
I got what deer want
They want to touch me.
They like to eat me.
Deer want … deer want me.

Why introduce this drama with cute poem-ish words. Was I compelled – by primal ambivalence about sex and death – to start by invoking Jay-Z and The Waitresses?

For whatever reason, this post is long overdue. It features defenseless ecosystems, innocent animals, killing deer, and evolving ethics. Below, you’ll find compelling data on deer and plants at Somme Prairie.

Why do I try your patience with a rejected intro? I try to make these posts readable, with even a little fun. This intro seemed too wacky. But what are the best ways to engage people and provoke illuminating discussion? 

Endnote 8

We should have done more with this apparently unique data back in 2011, but we had (and have) too many irons in the fire. A more technical and complete analysis of this data should be made and published. Indeed there’s a lot more data and a lot more to say about both the deer and the plants. Does anybody happen to have technical experience in this field and a possible interest in partnering on a proper paper, for some conservation journal? 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Kathy Garness and Eriko Kojima for helpful proofing and edits.