Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Meadow Restoration Project Part 1

            For the past several years, Doug has been restoring a three acre part of his property back to its natural habitat. What originally began as effort to remove dying pine trees from the property has become a much bigger and ultimately more useful project. This week and next week we’ll take a look at the reasons for engaging in habitat restoration as well as the progress Doug has made on his property.

            Doug and his wife, Mary, bought their house in Folsom, Louisiana in 2000. The property had a large number of slash pine trees that were suffering from extreme stress and an infestation of pine beetles that had weakened their trunks. After removing the infested trees from the property, only a bunch of stumps remained. In place of the slash pines, Doug planted grass and brought in a stump grinder to rid the property of several hundred pine stumps. A few years later, the property resembled a small park with some pretty looking trees and a lot of open grassland. The removal of the pine trees, however, had damaged the rest of the underlying ecosystem leaving behind nothing but grass and no plants or other plant life. Unsatisfied with having a hard full of pine trees and grass, Doug planted hardwood trees to supplement and then hopefully replace the pine trees, but Hurricane Katrina put an end to that plan.

The property before the Meadow project 

            The devastating hurricane blew over the remaining pine trees and destroyed many of the newly planted hardwoods as well. The only trees that survived were the oaks, magnolia trees, a pond cypress, and a couple of gum trees. After clearing all the dead trees away, only a few trees and a whole bunch of sizeable craters remained. The grass quickly bounced back resulting in a very large and uneven yard that required more and more effort (and larger and larger tractors) in order to keep the grass from overwhelming the property. With the increased concern over Louisiana’s environmental issues following the storm, Doug took an interest in restoring the property to something suitable to the region.

The original range of Longleaf pines

             His first post-Katrina idea was to restore Longleaf pines to the property. The house sits on the southern Coastal Plain and longleaf pines were the natural habitat before European colonists arrived. Within two hundred years of European colonization, the longleaf pine was virtually extinct. The tree proved very valuable in terms of its commercial potential. French, Spanish, and later American settlers tapped, sapped, and logged the trees, but in doing so destroyed the environment that allowed them to prosper. The same problem confronted Doug and his desire to plant longleaf pines. After consulting with Latimore Smith of the Nature Conservancy about the prospect of adding the trees to the property, Smith suggested a full meadow restoration project. This would revive the natural habitat that allowed longleaf pine trees to grow. Instead of merely planting the trees, now Doug had committed himself to recreating the ecosystem where they had flourished for centuries. And would hopefully grow once again.

            Latimore recommended the expertise of Marc Pastorek, a Mississippi based meadow expert. Pastorek specializes in growing seed and providing consulting services in meadow restoration. After discussing the issue with Pastorek, Doug learned that replanting the plants would be the easy part. After all, they’d evolved over millions of years to grow in the southern Coastal Plain. The tricky part would be managing the area once the project was underway. For millennia, longleaf pine ecosystems thrived in areas prone to massive fires. Every two to three years, fires—mostly caused by lightning strikes—would burn up the grass and leave the longleaf pine, suitable to withstand fire because of its heavy bark, still standing. These fire resistant trees matured and thrived in this environment as fire cleared away the dead plants that surrounded them and provided an opportunity for new plants to grow in their place, replenishing the soil and creating a healthy ecosystem.

The green areas represent longleaf pines and yellow represents the meadow. 

            Pastorek came on board as the “meadow whisperer” and developed a plan to transform approximately three acres of the property into the meadow restoration project (seen above). Having laid out the background for the project, next week we’ll look at what happened once Doug started to put his plan into place. For information about these topics see the Meadow Project’s blog, Marc Pastornek’s work, and the Nature Conversancy

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