Environmental Stewardship Begins with Heart

I think we all have ‘the’ story we can trace back through the foggy trail of memory to a collection of moments when we became forever bonded to wild places. Maybe it’s just my experiences, but those moments hover around the ‘unsupervised savagery’ end of the spectrum of childhood memories.  Foul smelling mud face paint.

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Like mother like son. Mud pit on National Mud Day      Photo Credit: Jamie Bachmann

Running through the Platte River riparian zone like a NINJA! Dodging branches and hopping downed trees.  I was super human, I could talk to animals and move rocks with my Jedi mind.  My parents had no clue I would visit this place.

I wouldn’t be the same without those experiences and I still adventure like this.  Midnight forays at 10 below. Jumping the frozen creek, getting tangled in spent brome grass and running up the soybean field to catch the full moon rising over the hill. My heart is eight-years-old in those moments.

Your story may have had an adult to guide you or may include a sibling or neighbor.

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December sunrise tea-time contemplations. Photo Credit: Jamie Bachmann

Fishing with your brother, or turning over decaying trees with mom to look at centipedes and rollie pollies.   Perhaps it was similar to mine, an escape, a place of solitude and imagination shared with no one.  Whatever the case, it seems many things have changed since our childhoods.  Those changes may be a topic for another post for today seems a day needing inspiration.  So I leave you with this little ditty from Rachel Carson’s, ‘The Sense of Wonder’.  An ode to the young hearts in our lives and in ourselves.

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.  It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.  If I had the influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.  Parents often have a sense of inadequacy when confronted on the one hand with the eager, sensitive mind of a child and on the other with a world of complex physical nature, inhabited by a life so various and unfamiliar that it seems hopeless to reduce it to order and knowledge.  In a mood of self-defeat, they exclaim, “How can I possibly teach my child about nature-why, I don’t even know one bird from another!”

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.  The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.  Once the emotions have been aroused-a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love- then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning.  It is more imiportant to pave the way for the child want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.

Jamie Bachmann, Wildlife Education, Northern Prairies Land Trust

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Taking a float break to hear stillness. In Stanton County, Nebraska Photo Credit: Jamie Bachmann
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Surprise Violets

Jen Corman, Coordinating Wildlife Biologist

Northern Prairies Land Trust

 

I ask a lot of questions when I walk through prairies and the Nebraska weather this year contributed to that process. The weather in 2017 was a yoyo. An unusually wet spring led to a hot, dry summer. The weather favored cool-season grasses, which do most of their growing in May and June and stunted warm-season grasses that do most of their growing in July and August. With little rain and intense heat, many plants in our prairies went dormant sooner than usual. Then we were treated to a warm, wet fall and we started to

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An (admittedly blurry) prairie violet (Viola pedatifida) blooms on Oct. 9, 2017 in Knox County, Nebraska.

see some fun, weird things start flowering, like violets. Violets are usually one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. Prairie violet generally finishes blooming by late May or early June and then is finished for the year. But in 2017, we were seeing prairie violets break dormancy and bloom again in October, like the one below that I photographed on Oct. 9 in Knox County.

Violets are the required food for caterpillars of regal fritillary butterflies, which have been steadily disappearing from our continent in step with the loss of North America’s violet-rich tallgrass and mixed grass prairies. An estimated 1-4% of our tallgrass prairie remains. Nebraska contains some of the US’s most intact prairie, making our state an important harbor for regal fritillary butterflies.

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Prairie Violet Photo Credit: Fontenelle Nature Association

But our regal fritillary caterpillars are not hatching in October so they were not feeding on the violets that bloomed in October, nor were there many insects at all to pollinate the violets. A little digging into violet biology taught me that while regal fritillaries need prairie violets, prairie violets do not necessarily need pollinators to produce seeds. In addition to the purple flower that is pollinated, a second type of flower with no petals can be found on the plant at ground level. Those ground-level flowers self-fertilize to produce seeds and appear to exist precisely because violets bloom so early in the spring that there may not be many pollinators around. With a second bloom in the fall, maybe we received a second dose of violet seeds to grow next spring, despite the lack of pollinators.

An interesting challenge for an unusual violet bloom in the fall is that the violets will be at a height disadvantage compared to when they bloom in the spring. In the spring, plants are just beginning to grow, so short plants like prairie violets have a chance to compete for sunlight. But in the fall, the 3-6 in. tall violets were blooming in the shade of taller grasses and other tall plants like asters that had had a full growing season to top the violets in height. Which made me ask: could the fall break in dormancy potentially stress the violet plants by using up valuable energy stores to bloom at a time when the shaded plants cannot access sun to store enough energy for next year?  Violets grow from a rhizome root system, so it is unlikely that a single season would affect their long-term energy stores, but what if fall blooms become more common in a changing climate?

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A regal fritillary butterfly drinks nectar on a red clover in June. Regal fritillary caterpillars feed on violets. Photo credit: Kelly Corman, NPLT

Timing is everything. I wonder how climate change may affect regal fritillaries and their host violets. As our climate shifts and the timing of rain and temperature swings change, will the timing of caterpillar hatch and violet bloom change in the same ways in response? Or will they begin to mismatch? What does this mean for our prairie butterflies?

Welcome

Thank you for visiting.  We intend this blog to be a place for NPLT current and former biologists, partners, educators or landowners to compile and document our paths in conserving the ecological life and integrity of the prairie ecosystem.

There are many divergent paths that we take in our professional and personal lives to extend our understanding and connection to this place we dearly love and strive to protect.  Creating legally sound easements for conservation minded landowners, putting management plans to work on the ground or providing prescribed fire training to ensure a deep understanding of fire ecology. But also we find ourselves on paths that stir within us our emotional connections to this land.  The questions we stumble upon while on a hike,  the defeat we feel when we are forced to take ‘two steps back’ and watch years of conservation effort buried in rich farm soil or the inspiration that fills us when we read a passage from A Sand County Almanac.  The pendulum swings across a wide spectrum of knowledge, experience, perceptions, mistakes and unanswered questions.

Northern Prairies Land Trust hopes this blog can be a space to share our stories and interact with our prairie community.  Thanks for stopping by.

If you would like to contribute please contact Jamie Bachmann: Jamie.bachmann@nebraska.gov