by Sue Ann Kendall
Our August Chapter Meeting speaker was our old friend, Tim Siegmund, from Texas Parks and Wildlife. He spoke on “Prairies, Woodlands, Wildlife, and Managing for Diversity.” He had many wonderful photos that showed how careful management of land can result in habitat for a wide variety of life.
First, he told us what shaped the land before we Europeans showed up and turned our post oak savanna into more of a thicket. For the most part it was maintained by the large grazers (bison, mammoths, prairie dogs, and such) and fires. Some of the fires were natural, but many were also set by Native Americans for many reasons, plus natural ones. Drought also affects the trees, especially wetland species.
In all, the land was lightly used, since the heavy grazers migrated, creating a variety of settings for different birds, insects, and plants depending on how recently they’d been through an area.
He then explained how settlers intensified the use of land. An important factor was that they built fences, so grazing became year round and focused. The cattle/sheep, goats and friends would repeatedly graze the same area, giving no time for deep-rooted perennial grasses to recover. Soon enough, plants like cedars, huisache, and mesquite would fill in the grasslands.
Another key change was that humans prevented the helpful fires, which also led to much undergrowth.
Then they began the many years of cotton monoculture, which also led to depleted soils. Tim made sure to remind us that a beautiful field of bluebonnets mean an area is over-used.
When new grasses were introduced, more and more native prairie plants got pushed out. Did you know that Coastal Bermuda was released in 1943? Now it’s all over the state and so hard to get rid of! We ended up with 85-90% non natives, which led to a decline in many kinds of birds.
Managing Post Oak Woodlands
Tim then showed us lots of examples of how he and his teams have gone out into land, with the permission of the owners, and made changes that dramatically changed the landscape and restored native plants and wildlife. Here are his main guidelines.
- Thin the understory
- Establish native grasses – rest or enhance
- Fence for rotational grazing
- Manage deer and feral hogs
These things alone make a lot of difference, though also doing controlled burns will help. Within months, his photos showed more grasses, forbs, wildflowers, and birds.
He also pointed out that you can improve any plot of land, though a larger area with diverse habitats and elevations give you more opportunities.
Patch burn grazing is a technique he shared a lot about. It’s an interesting way to keep grazing cattle and make the land more diverse. It provides space for both cattle and the birds and other animals who need different things off the land, perhaps at different times of their lives. The technique involves burning small parts of pastures each year and adding seeds of forbs and other plants.
Tim summed up with a handy slide of take-aways, which you can read for yourself!
Since I’m not remembering all the details, I’ll refer you to this nice PDF with photos and other information on patch burn grazing.
Tim also recommended this video: LPCI Better Grazing through Burning. It’s embedded below. You can see here how an environment for prairie chickens was created through patch burn grazing.
There’s an App for Soil Type!
One other thing Tim mentioned was that the SoilWeb app for desktops, phones or tablets tells you the composition of the soil right where you are. It’s a really cool tool that “combines Google map data USDA-NCSS detailed soil survey data (SSURGO) for most of the United States” (according to the website). This has so many potential uses, from determining what kinds of wildflower seeds to put out to figuring out how to best amend your soil for growing particular plants.
I hope you find some of this information and some of the tools and techniques discussed by Tim Siegmund interesting. If you missed the meeting, at least you’ll know a high-level summary of what he talked about. If anyone has other perspectives or wants to share more, you’re welcome to!