The El Camino Real Chapter wildscape at the Bird and Bee Farm is in bloom and looking particularly well-groomed this week.
Owners of the Bird and Bee Farm, Gene and Cindy Rek, who also happen to be official Texas Master Naturalists now, have received special recognition for their agricultural practices from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The TCEQ came out last Tuesday to film a video and interview the Reks about their operations, and the Wildscape got a little recognition, too.
The Reks, Catherine Johnson and family, and several members of our chapter worked hard to make the place presentable for the filming. Luckily, several of the native plants in the wildscape also decided to bloom in time for the filming.
The Reks will receive their award in May at a TCEQ banquet, where the short video will be shown. The video will then be viewable to the public via the TCEQ website and You Tube. We will post it here when it’s available.
In the meantime, look at what’s blooming at the wildscape! (Sorry the blogmaster can’t remember the names of all the flowers – she’s old.)
New trainees for the El Camino Real chapter Texas Master Naturalist learned about extensive programs being implemented by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with area ranchers to restore grazed land to its native state while still grazing cattle on it. A project in a neighboring county is being implemented by Tim Siegmund, the Private Lands Program Leader for TPWD-WL Division, with Jay Whiteside, TPWD Technical Guidance biologist District 5. They are several years into the 7-year plan, and the results are very positive in proving that native growth on rangeland and grazing cattle on it can be compatible and profitable. Below is a synopsis by Siegmund about the project.
The use of fire to concentrate cattle grazing has led to a recovery of the areas being rested from burning within the pastures. The cattle preferentially graze the freshly burned areas, and lightly or don’t graze at all the areas burned in previous years. This allows the plants to recover, make seed, and persist over the long term in a constant burn, graze, rest cycle. This can lead to better carbon and nitrogen cycling as a result of thatch incorporation into the soil and concentration of animal waste, increased water infiltration as healthy roots grow and rot in place creating pathways for water infiltration, and increased plant and animal diversity as there are a host of niches being created by short and tall vegetation as well as annual, biennial, and perennial plant species. Patch burn grazing can be a great tool to promote livestock production, plant diversity, and wildlife diversity. —- Tim Siegmund
Photo 1 shows the short, grazed grass and the diverse wildflower community not being grazed by the cattle, average grass height was less than 2 inches.
Photo 2 is a picture of a yard stick showing the amount of ground cover now blanketing the ground after 2 full years post burn.
Photo 3 is a picture with Siegmund and assistants in it conducting the vegetation sampling monitoring the changes over time.
Photo 4 shows the year of burn and the annual plant community dominated area as the fire and subsequent regrowth of grass has concentrated the cattle in this area.
Photo 5 is a picture of Jay Whiteside and an intern showing what 2 years of rest looks like by burning other portions of the pasture to focus grazing pressure elsewhere. In 2019, grass height is approximately 20 inches.
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.