December is a busy time of year for restoration work. We need to do almost everything at once. The only things we do not do are plant ID (transect monitoring is more difficullt when many species are cured or dormant), non-native invasive species managment (for the same reason as the former, target species can be harder to spot in winter, also, some treatments will be more effective during the growing season), and planting herbaceous plants (it is too cold for them to grow, so they will just sit there and get chewed-on or dried-up or flood-battered with no ability to respond).
But every single other thing we do for restoration is in full swing. December is when a lot of seed drops, so it is the best time of year both for harvest and for sowing, which means seed also needs to be cleaned in between. I find the combination of seed work and prepping winter burn units and fire equipment to be a particularly untenable burden of work. But somehow we must proceed.
In case that is not enough things, this is also a special time of year for thinning. We can easily see the sex of Juniper trees. If we do not have the resources to treat the whole area, if we remove the females only, we remove the seed source, and have made the work of grassland management that much easier for the next generation. This has the added “benefit” of leaving all those pollen producing males on the site, which can ward off humans in a most insideous way. I fully appreciate that the ability of society to coexist with natural ecosystems is premised on our emotional connection with wilderness, but I also appreciate that there are some places where we just don’t need a bunch of yahoos wandering around. This pollen-garden method is for yahoo-proofing such places. The inverse here is that if we do want a place to be more accomodating to human presence but need to so some thinning, either for grassland restoration, to promote oak recruitment, create a fire break, etc, we can target the males and leave the females. Late December into January is a special chance to act on these distinctions, as male Ashe Juniper are lewdly bedecked in red pollen.
Since we glanced the topic of yahoo-proofing, I recently heard another dastardly method involving junipers that I hope you’ll agree is worth sharing. Behold a method for decommissioning trails:
There are several reasons we need to close-off trails. Vehicle trails can provide a source of sediment pollution to storm water runoff in natural areas for decades after their intended function has been exhausted, yet people will continue to use them if they are there. Another problem is illict access by unauthorized users. It is hard to safely manage land if you can not control when and where and how many yahoos are out running amok. Other problems are when trails facilitate the dispersal of non-native invasive species, or overuse of sensitive sites like caves, recharge features, or rare, threatened, or endangered species habitats, or access for looting and poaching. So sometimes we close trails.
Patching fences and putting up threatening signs are good places to start. Game cameras can be helpful too, but only if you can recognize the yahoo (unlikely) or a pattern in their access that can lead to a bust. That stuff can take a heck of a lot of time and resources to execute, and may or may not be effective. We don’t want riffraff to run our lives.
My initial approach to this problem was to lay slash across the trail. It helps but the obvious work-around by yahoos is to just… go around the slash, or drag it out of the way if they are really committed. From there, we started to lay a more extensive bed of slash over the entire area. This helped a lot but takes more work, and we have seed to clean and pressure gauges to repair.
Here is the fun part: cut Juniper brush so it lays across the trail, but do not complete the cut. Leave it connected by a few strands of vascular tissue and the whole mass is likely to stay viable. There will be no dragging it out of the way, one would need a saw. If you treat a whole trail in this fashion, leaving connected, still growing plants all layed across it, it would be a lot more work to move all this than to build a new trail. This sends a clear message that it will not be worth it to try again. It takes a lot less effort to decommission the trail in this way than it does to build, so we are likely to stay ahead of the yahoos, that is, if the habitat is brushy enough, and in Central Texas, most are.
It can at times be difficult to maintain our commitment to restoration. Much of our work may be unseen by human eyes, or scrutinized more than it is appreciated, or only criticized and forgotten. We must be able to work independently of our basic human need to be appreciated by other people. Further, we often cannot fully anticipate the efficacy of our efforts in a changing world, yet we must try.
We know that human beings are a keystone species. We know that we have inherent tendencies; to want to live among thriving communities, to exert a controling influence over the habitats we live in, and for discernment during an era of environmental collapse. So we know that we must try to restore the natural heritage of the earth. We cannot count on others for support, our work is too subtle. We cannot count on ourselves, because we are subject to our own moods and are never really certain. Still, we must try. With the land as our witness, we must stay present with our work.