Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Red Hills Renewal

     The Anderson Creek Wildfire burned 600 square miles of land. Houses, outbuildings, fence and livestock were lost. These losses were undoubtedly made worse by the huge infestation of Eastern Redcedar on the landscape. But there is a significant positive to this disaster--the reclamation of the mixed-grass prairie. Prairies love fire. In a sense it cleanses the land, maintaining what should be a treeless grassland which harbors the wildlife and cattle dependent on it. Now, after a few weeks of recovery, which is hardly new for the prairie after a fire, black has turned into a colorful canvas. For the emotional and financial turmoil which beset many residents, an observant turn towards the immaculate prairie can perhaps provide solace and renewed excitement to the ranching culture that so much makes up the heart of the Red Hills. 

Citron paintbrush literally paints the regrowth with its yellow splendor.

Lambert's Crazyweed is very prevalent.
Replenishment of flowing water is an amazing side-benefit
from the eradication of water-thirsty cedars on the landscape.

Alkali Milk Vetch hangs on to a roadside anchor.

Blue Wild Indigo is perhaps the
showiest of Red Hills flowers.

Hartweg's Evening Primrose, very similar to
Missouri Evening Primrose, is another
spectacular showcase in the Red Hills.
With reduced cedar water consumption, and of course timely
precipitation events, many ponds are full.

Scarlet Globe-mallow joins with Nuttall's
Evolvulus in celebrating fire and rain.

Even giant puffballs get into the recovery act.
Within a couple of weeks after the fire and
some greatly appreciated rainfall, this fungus
was quite prevalent. And they are good eating
too if you get them fresh!
Purple Ground-cherry is spectacular
along roadsides and disturbed areas.
Scarlet-globe mallow is a prominent feature of the recovery.
Many ranchers report seeing water re-appearing in
canyons and small drainages where flow hasn't 
been observed like this for years. Of course, six
inches of rain in April helped considerably, but, 
there is expectation that base flows will persist
because of the eradication of live cedars in much
of the uplands.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A cedar wasteland rebirth?

     The Anderson Creek Fire started on March 22 and burned unfettered for days regardless of valiant efforts by hundreds of firefighters and at least 130 various fire units. In its wake were 400,000 scorched acres of rangeland and cedar stands. Although some homes and many miles of fences were destroyed, amazingly no people were killed. We are all so very thankful! We have enjoyed a few weeks of recovery thanks to some very strategic precipitation events. It's not surprising to see the rangeland bounce back so nicely since prairies depend not only on rain but also periodic burns for replenishment. This keeps invasives such as eastern redcedar from the uplands as well. What will be very interesting will be how the grasslands within cedar forests respond. This particular set of photopoints depicts the slow greening of the soil beneath such a cedar forest. Where soil chemistry has been changed from the cedars, it will be a slow and difficult recovery, but some greening is happening in this once quite sterile environment. Ideally, all these old dead skeletons can be removed if soil disturbance can be kept to a minimum. Erosion is going to be a serious issue so it is very important to see some plants establish as soon as possible. Although frustratingly slow in the cedar forest wasteland, it is happening. 

The prairie is responding spectacularly to
the burn and the precipitation
in just four weeks. The cedar forest areas
are going to take a lot longer!

April 7 about two weeks after this area burned

April 23, about a month after the burn

May 15, about six weeks after the burn
     Six weeks from the initiation of the Anderson Creek Fire, some resprouting of some plants is occurring in the spaces between the cedar skeletons. Little is germinating immediately beneath the dead trees but hopefully at least something will eventually establish in order to help hold the soil in place. Even though these cedars are dead and no longer suck valuable water from the subsurface, they take up space and prevent cattle and deer from foraging in and moving through these areas. 

Next in the fire series--the immaculate restoration. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Herping Weekend in the Red Hills

     The spring field trip of the Kansas Herpetological Society was centered this year at Clark State Fishing Lake in Clark County. This area is in the western portion of the Red Hills. While red dirt is seen in areas south of the lake, the country in this more northern part of the county is among the most attractive landscapes in the state. And this was a very fitting place for dozens of herpers to go looking for amphibians and reptiles. The weather was less than desirable for trying to find cold-blooded animals but these herpers were up to the challenge. On a wet and cold first night, many toads, frogs and salamanders were enjoying the rains. For the rest of the weekend, the herpetologists looked under the ample number of rocks in the area and found many interesting critters--snakes of all sizes, scorpions, giant desert centipedes and lizards. These are the best of times for so many young and old alike who enjoy discovering natural Kansas. Many thanks to Travis Taggart and the Kansas Herpetological Society for making arrangements and sponsoring this event.

Clark State Fishing Lake and the area around it is
among the most picturesque in Kansas-a true gem!

Dozens of herpers, including many youth,
 enjoy the day's "catch." Most all the specimens
were released after sufficient study and
entertainment was had by all.

The Eastern Collared Lizard was one of the
most common inhabitants hiding under rocks.

A North American Racer
(formerly Blue Racer) was a
first catch for the weekend.
Western Tiger Salamanders were a hit!
Kids gather around a Great Plains
Rat Snake to get good pics.

The rat snake demonstrated
good climbing ability even in
the cold weather.

Girls don't like snakes?
Are you kiddin me?!

A big part of the allure of the Clark
State Fishing Lake area is the beautiful
country including the charming wildflowers.

A beautiful sunset at the lake capped off
a fun-filled and educational Saturday for
the 2016 spring field trip.