Bulldoze it!

Ok, let me explain. So Justin and I are going through the last patch of forest that we're flagging invasive trees in, when suddenly we turn around and realize we just flagged EVERY TREE IN THE FOREST. Not only that, but the understory is composed mainly of Serissia, Bush Honeysuckle, and Johnston Grass, all invasive species. I slowly realize that this forest is so far gone, so broken, that the only way to fix it is to bulldoze the thing and start over. We head back to the office and have something along the lines of the following conversation:

Justin: John, we have to talk.
Andon: You sent us into a warzone man!
John: Whaddaya mean?
Andon: We're basically flagging every tree in that forest.
Justin: Yeah, I'd say its about 95% lacebark. (one of the elms we're flagging) We're thinking you're gonna have to doze it.
John: Is it that bad?
Andon: Yeah, its really bad. Not only are the trees bad, but even the understory is all serrisia and Honeysuckle. Doze it or burn it, but there's no way you're gonna go in there and cut all that down individually.
John: Whaddaya mean burn it?
Andon: You know, burn it. What, you can't do prescribed burns on a forest here?
(Perplexed looks from both of them)
John: Nah, if that fire gets up in the tree canopy, it'll just be a disaster. Ya can't control it up there. You could cut it and then burn it, but thats it.
Andon: Ok, well doze it then.
John: Its really that bad?
Justin: Oh yeah, its that bad.
Andon: Its a warzone I'm tellin' ya!

After we convinced John that it was that bad, and I learned about the limits of prescribed burning in an urban setting, we wen't back out. Justin kept flagging everything ever, and I tried to rope off the area that we think needs to be bulldozed. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Of course, there were areas where it was simple to tell where the invasion came in, but other areas had some good native trees mixed in with all the bad, and making the decision of at what point to give up on a forest was tough! The main problem was that there were two
areas that were truly bad enough to be dozed, but only one of them was directly accessible.

To get to the other one, you had to go through a portion of forest that was pretty bad, but perhaps salvageable. There were a bunch of Ozark Orange trees, which are these really awesome trees with these brain like fruits, and also prone to spiking you with their thorns if you happen to snap a branch back. One of them hit me on the arm and drew blood! It felt like I was getting a shot cuz it was right on my shoulder. Anyway, they're an awesome tree and I made it my goal to save as many of them as possible. I'm pretty sure I only left one or two in the zone, and when John came out in the field said they could probably avoid those with the bulldozer, as long as Bruce is driving it. I've been saying all week that a bulldozer is not a scalpel, meaning that you cant have it working its way into tight corners, but if there's anyone who can get surgical with a bulldozer its Bruce.

When John joined us in the field, he agreed with us that the first area, with five to ten year old trees, should be bulldozed, but proceeded to give us a little lesson on the limitations of bulldozing. For the second zone, which had more like twenty or thirty year old trees, he said bulldozing would just create more of a problem with disposal of the stuff you take out. We'll probably end up using some type of selective cutting in that area, but we don't know what to do with the wood and brush. Robert, Bruce's summer hire and a really quiet kid, had the idea of using it for mulch, which I rather like. Over the next few days, we'll come up with a plan for what to do in that area.

Also, I had another one of those moments today, where I'm like "Dude, I'm making management reccomendations that will be used on a real forest!!!" Awesomeness.

I caught a snake!

WITH MY BEAR HANDS! And yes I do mean Bear hands, as in Bear Grillz (I don't think his name is really spelled that way, but it should be.) Anyway Justin and I were out in the woods tagging those invasive trees, when I just about ran into a snake that was crawling on the vines in front of me. You know when you're in the woods and you don't see a spiderweb until you're two inches away from a huge spider? Thats how close I was. At first I was freaked out, but then I got really excited. You see, we're required to pick up any reptiles we can catch and show them to the Horned Lizard team, and that includes snakes. I've basically always wanted to catch a snake, and I love it when nature show guys like Bear Grills pick up snakes like its not even a big deal. So now I had the opportunity, the mandate, and the assurance of Vick from the lizard team that there are no poisonous snakes on base.

I chased the snake on to the ground and tried to pin it down without hurting it or getting bit. It took a bit of chasing, but I finally pinned its head down with a stick and grabbed it right where the head meets the body (I guess you could call it a neck). We got out of the woods and Justin drove back to the office, and boy, that snake squirmed like crazy trying to get out of my grip. Almost did a couple of times actually.

We got to the office, put it in a tank, and identified it as a prairie king snake. Being a climber though, it got out of the tank and was sitting on top of it when I came back from the bathroom. Some of the guys at the office tried to get it back in with a stick, and when that didn't work I just grabbed it by the tail and flipped it in the tank. It struck at me pretty good but missed, and man that thing was pissed off! I may or may not have injured its tail with that flip, so I kinda felt bad about that, but I was PUMPED to have caught a snake!

Next up, biting a snake's head off and eating the body.

Man I love Bear Grills.

Trackin Storms, Deer and Planes

On Monday, after a hellaceous Oklahoma thunderstorm, we decided to hang out inside for a bit. We did a little wetland design stuff and mostly made fun of Justin for shaving his head.

It got fun was later in the day, when Kenny, one of the USDA animal control guys, took us out to find a deer that had wandered into the base. Their job is basically to keep animals and planes from mixing with disastrous results, and a deer on the runway is their worst nightmare. Anyway, justin and I each walked to the opposite edges of the forest, where we could watch the mowed line next to the fence. Kenny came through the forest itself, hoping to flush the doe out so it would crawl or hop the fence in the same way it got in. So, as I'm watching the line I decide to call my parents, and as I'm talking to my mom, the deer pops out of the fence, either sees me or sees that its out in the open, and immediately runs back into the woods. This takes about two seconds. The next thing my mom hears on the phone is a really loud "I SEE 'ER!!!" followed by a quick explanation: "I'm tracking a deer, I gotta go!"

We couldn't find her again after that, so we decided to let her hang out in the woodpatch for the night, hoping that she would wander back through the fence the way she came. The USDA guys try to avoid shooting animals when they can, but if they can't flush that deer out they're gonna have to hunt her down. I asked what they do with the meat, and they said they usually donate it to charity, which is great and all but also a shame because deer is delicious! We had some venison chilli the other day and it was awesome.

After that, we washed the truck off (completely spotless!) and headed out on the runway. Any little rock can cause an accident, so its really important to have clean tires. We watched a little training fighter jet and a navy cargo plane land, and it was AWESOME! I've never seen a plane land that close to me. The lingo and chatter on the radio was also cool, since you have to announce before and during any crossing of runways or side streets. Kenny told us they apparently hate it when you say "Ten-four" or "clear" or any of what he called "redneck radio lingo." Hopefully we'll get to go out on the runway again, because it was quite an impressive experience.

Over and out!

Invasion of the Trees!

Justin and I finished the "Phase 1" Wetland design, meaning the stuff that we can get and plant this summer. We're currently in the "red tape" stage, with forms moving through the proper channels and all that. So, maybe we'll get those plants ordered at some point this week.

The main problem with planting things in the summer is that you don't really get any rain, so you have to irrigate, which is not only lame and unnatural but also costly and time-consuming. Keeping that in mind, we're only planting things that actually go in the water this summer. The rest of the plan will be implemented without us during the fall and spring planting seasons coming up. I've been pretty impressed with John's willingness to let us design the whole thing, and though he has helped us and provided his input and experience, it really is our project. He's even thinking of letting us name it! However, we've been having trouble creating a name that either captures both our names (Jandon Pond? Andstin Pond?) or where we come from (Michigan-Virginia Pond? MIVA Pond? Northerner Pond?). All horrid names I know. If you have an idea, please help! Of course, we could just end up calling it Intern Pond.

With the prairie seeding done and the wetland project close to it, today we started on a new project: tagging the invasive trees in the wooded part of the Urban Greenway. Man it was thick! The forest is rather young, so its very hard to move through. When I say its very hard to move through, I mean its durn-near impenetrable and full of poison ivy. Thankfully, I happen to be immune to poison ivy for the moment, although every time you're exposed gets you closer to becoming allergic. Justin hasnt tested his reaction and I don't think he intends to. I'm definitely wearing a long sleeve shirt and gloves tomorrow, and Justin's gonna have to at least wear pants! That is, rather than shorts, of course...

Anyway the project is actually a redo of some tags that were done a while back, where some Virginia Tech folk (yeah hokies!) came out and tagged the lacebark elm and other invasive trees that were growing on the woodland. That was a year and a half ago, and since then the paint has worn off and the trees have grown taller and procreated. So, we're retagging them and hopefully they'll get pulled out either this summer or this fall. I still wish there was something we could think of to do with all that wood, though. Anyway, Gore just endorsed Obama, so thats about all I can handle for today! Goodnight!

Catch'n Up

Well, haven't posted in a while, so here's what's been goin' on:

We finished seeding the Urban Greenway! The upland sites are seeded with a stock mix of native prairie grasses, the lowland sites with lowland switchgrass, and the sides of the trail with a native turf called buffalo grass. Of course, there's plenty of areas in the greenway that still need to be worked on, but we got done what we could before the planting window closed. The first area we seeded is germinating well, with plants coming up about every foot or so, which is the spacing you want them to be at so they come in thick but don't crowd each other out. We've gotten plenty of rain (for Oklahoma anyway) so that should help.

My only worry is that we haven't seen any plants come up in areas that were covered in grass-cutting thatch, which we were trying to remove when we prepared the sites for seeding. These open patches could provide a corridor for invasives like Johnston grass or bermuda grass, and if they do, its on the people who prepped the site (thats us). It seems Justin and I got better as we went on, so hopefully subsequent sites will have less of these patches. As a positive, open areas do provide some habitat variability, and might make a good place to plant wildflowers when John's ready to introduce that component into the system. John said we should see some decent sized plants come up before the end of the summer, so we'll know whether we rocked them native prairies before we leave in August.

The wetland planting design project is almost finished, with Justin and I spending most of this week indoors working on finalizing a plant list and laying where we're going to plant what. Its a mix between restoration, gardening and landscaping, which makes it both challenging and interesting. In addition to trying to figure out whether a plant is native to our area of Oklahoma and whether or not it will survive where we put it, there's also non-ecological considerations like plant height and trying to plant short things toward the trail, with taller and taller things toward the back of the pond and the wet meadow. This is because if you plant something tall right in front of the pond, nobody on the trail will ever see the pond!

We also have had a run-in with the dreaded government red tape: it seems that when you buy something (such as plants and seed in our case) you have to find at least two suppliers to show that you shopped around. You don't have to actually buy from both, just provide two suppliers. We had originally just gotten prices from one nursery in Missouri, which seemed to have almost everything we asked for. We're going with mostly plugs and plants rather than seeds because its too late in the season to plant most seeds, because its difficult to get seeds established out in the field, and because when the Botany Club and I tried to plant wildflower seeds at William and Mary it didn't seem to go too well (thats right, I admit it). I get the feeling that as a rule of thumb, you shouldn't plant wetland seeds that are smaller than a pistachio. Maybe someday I'll test that.

The Question

So for the past year or so, I've been thinking constantly about the answer to a single question. I came up with several ideas on my own, then began asking the people around me for their ideas. Although some people thought it was weird when I pulled out a notebook to write their ideas down, ultimately I've come up with a pretty decent list of answers. The question is:

How can one make money off of a forest without killing it?

To explain a bit, when I say "forest", I mean it in a broad sense, including forests here in the US as well as rainforests in Latin America and other types of forests across the world. When I say make "money off of", I mean using either the forest's resources or simply using the fact that the forest is beautiful to start and operate a business. Finally, when I say "without killing it", I mean without completely clear-cutting all the trees. There's definitely a range of acceptable disturbance from doing things like giving tours to cutting mountain biking trails into the forest.

The list is in no particular order, and includes ideas that range from the whimsical (Treehouse Village!) and hippieish (Alternative Medicine Retreat) to the recreational (Camping) and outdoorsman-like (hunting). Basically anything you can think of is a good idea, so please add to the list by commenting, ask me questions about the list or the question, and start thinking about this as you go on about your day!

Ways to make money from a forest w/out killing it:

Horseback rides
Frisbee Golf Course
Lacrosse - Originally played in the woods!!!!
Apple orchards
Pumpkin Patch
Workshops, education, classes
Timber, then plant product plants
Alternative Medicine Retreat
Mountain Bikers
Treehouse Village
Gnarled root woodcarvings
Talk to Villagers, see what skills they have already
Native Stories
Ropes course
Insect Collecting
Ginseng or other valuable plants
Baby Groves/ Weddings, etc
Burials (w/ headstones)
Pay me internships
Camping (limited)
Click to Donate/Advertising on website
Hunting (Limited)
-Hay marsh (Pheasant hunting) -$12 per bird in scratch hunts
-deer preserve (white tail)
-Hunting Club - $200,000 per year sometimes
-Dog Training - people training bird dogs
-Bird Dogs - renting them out
-Scratch hunts
Hunting Products
-Pro Shop (Hunting Accessories)
-Products made from animals killed
-Taxidermy, deer mounting, etc.
-Feather Products
Small amphitheater
Craft classes w/ forest products (sell products in store)
Field Trips
Zip Lines!
Canopy walks
Paintball? Or maybe lazer tag!
Carbon Neutralization
Nature Videos
Nature Photography
Nature Video/Photography Classes!
Summer Camps
Day Camps
Flowers/Flower Pickin'
Berries/Berry Pickin'
Conservation Easements
Eco-Lodge - Combining all of the above?

Lets make this list huge and all encompassing! :)