Category Archives: Partners

Grass Seed Collecting on WQPL

Grass seed collecting at an Austin Water Water Quality Protection Land preserve yielded a nice collection of Silver Bluestem, Tridens, and Sideoats Gamma. Eleven volunteers, with some representing the Capital Area and Hays County Master Naturalists chapters, worked two hours on a sunny mid-day. Volunteers are trained to collect ripe seed from native forbs and grasses. The seed is cleaned, stored and eventually used to replant areas nearby that have been managed with prescribed fire. 

Using seed collected close to where it will be replanted not only helps ensure optimal conditions for its regrowth, but saves quite a bit of money, too. Devin Grobert, a City of Austin biologist who oversees the seed collection efforts, estimated the worth of volunteer-collected seed from these workdays at over a thousand dollars, while noting some had limited or no commercial availability.

Photo courtesy of R. Lance JonesHays County Master Naturalists.

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Enhancing Rainwater for Native Plants on an Austin Preserve

Rainwater collection structure above Terry Town on BCP Vireo Preserve
Rainwater collection structure above Terry Town on BCP Vireo Preserve

Some people think I, as president, do nothing in CAMN but send emails and run some meetings. Today I offer a spot of proof to prove otherwise. I was photographed in the wild at a work session on Austin Water/Wildland Conservation Division’s Vireo Preserve at the completion of one of the last steps of finishing our rainwater collection system. This remote-canyon roof structure will help free volunteers from having to haul water a quarter-mile each week over narrow trails to a staging area known as “Terry Town” (after longtime Wildland volunteer, Terry Southwell—also from the CAMN class of 2013.) The water is used, mostly by Terry, to help get newly-planted native forbs, grasses and shrubs established. While the property does feature a spring that runs most of the year, volunteers take great pains to avoid disturbing its natural flow and the plants and wildlife that have become established around them.

img_6998Today we completed the pads for the pair of 150-gallon tanks, and attached gutters to the roof. The last remaining step in the all-volunteer construction project will involve running PVC pipes from the downspout to the first tank, adding overflows, and attaching spigots. Then, the process can be turned over to the whims of Central Texas weather. The roof, at 128 square feet, will collect enough water to fill the two tanks after 4 inches of rain.

For those interested in less-remote rainwater use systems, a good resource for Central Texas is at http://rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu

And, if you’re interested in some of the fun projects Wildland Conservation and Austin Water dream up to help protect critical habitat for endangered species, and the water quality of our local segment of the Edwards Aquifer, please see http://austintexas.gov/department/wildland-conservation-division Members of the public can sign up for guided hikes on protected preserves, or volunteer to help in a wide array of conservation efforts, from public outreach to land stewardship.

Wildland Restoration, and the World of Talking Trees

Ligustrum log inoculated with turkey tail fungus.
Turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor).
Ligustrum log inoculated with turkey tail fungus.
Ligustrum log inoculated with turkey tail fungus.
Volunteers on a recent August work day
Volunteers on a recent August work day

On one particular 209-acre preserve in West Austin – one that abuts the well-known Wild Basin Preserve – a City of Austin biologist, Jim O’Donnell, has been leading almost-weekly volunteer work groups to restore natural areas that had been historically mismanaged by clear-cutting and scorching fires that damaged the soils.

Jim has been following the principles laid out in Paul Stamet’s work Mycelium Running to rebuild the mycorrhizal networks that are increasingly understood to be the backbone not only of healthy ecosystems, but of plant communication and survival, as well. Through application of compost, compost tea, sheet mulching, berms and swales, and mass plantings of seedings of native forb, grass, shrub and tree species, the preserve has undergone a remarkable transformation in a relatively short period of time. Volunteers – many of them CAMN or other Texas Master Naturalist members – haul water for the newly-placed plants, help build restoration trails, and will shortly begin constructing a rainwater collection system to aid in getting water down into the canyons. One of the more intriguing experiments at the preserve has shown some vibrant results. The logs taken from cut invasive ligustrum trees were drilled and inoculated with the spores of the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor)Placed in the woods along the restoration trails, these logs have sprouted some of the colorful fruiting bodies of these fungi.

If you spend any time reading about mycelial networks, and then wander through a healthy forest, it can be a little mind-boggling to imagine the vast and complex interchanges between plants that are taking place right below your feet, aided by fungal networks. Much of this wasn’t even known until about 20 years ago, and even now, we’re only beginning to understand the magnitude of these networks and their impact on ecosystems. If you’re wanting to get a good glimpse into some of the science, there are many resources available – from books to TED Talks to articles in popular journals. One of the most accessible, however, might be from the science-reporting superheroes at Radiolab. Catch their podcast From Tree to Shining Tree… good for an inspiring morning run or commute.

 

 

Our Desired Future, a Story of Texas Water

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.56.25 AMSharlene Leurig, Director, Texas Environmental Flows, brought a compelling story of Texas water to our Monthly Meeting last night, documented beautifully in the multimedia project, Our Desired Future. The rich photography, deep fact-based writing, familiar locations, original charts and graphs, animations, and movies tell the story of our water from deep underground to its life at the surface. Stories of use, overuse, demise, compromise, regulation, new ideas, conservation, and human impact at all levels make this a must-explore site, and a fount (pardon the pun!) of knowledge for any Texan concerned about our most critical resource.

See http://www.ourdesiredfuture.com if you’ve got time to click and explore, or http://www.ourdesiredfuture.com/listen.html if you’d love a podcast-style tour of the presentation last night.

Jacob’s Well cave diver photo from the site, others from a recent CAMN trip to Devils River State Natural Area.

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Love Notes: Forest Ridge Land Steward Orientation

On May 14, Cait M and Mark S. who work for City of Austin Wildlands Conservation offered a training for land stewards on the Bull Creek Forest Ridge trail of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP). This training brought into clear focus the delicate balance between the purposes of public trails through protected habitats. The primary purpose of the BCP is to protect the habitat of endangered species. To serve this purpose, ideally, the land would be left entirely undisturbed, isolated from human interaction. Another purpose is to allow recreational use of the trails through the habitat, encouraging people to appreciate this wild space and all that lives here, in the knowledge that people are more likely to value and protect what they know and love, while realizing that every footstep off the trail will be crushing some living thing, altering the natural environment. Volunteer BCP land stewards are needed to help keep the trails safe for visitors, to help keep the visitors on the trail, to watch for things that could negatively impact the preserve, and to share their observations with Cait and Mark.

Removing invasive plant species is one thing stewards can do. Mark pointed out Beggars Lice (Torilis arvensis) and Malta Star Thistle (Centaurea melitensis) at the entryway, saying that it would be appreciated if stewards were to pull these invasive species and put them in the trash if they have seeds.

Along the path, a young cedar was partly leaning into the path. Mark simply pushed it back the other direction, out of the path. Another cedar had fallen across the path, and this one Mark sawed off at the base, first making sure that there were no nests in the branches. Then he laid the branches across the beginnings of an adventitious path to help remind visitors to stay on the marked trails. As stewards, we would not ordinarily be cutting down trees, but part of our job would be to remove obstacles from trails and to discourage creation of unauthorized paths.

Another part of the steward’s job is to check the water bars, long cedar logs laid across the trail to channel water runoff away from the trail and mitigate erosion. Stewards are authorized to dig or scrape away gravel, rocks, and leaves that have accumulated above water bars so that rainwater flow is properly diverted from the trail.
As we cultivated our sense of responsibility, we also enjoyed the sights and sounds. Standing quietly for a moment, we could hear the songs of many birds. Butterflies escorted us all along the trail, and we saw grapes and wildflowers in bloom.

Visit the Wildlands page to learn about future steward training opportunities.

Love Notes: Madrone Canyon Preserve

On April 30, the morning after an overnight rain, the trail is alive with wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. Moments along the trail, still at the rim of the canyon, three mocking birds are having a disagreement about territory, calling threats at each other and chasing from tree to tree. White Barbara’s buttons, lavender Engelmann’s sage, and bright yellow Missouri primrose are among the many wildflowers blooming along the trail. Down onto the old road bed, now a wide path of wildflowers, two buckeye butterflies settle to enjoy a good sip in the mud.

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Love Notes: Finding Austin’s Endangered Ones – A BCP Hike

On Sunday, April 24, Austin Water Utility’s Wildland Conservation Division organized a hike on the Aralia trail, part of the Bull Creek parcel of the BCP, especially for the purpose of sighting golden-cheeked warblers. The hike was led by Jonny Scalise, a biologist with the City of Austin, and volunteers Robert Reeves and Gloria Wilson.

Continue reading Love Notes: Finding Austin’s Endangered Ones – A BCP Hike

Footsteps Through Time

into the woodsOn March 5, Austin Water Utility’s Wildland Conservation Division volunteers Lila, Gloria, Chris, and Audrey led a group on a hike in the Butler Ecological Preserve, an area at the end of Jester Boulevard that is otherwise closed to the public. The beginning of the hike is down a wagon trail through shrubby live oak and evergreen sumac under power lines, suitable habitat for black-capped vireo. Lila stops to tell about the brown-headed cowbird trap before guiding us off the trail and through the woods. She notes that we are now walking through golden-cheeked warbler habitat, mature juniper and oak woodland, pausing on a rocky slope that is in fact a field of cretaceous era fossils. At the bottom of the slope is a running creek, and from the side of the creek bubbles Tenacio Spring, named for the previous caretaker of the land. The base of a tree trunk forms a fiercely guarding gargoyle above the spring. Then back up the trail, past a deep ravine we come to Kiki’s Spring, named for Kent Butler’s childhood moniker.

To register to go on this and other hikes, visit Wildland Conservation Division’s online calendar of events at http://www.austintexas.gov/department/wildland-conservation-division.

 

Fire in Central Texas

“Prescribed burning will do more to improve habitat for deer and numerous other wildlife than any other practice. Prescribed burning is also considered the ‘cheapest, most effective habitat management technique.’ ” – TPWD website

 

CbcuIrtVAAAF92ZWildfires were once essential to Texas. Grasses and understory plants used to burn at intervals of two to five years. Those fires not only determined the mix of flora and fauna that made up the ecosystem, they also regenerated the land.

When humans with property, houses, and ranches arrived, humans began to suppress any fire that came upon the landscape. They protected their property. Now, a group of Central Texas specialists are bringing fire back. Depending on their mission, they seek to sustain habitat for endangered animals and/or enhance water’s infiltration of the aquifer.

While catastrophic fires cause untold damage to life and property, carefully controlled burns help keep wildfire fuel in check. Different types of prescribed burns are used in Central Texas, depending on what the fire managers want to accomplish. Some of these missions and lands present unique challenges to the fire starters.

I recently spoke with Carl Schwope, the Fire Management Officer at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Located west of Austin, the refuge’s primary purpose is to protect the nesting habitat of two endangered migratory birds — the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. These birds have two different habitats. Keeping the birds happy with their area of the forest is Schwope’s job.

Continue reading Fire in Central Texas