This summer we were very excited to return to the Black Hills for our third year working in the area.
The Great Plains ecosystem is an incredibly diverse and important region that was home to many diverse peoples and cultures over thousands of years. Through hunting and agricultural uses, humans lived in a type of balance with the land.
As land use regimes changed, however, more and more of that ecosystem became threatened, and the diversity that led to the Great Plains being called the Serengeti of North America became more and more rare.
The plant and animal communities that live in these habitats are not only important to the ecology of the region, but provide important ecosystem services such as water retention and quality, pollination, and outdoor recreation opportunities. To learn more about the biology of the region, as well as interface with the communities in the area, we travel to Wyoming and South Dakota every summer to join ongoing habitat improvement projects and meet with people who have become examples of how to work WITH the land in the 21st century.
This year we re-joined the Bearlodge Ranger District to work in Dugout Gulch Botanical Area; a boreal remnant. From the Forest Service website:
“The boreal forests of Canada once extended as far south as Nebraska. With their retreat at the end of the Ice Age, boreal plants gave way to species adapted to periods of drought and heat. Only where life sustaining moisture averages about 24 inches per year and temperatures remain relatively cool, can these survivors be found.
Sheltered under the cool, green branches of paper birch, ironwood and hazelnut trees, you may find the Rattlesnake Fern, Common Solomon’s Seal, Canadian Enchanter’s Nightshade, and the Oval-leaved Milkweed. Also lingering in this area are several sedges – Meadow Sedge, Fox-tail Sedge and Rosy Sedge.”
In previous years we have joined the Bearlodge Ranger District team to remove invasive buckthorn that can choke out native plant communities. This is our third year working in this area and it is always encouraging to see how our previous efforts have improved the habitat quality in this area.
This year, we again joined the Bearlodge team in repairing enclosures that work to protect the wetlands and trail for recreational use by the community. In our time spent working with their botanist and wildlife biologist Phoenix Interns learned about the different species in this habitat and how this Botanical Area is preserved as a community resource.
A major highlight of the trip was our meeting with Doug and Carol Pavel of Butte Vista Farm outside Whitewood, SD. The Pavels are working with the local Conservation District on an integrated weed management program to evaluate control mechanisms for common chicory, which can become invasive in the area.
The Pavels were recently awarded the Lawrence County Conservation Citizenship Award for their work and our team learned so much from their hard work. To read more about their work check out their website or take a look at their excellent blog describing their Integrated Weed Management program.
This trip is always an absolute delight for our team. The lessons we learn from community experts and governmental agencies are applicable for problems facing all the ecosystems that we work in; from the Palouse, to Madagascar. Being able to participate in the work that these people do every day inspires us to continue in our mission and often serves to renew our passion for restoration.
Often, it can feel as though you are an army of one against an undefeatable foe. From climate change to the extinction crisis, it can begin to seem like there is no hope of a better world. But meeting with people who have devoted so much of themselves to these battles, seeing how they have overcome challenges, and sharing in their passion, is worth its weight in gold.