Members of our BPTMN Chapter visited the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (aka BRIT) in Fort Worth. BRIT houses several herbariums (collection of dried plants), seed bank, botanical art collections, children/ adult classes, educator programs and more.
by Laurie Sheppard
May, 2017 marks two years since heavy rains caused damaging flooding at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and other parts of north Texas. By May 10, 2015, many roads on the refuge were impassable and public access was curtailed. Ultimately, 9,000 of the refuge’s 11,320 acres were under water. It was August before the main roads were fully exposed and repairs could begin. At its worst, parts of the refuge were under as much as 24 feet of water, displacing wildlife and causing permanent changes to some habitats.
Rainfall totals along the Red River can vary greatly and periods of flood often follow seasons of drought. Such was the case starting in 2015. Three years of markedly reduced rainfall had left Lake Texoma’s conservation pool several feet below normal but spring rains filled the lake and kept on coming. The water receded in the fall, but a second closure of the refuge occurred in December, 2015 and a third in May and June, 2016.
Flooding can have a positive impact on fisheries by bringing water to areas of woody or herbaceous habitat for fish to feed and spawn. The spring floods of 2015 may have been too late for spawning, but observations by anglers seem to indicate an increase in survival by some valued species. On the other hand, some of the larger sport fish were released downstream when the Denison Dam floodgates were open for several weeks. Flooding also brings with it a large influx of sediment, filling in portions of the lake creating shallows where Carp and Gar species flourish, but also adding nutrients that fuel the microscopic plants and animals at the base of the aquatic food chain.
The deer population at Hagerman NWR appeared to move to higher ground in the summer of 2015 and then return as the waters receded. The refuge performs a deer census each fall, following the same route over multiple days, so they have decades of data with which to compare. The deer count in 2015 did not vary greatly from previous years, which was very encouraging. However, in 2016, the flooding occurred at birthing time and the number of surviving fawns identified was much lower.
Birders noticed a reduction in raptors in the winter of 2015-16. Barred Owls that had previously nested in known areas were no longer seen or heard but seem to be gradually returning. The Friends of Hagerman NWR organization has tracked Bluebird nesting for several years. Volunteers check nest boxes weekly throughout the refuge. In 2014, 272 Eastern Bluebirds fledged. Nest box monitoring was halted mid-season in 2015 when the nesting areas flooded. Some nest boxes spent weeks underwater but when access was restored volunteers saw others with new nests built on top of old nests. Only 103 fledglings were counted in 2015, and with a smaller flood in 2016, 152 bluebirds fledged.
The largest impact identified in these past two years is to hardwoods, especially oak trees, which notoriously don’t do well with prolonged “wet feet”. Many trees have died, changing the landscape, which will affect the mix of wildlife in the long term. The public responded to a plea for acorns in the fall of 2015 and thousands were planted by volunteers, but then more floods occurred. It will be a few more years before it is well known what the long term impacts will be. Change is constant but nature will prevail.
Mosquitos carry and spread diseases such as Zika, West Nile and Chikungunya
They lay their eggs on surfaces of containers that fill with water and on standing water itself.
Female mosquitoes rest on walls and in vegetation. Trim bushes, trees and grass.
Dump standing water
Keep screens on doors and windows intact to keep mosquitos out.
They can breed in tree rot holes, so fill them with sand or cement.
A tablespoon of mineral oil can kill mosquitoes in small containers.
Pesticides with Bacillus thurengensis isrealensis (Bti) or (s) methoprene may be used to combat mosquitoes.
Wear insect repellents with DEET, picaradin, IR353 or lemon-eucalyptus oil and follow instructions.
Wear light-colored long sleeves and pants.
Source: Collin County Public Health Emergency Preparedness
By Greg Hayden
Under a tall, blue sky, I sit under a stately, old, oak tree amidst the historical oasis known as the Heritage Farmstead. Above me, the Titmouse’s high-pitched call, “peter, peter, peter” is joined by the Pileated Woodpecker’s syncopated drum, and then across the way by the Blue jay’s “scree.” The early September heat, like my fellow Master Naturalists from the Blackland Prairie Chapter, has not yet arrived.
Soon this peaceful 4.5-acre historical remnant of the original 395 acre Farmstead will become an island in a sea of early morning traffic with its dull roar, blaring horns, thumping stereos, and toxic emissions. For now, in repose, I can’t help but wonder what vista I might have beheld in 1891 when Hunter Farrell purchased the land for Mary Alice and Ammie, his wife and daughter.
1891 Plano, situated in the Blackland Prairie, consisted of about 1,300 souls and was growing. The threat of marauding Comanche had been eradicated. The nomadic tribe had been either massacred or relegated to reservations, making settlement of the region by immigrant Americans much safer. The vast Bison herds had been decimated. Trains, as of 1872, connected McKinney, Plano, and Dallas bringing iron plows, wire fencing (late 1870’s) and scores of Eastern settlers. The times were indeed “a changing” in the Blackland Prairie.
What was once a 12.6 million acre ecosystem, unique among the world’s ecosystems, was even then beginning its relentless march to extinction. Today less than 1% of the Blackland Prairie remains in small, scattered remnants, many of its bio-diverse inhabitants gone the way of the bison, brown bear, and wolf.
In 1891, the Farrell family, while sitting on their porch, may have admired acre upon acre of tall, native, grasses waving in the morning breeze. Ammie may have plucked a bouquet for her mother from the profusion of native wildflowers that flourished year round in and among the tall grasses. Inexorably, the landscape would be transformed in the coming decades by iron plows hardy enough to break the stubborn vertisols, by wire fences that surrounded row crops and cattle pastures, and by rapidly growing settlements.
Mary Alice and Ammie inhabited their farm until Ammie died in 1972. Soon after, the Heritage Farmstead Museum was formed and the buildings were renovated. Today, visitors to the Farmstead can inspect implements and furnishing utilized over time by the family. They can walk among buildings representative of the period. Chickens, hogs, a cow, and a jackass enhance the stroll through our Texas heritage. All have voices that tell of their role in our history.
I seems fitting that visitors would be afforded the opportunity to witness a representative prairie garden redolent with grasses and forbs that early settlers to the region would have encountered before the landscape was forever altered by row crops and pasture land that was re-cultivated to support cattle. And that is how I happen to be sitting under this Oak tree on an early Saturday morning.
Little by little my fellow Texas Master Naturalists and students from the Plano High School Environmental Science Classes (taught by Mark Yoder and Elizabeth Carson) begin to filter into the Farmstead. The Museum directors have commissioned our Chapter to construct a Prairie garden. The completed garden will contain representative native bunch grasses and forbs that once populated the Blackland Prairie in North Central Texas.
Our Project Leader, Jeff Holba, was trained in landscape architecture at Oklahoma State, and works as a professional landscape architect at the prominent, international architecture firm, Huitt-Zollars. Jeff’s design includes an ADA friendly path that winds its way through the native plants, and a sitting area where visitors can enjoy the birds, pollinators, and butterflies that will be attracted to the prairie plants.
We hope to use the garden as a forum for public discussion of the many important properties of prairies, including Blackland Prairie history, native plant constituency and residential landscape applications, water conservation, soil improvement temperature regulation, and habitat.
In the spirit of our Mission Statement, this project evidences our Chapter’s commitment to Education, Outreach, and Service.
By Ernie Stokely
In spite of protests from neighboring ranchers, the grey wolf was reintroduced into Yellowstone Park in 1995. Elk and deer over-population and starvation had become a problem in the Park. Naturalists thought the presence of their natural predator might solve the herd starvation problems and bring the Park ecosystem into a more natural balance.
The cascade of events from the reintroduction of wolves into the Park has far exceeded even the wildest conjectures of Yellowstone ecologists. First noticed were the regrowth of willows around the creeks and the revival of shrinking groves of aspen where wintering herds of hungry elk had scraped away the snow to eat the tender shoots. Aspens, a plant that propagates through its root system, suffered and creek bank willows were depleted. The Park beaver population became stunted due to lack of winter food. Once the wolves returned, the beaver were able to again have a plentiful winter food source. Why? The elk herds were not only reduced, they avoided the open valleys around the creeks, allowing the willows to regenerate.
But, it was not just elk, beavers, and the aspens that felt the ripples of wolf reintroduction. Because of creek bank regrowth and the return of the normal beaver population, rivers literally changed course. Ponds were created, providing habitat for waterfowl, trout, and other aquatic creatures. Returning migratory birds found more nesting site choices, thanks to the wolves.
It was not just the trees, the beavers, the fish, the birds, and the healthier elk herds that are the beneficiary of the wolf reintroduction. Grizzly bears, eagles, coyotes, and other carrion eaters have flourished from the reestablishment of elk carrion, a regular menu item in the Park.
It’s not just the Yellowstone wolf story in that is opening our eyes to the interconnectedness of nature. We all know about the demise of the American honeybee and its impact on the pollination of our vegetable food sources. Beyond the importance that insects play in our lives, the story of interconnectedness turned to the recent biomedical discovery that the very fauna growing in our gut may play a dramatic role in our health. While we are just beginning to understand the full impact of these “bugs,” new discoveries suggest that the gut biome may play a major role in controlling weight, allergies, and even the regulation of our immune systems.
All this is to say, it’s time to be more aware of how completely interconnected life on the planet is. It is time to wonder about the unintended consequences of things like: the worldwide extinction of species, the local spraying of pesticides that may do little to kill mosquitoes but lays waste to most of our insect population, and the countless other human modifications of the planet ecosphere.
Message from the President, Deborah Canterbury
As the great Minnie Pearl said, “I’m just so glad to be here!”
What a wonderful privilege it is to be the president during the 10th anniversary year of BPTMN! I am just one rung above rookie on the experience ladder and I will need input, advice and “atta-girls” from those who have been enjoying membership for years as well as those who are just now beginning this wonderful journey of being a master naturalist
Some of the chapter meetings this year will be a bit unique such as the Learn and Do in February. We have a line-up of great speakers who have the deepest of respect for what we do and a great story to share. Keep an eye out for ways to win prizes at the beginning of every meeting as well.
As Bob Mione, new Membership Chair, said at the January meeting, if you know someone who has not attended a meeting in a while or you have missed seeing someone lately, get in touch and encourage them to come to meetings. Good food by Cathy Westmoreland and her team, welcoming smiles and communion with like-minded folk guaranteed.
Are you one of the founders of our chapter or were a member of the first class? Send me an email …email@example.com… so I can pick your brain for some memories, some tall tales or so I can just know your name. Throughout the year we will walk that memory trail together and let the class of 2016 know what it means to be a Blackland Prairie Mater Naturalist.
If you were not at the January meeting, I ask you to go to the website at http://bptmn.org and under the Documents tab click on Procedures/Guidelines to review the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Open Carry policy. Basically, if you are doing anything in the name of Texas Master Naturalists, volunteering at an event, wearing any clothing that refers to Texas Master Naturalist or you are representing the TPWD (of which we are an extension) you cannot carry a firearm. The document and the Q&A that accompanies the law they have adopted explains their stance. The Board is considering how to post the policy and what action should be taken should there be a violation.
I am looking forward to meet as many of you as possible so do not be shy. Come say hi at meetings, email me with your successes as a master naturalist or toot someone’s horn for them. Let’s Celebrate success!
Oh! Do not know who Minnie Pearl is? Google her and “Take the backroads instead of the highways.”
by Gary Howerton
Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis or Texas lupine)
The blue bonnet flower figures in many Native American tales and Spanish missions planted these flowers around their missions leading to the impression that the blue bonnet came from Europe.
We are familiar with this plant, the state flower that was adopted in 1901. The selection was not a straightforward process since there are several varieties of blue bonnet. And some state senators favored the cotton boil.
The blue bonnet begins as a small rock-like seed that is impervious to damage because of an exterior that is stone-like. Most always the bluebonnet blooms in the spring, as early as March. It emerges as a seedling with the individual plants having two cotyledons. As the plant grows, it has a rosette of 5-7 leaves. The leaves are palmately compounded. They are about 3-10 cm long. As the plant base grows larger a 20-50 cm plume of flowers emerges.
These flowers are easy to grow. Just plant the seeds in moderately dry ground in October or November. The seeds need to under go scarification using a knife to nick a small quantity of seeds or use sand paper for large quantities of seeds.
Make sure the site gets at least 8 hours of sunlight.
Also, make sure, the garden site isn’t frequented by this plant’s only pest, the roly-poly or woodlice or doodlebug or pill bug or Amadillidium vulgare. These insects can etch open the stone seed and make a meal of the inner plant material.
Removing wood bits and leave litter before you plant the seeds can preclude the infestation of Amadillidium in your garden. If an infestation develops then place a half of cantaloupe upside down in your garden and when the pill bugs migrate to it you just throw into your compost pile.
Attached are photos of my blue bonnet garden. Based on the open spaces, it is clear I needed to plant the seeds earlier and/or my scarification process was inadequate. Next year I will broadcast a pound of seed onto my front lawn in November and use a coarser sheet of sandpaper for my scarification process.