Hard to believe we are already in 2020! At the start of the New Year, the AmeriCorps team will have completed four months of service totaling over 500 hours for each of the three full-time members and over 250 hours for each half time member. Thanks to the stewardship technician team, the service hours translate to significant habitat improvements on Bur Oak Land Trust properties.
Continued invasive vegetation removal and tree canopy clearing at Muddy Creek Preserve is improving quality of shelter and space for threatened and endangered species. Back in the early fall days, we were excited to see the resurgence of one threatened species, the lesser ladies’ tresses orchid!
Winter habitat improvement projects also continue at Big Grove Addition and Pappy Dickens. The team has been putting in long hours removing autumn olive, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose to encourage native tree and shrub growth. On days when the weather doesn’t cooperate, the team works on updating and rewriting habitat management plans and uploading trail camera photos.
Earlier in December, Lidija, the conservation education specialist, joined Big Brothers Big Sisters for a fun evening leading activities that educated them about pollinators.
The kids were joined by their matches and enjoyed looking at butterflies, moths, and beetles under a microscope. We look forward to working with Big Brothers Big Sisters again in the spring! The Conservation Education Specialist also joined Cedar Rapids Green Teams and gave a presentation on the importance of using native plants around their schools and establishing outdoor classrooms.
Lidija will be working on planning projects with Office of Sustainability and The Good Earth Nature Center for spring and working on activities for STEM fest and Eco Fest the next couple of weeks.
Thanks to the UIOWA Environmental Science and Academic Coordinators, NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA) was brought to the UIOWA campus! All AmeriCorps members attended the 2-day training with Jason Taylor and Carter Johnson. Many individuals taking the course were educators and several were students and other community members interested in having the experience for jobs and their own travels. Thanks to the wonderful and skilled WFA teachers, training was the perfect mix of seriousness, comic relief, and interesting hands-on scenarios and activities. Even though we giggled our way through a couple of the scenarios on day one, by day two we all felt very comfortable and confident in performing patient assessments and working through complicated scenarios.
Prescribed fire is an extremely valuable habitat management tool when used appropriately. Through coursework and time spent in the field, AmeriCorps members have been able to gain an immense amount of knowledge about prescribed fire. Timing, site preparation, planning, and knowing the objectives are all necessary components of a successful prescribed fire. All members at Bur Oak Land Trust have participated in at least one prescribed fire and received instruction on assessing weather conditions, using various hand tools, drip torches, suppression techniques, and operating mobile water units. In early November, a seven-person crew with two AmeriCorps members successfully completed a burn at Indiangrass Hills to suppress river birch trees that are encroaching on the prairie. Later, all members participated in a prescribed burn at Belgum Grove to reduce woody vegetation, remove invasives, and prep the area for seeding.
Trees Forever Update from our AmeriCorps member Hannah Wadke in Cedar Rapids:
The beginning of November marked the end of our fall session with the Cedar Rapids Growing Futures team. On November 2nd we met our fall goal of planting 162 trees in Cedar Rapids. Earlier in the month I helped plan and participate in a TreeKeeper event where we planted four trees along the main entrance at Shaver Park. TreeKeepers is a program of Trees Forever where individuals from the community gain hands on experience from Trees Forever staff on how to plant and maintain urban trees. One of the larger events I got to participate in was the Iowa Living Roadways Celebration on November 7th in Ames.
This celebration focused on water quality and storm water management education for various communities in Iowa. In addition, I was able to educate community representatives on how trees can help homes become more energy efficient by shading and creating wind barriers. I used an interactive model with a small house plus movable trees and quizzed individuals where they believe deciduous or conifer trees should be placed.
At the end of November we have been focusing on preparing fun educational materials for different age groups in the CR School District, preparing written materials about Growing Futures, and creating educational pieces about trees. We are currently preparing for our Woodland Legacy Symposium that is December 12th. This event brings together leaders from city government, educators, architects, planners, and conservationists to explore how we can create sustainable communities, and the impact of trees on overall community function.
October has been a busy month for AmeriCorps members. All 5 members finished their online S-190/130 Wildland Fire Training and completed the field day portion of the course at Kirkwood. Now that all members have the necessary training and knowledge, burn season here we come! In addition to the online course, AmeriCorps members also received field experience at Indiangrass Hills and learned safety and basics of prescribed burns. Even though it was a windy and cold day, everybody dressed in full gear, learned how to prepare and handle drip torches, assessed and worked in less than ideal weather conditions, safely operated water pumps and hand tools, and much more.
Several seed harvests also took place with local volunteers working together with AmeriCorps members – Boy Scouts, Coralville IDT, and University of Iowa students generously donated their time to seed harvests at Turkey Creek nature Preserve and Belgum Grove. Numerous prairie seeds were collected including indian grass, wild rye, golden rod, mountain mint, gentian, Culvers root, and milkweed.
Lidija (conservation education specialist) is developing educational material for the Cedar Rapids School District, preparing for an activity with Big Brothers Big Sisters, creating educational Facebook content, designing flyers for display at businesses, and creating material for AmeriCorps sponsorship, while Cedar Rapids Green Teams, which aims to educate and implement sustainable practices in their schools, needs help educating their team leaders on rain gardens and best native species and planting practices. Lidija plans to create an informational packet and presentation for this awesome group!
Over the past several weeks, Bur Oak Land Trust’s new AmeriCorps team has been working hard to fulfill their conservation mission and improve Iowa’s natural landscapes for the community. This month, stewardship technicians have worked on habitat restoration at Muddy Creek Preserve, primarily focusing on clearing canopy to create sunnier spots for endangered and threatened species. This also gives the technicians an opportunity to gain the necessary skills and training for tree felling and chain sawing. In addition to chainsaw training, the technicians have been working on Prescribed Fire Training and getting their training completed to be Merit Badge Counselors for Scouts BSA.
Trail maintenance is another important job of the stewardship technicians in preparation for events, working on mowing trails at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and Belgum Grove for community and youth groups that visit. Stewardship technicians have also been supporting the growth of native vegetation by putting wire cages around native shrubs and trees at Turkey Creek and removing invasive species. This past week they encountered an orchid species that has never been recorded at this property before. Protecting this native orchid species will involve gaining a better understanding of their habitat requirements and managing invasive vegetation around it.
In order to gain a better understanding of how a successful land management plan can be implemented on Bur Oak Land Trust’s properties, the AmeriCorps team visited a unique ornate box turtle habitat.
They had the opportunity to learn about the specific causes of the box turtle’s habitat degradation, and they were able to observe their one-of-a-kind physical characteristics.
Lidija, the conservation education specialist, has been working on scheduling and attending talks with local organizations and businesses. Alongside Executive Director Jason Taylor, she presented on the new and exciting addition of the AmeriCorps team to Bur Oak Land Trust. Most recently, Jason and Lidija presented at the Optimist Club and staffed an outreach booth at the Linn County Landowners Forum, reaching out to local landowners interested in learning and preserving native landscapes. In addition, there are several new organizations that work with University of Iowa students that Lidija has reached out to for possible collaboration on special projects and events.
Developing activities for booth events and outdoor activities to engage youth in conservation is a big focus for Lidija and she sees new opportunities to coordinate with the Cedar Rapids School District Green Team and the Iowa City schools.
Recently Lidija was at Belgum Grove working with youth from Scouts BSA who want to work toward their Nature badge and in the near future Lidija will have an opportunity to work with youth and their matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters for a fun hands on pollinator activity.
In addition to community outreach, Lidija has been able to get out of the office for a bit and visit box turtle habitat, Belgum Grove, Muddy Creek Preserve, and Turkey Creek as well as being the lead photographer of the stewardship technicians in action.
She has also been participating in prescribed fire training and completed training to be a merit badge counselor.
Lidija is also working on creating themed Facebook content that will bring awareness to environmental issues and inspire the community to take action at the local level. In addition to this aspect of social media, she has been working on improving Bur Oak Land Trust’s social media presence and researching the data from our social media sites. She hopes to assist in developing a plan that will help Bur Oak Land Trust reach many more people in the next couple of months.
With many upcoming fall events, volunteers are needed to make it all happen. Lidija has been sending sign-up links to all the individuals interested in volunteering for seed harvests and Bur Oak Land Trust’s “Under a Cider Moon…a Celebration of Autumn” annual gala.