Summer is full of so much possibility. For our stewardship crew, longer days mean the possibility of more time in the field. More time on the land allows us to gain valuable ground in our efforts to remove non-native, invasive species; increase biodiversity; and generally enhance habitat on our properties.
We are still wrapping up some projects from this spring and even last winter. Much of this work includes chain sawing or use of other power tools. As you are most likely aware, this work is strenuous under ideal conditions. As the mercury rises, so does the intensity of stewardship activities. That doesn’t stop us, but it definitely forces us to adapt to the conditions. We shift the most strenuous tasks to the beginning of the day, taking advantage of as much cool air as possible. We also shift some of our activities from power tools to hand operated tools. Progress is sometimes slower, but using hand pruners and loppers forces us to focus on each individual plant or shrub. While the pace may slow, the efficiency of coverage increases.
No matter what efforts we take, when the sun is high in the sky the heat gives us an opportunity. We often break in the afternoon to walk our sites and observe. This may mean reviewing an area that we just covered for non-native, invasive shrub removal. We often find a few stragglers that were missed on the first, or second pass. Sometimes we are looking ahead to an adjacent area to determine what approach to take or how to prioritize pending work on the long to-do list of stewardship projects or activities. On the best of occasions, we simply enjoy the results of our work. Even that has beneficial outcomes, as we often note pollinators, nesting birds, native plant communities, and on occasion species of concern that we are managing for. This casual, and cool, data collection helps to inform our decision-making for future efforts.
All of the opportunities that summer has to offer for beneficial land stewardship do come with some risk as well. As I mentioned, heat is a major factor during the summer months that can contribute to heat related illness. Conditions can range from sunburn or rash all the way to heat stroke, which can be fatal if untreated. Simple preventative measures like sun-protective hats and clothing, continual hydration, seeking shade, and breaks from high intensity effort can prevent or forestall the effects of heat-related illness. For more information, there is a link to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for detecting and addressing heat related illness: Heat Related Illness – Warning Signs and Symptoms
Thunderstorms are another weather-related issue for summer work outdoors. Lightning strike, hail, and flash flooding are some of the specific risks associated with summer storms. As a Land Steward, checking the weather forecast is a daily – often several times daily – task. The best risk mitigation for stormy weather is avoidance. The weather service, though imperfect, is much better at prediction than I am, so I rely on forecasts to make go or no-go decisions for the safety of my crew and myself. If we still get caught out in the field by a storm, the first rumble of thunder is our no-exceptions alarm to depart our worksite for the safety of vehicles or our shop. I have attached a link to OSHA information on lightning safety for outdoor workers: Lightning Safety for Outdoor Workers
Tick bites and tick-borne illness are other safety considerations for summer field work. We have a wide array of prevention options, from protective clothing to after-activity self-checks that I employ. Ticks are a fact of life for land managers, so my approach has been to be informed and continually assess my personal protective approach. Generally, I tuck pant cuffs into socks or boots, and tuck my shirt into my pants. Simply restricting access to my skin limits the chance of a bite. After the workday I conduct a thorough self-check to catch those infrequent attached ticks. See the CDC guidance pages for avoiding tick bites and removing an attached tick: Preventing Tick Bites and Removal of an Attached Tick
We have the opportunity to experience so much during an Iowa summer. No matter what our pursuit, we have associated risks, but with proper precautions taking in our shared natural environment can be a feast for the senses. Listen to the subtle hum of pollinating insects and the captivating song of songbirds. Breathe in the transporting aroma of mountain mint or grey-headed coneflower. Savor the sweet wildness of black raspberries and wild plums. Take in the splendor of a dew laden garden spider’s web and the broad vista of a summer sunset. The days are long, with more time to enjoy.