[permaculture] Ecosystem Diversity & Bio-mass: Prairies vs.Forests

Kirby Fry peace at totalaccess.net
Mon Jul 8 10:06:42 EDT 2002


Hi Mark,

I see you're from Madison, Wisconsin the home of the oldest prairie
restoration program in the U.S.A. initially run by Aldo Leopold himself.  It
just so happens that my friend who got me going on all of this just returned
from a two week long educators course on prairie restoration.  She had
nothing good to say about woodlands upon her return to Texas and everything
to say about prescribed burning and "prairies."

Recall, that Leopold lived to regret his wolf eradication efforts in New
Mexico.  I believe that he might have similar regrets if he saw the chronic,
progressive use of fire as a management tool for maintaining prairies.

> I tend to side with the prairie promoters, as much as anything because so
much of it was wiped out by plow happy settlers.

I'm all in favor of prairie restoration as long as it doesn't include
clearing trees and prescribed burning.  If it does include burning and
clearing then there neads to be an equal amount of land reforested and set
on a path of high succession.  I believe that there are enough dunuded lands
in North America to restore so that clearing sites is totally unnecessary.

Furthermore, there may have been wildfires once upon a time, the frequency
of which I believe to still be disputed, but fire is too dangerous and
destructive of a tool to RELY on for prairie maintenance.  I feel its time
to steer the fire loving plant communities back into their original niches
and aim for a less fire adapted plant community.  The main tools missing in
most resoration projects are the bison.

One could also argue that just as much forest has been degraded as prairie.
Another thing to consider is that prairies at least in Texas are an infusion
of woodlands and grasslands.  Around Elgin, Texas where we live the ratio of
trees to grass is 50:50.  Yet the prairie restorers don't seem to want to
include trees in the equation.  In other words they can't see the prairie
because of the grasses in the way.  Our prairie in Texas is different than
that of the Central US, because it is an ecotone or edge between the Great
Eastern Forest and the Great Plains / Grasslands of the Central U.S.A.

>>  You might try the  following web sites www.grassland.unl.edu/ Nebraska
state grassland institute.  <<

Thanks for the lead.  I'll check it out.

>>  The other nice thing about prairie restoration IMO is the relatively
rapid establishment of a good functioning ecosystem compared to forest
restoration and the relative ease of establishment if you know what you're
doing.  <<

By a good functioning ecosystem are you referring to something that has to
be burned very seven years or so?  If so I would contend that a fire adapted
plant community is probably not where we need to be headed in this day of
global warming and trends towards aridity.  What happens when budgets and
enthusiasm wain and the required disturbace management regimes are
neglected?

Also, a prairie project that relies on fire for maintenance rather than the
bison cannot be anything close to authentic.  The pairies and bison are
virtually one inseparable entity.  Without the bison as a part of a prairie
ecosystem I personally have a hard time admitting that we're performing
prairie restoration at all.  Rather, we are doing nothng but playing with
fire and promoting a fire loving plant community which, IMO, is a dangerous
trend.  Why the emphasis on fire and not the bison? because fire is cheap
and easy and yields a nice short term response and bison carry the disease
brucelosis.  So we've developed this whole management regime around
econmoics and the political will of the ranchers, which is an awfully
familiar and dangerous trend.

>>  The root mass and insect life underground is pretty phenomenal, goes
down 5 meters, where as I understand it most of the action in forest systems
is in the leaf litter.  <<

Ah, now we're talking.  Where did you hear this information?  Is there a
specific study you could direct me to?  I'll be sure to check out the
sources you posted above for more info.

I've always heard that trees have just as much going on below ground as
above ground, that the root system has as much biomass as the trunk and
crown above ground.  Now prairie restorationists are reducing the
underground role of trees to something almost insignificant and drawing this
comparison as justification for clearing woodlands in order to "restore"
fire loving plant communities.

Thanks, Mark.


Kirby Fry

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