On-the-ground conservation work ebbs and flows with the seasons, and for those conserving prairies in the Pacific Northwest, the busy season runs from April to October. This is the time to control invasives like Scotch broom, monitor research experiments, collect native seeds for use in future restoration, and conduct prescribed burns. Juggling staffing on these different tasks can be difficult, given that the projects can be sporadic and weather-dependent. Last year, three key prairie managers in South Puget Sound – the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – came up with an innovative plan to address this field season bottleneck. Rather than each hiring their own seasonal staff for the field season (or struggling along without any seasonal staff), they joined forces to hire two prairie restoration technicians who would serve all three organizations throughout the season.
This is yet another collaborative solution enabled through the Department of Defense’s Army Compatible Use Buffer Program (ACUB). Joint Base Lewis-McChord is home to four candidates for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act: the streaked horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata), Mazama pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama), Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori) and Mardon skipper butterfly (Polites mardon). By funding prairie conservation in South Puget Sound that protects these species and their habitats, the Department of Defense reduces the risk that the species will be listed, and the associated risk that military activities on-Base may be restricted.
The two prairie restoration technicians working with CNLM, WDFW and DNR this year are Karen Wells and Paul Griffith. Here’s a snapshot of the work they’ve done to date.
The Scatter Creek Wildlife Area is one of a few select sites where WDFW released Taylor’s checkerspots to establish a new local population. Karen and Paul brush cut the invasive Scotch broom there, which was a particularly delicate task because of the likely presence of Taylor’s checkerspot eggs on Plantago lanceolata. Karen and Paul had to step carefully through the area, avoiding P. lanceolata and the tiny caterpillar eggs attached to them.
Karen and Paul helped with DNR’s annual monitoring of the federally threatened golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) population at Rocky Prairie. Golden paintbrush is especially important because it is one of only a few host species for Taylor’s checkerspots. With DNR, they counted all of the flowering golden paintbrush on the 35 acre property, and found that the population is doing quite well.
As part of ongoing restoration activities at West Rocky Prairie, Karen and Paul applied herbicide to control tall oatgrass (Arrhenatherum elatius) and non-native Agrostis for WDFW.
Fire effects monitoring can help scientists understand how effectively prescribed fire eliminated target weeds and their seed banks, if it increased success rates among plantings, and when, where and how it might be used more effectively in future burns. Karen and Paul monitored fire effects at Thurston County’s Glacial Heritage Preserve for CNLM.
Now that summer has arrived and the weather has turned warm and dry, plants are beginning to go to seed and dry out. This marks the beginning of the burn season when prairie managers from CNLM, WDFW and DNR start scheduling prescribed fires. Karen and Paul will participate on these burns, as well as other prairie restoration efforts such as collecting and processing native prairie plant seeds.
Overall, scheduling between the three organizations has been a seamless effort, and Karen and Paul have plugged the critical field season staffing gaps seen in previous years.