Monday, June 13, 2011

Moving Forward: Prairie Restoration Set to Begin

It has been a very productive month for the Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Project. The wheels of progress have begun to move, taking the project closer to the final goal of removing the invasive plant species that have taken over the prairie and returning it to its historic, native tall grass prairie glory.

This progress is due, partly, to $2,000 raised through Birdathon contributions. Many of those contributions came from Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization members. A big THANK YOU to all who donated to this worthy cause. This money will be used immediately in connection with the next phase of the project, the removal of invasives as well as the smaller mesquite.

Mesquite is a native prairie scrub bush that, due to the suppression of fire, has taken over far more than its fair share of the land. In a natural prairie system, scrub plants, such as mesquite, would have been removed periodically when fires burned the prairie. When fire began to be suppressed in the 1800's, however, primarily due to farming, ranching, and a general increase in human population, mesquite was allowed to grow unchecked. This fire suppression led to this thorny scrub brush growing into thick stands, blocking out light for the plants below and becoming a general nuisance for humans and wildlife. The Commons Ford tract exemplifies this unchecked mesquite growth.

Due to its thickness and thorniness, the first phase of any invasive removal must start with clearing the mesquite. While a few mesquite/oak mots and larger trees will remain as habitat and cover for birds and other wildlife, a majority of the mesquite will be cut down and its trunk treated with herbicide in order to kill the roots. Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) personnel will conduct the mesquite removal. It is expected that the park will remain open during the mesquite treatment process, but PARD will place signs about the treatment and the treatment area will be well marked.

Once the mesquite has been cut and treated, the next removal phase will begin. This phase involves removal of the non-native grasses which are primarily King Ranch Bluestem, Bermuda and Johnson grass. Due to the drought and resulting burn ban, this phase will not likely include a prescribed burn. A discing process will be used as a substitute. This process utilizes a tractor-like machine to till the soil, breaking it up and thoroughly uprooting the plants.

While the treatment process will take hard work and may temporarily make the prairie tract look bare, it is all in good cause. By this time next year, instead of looking at scraggly mesquite and King Ranch bluestem, park visitors may be treated to the first signs of new growth including a field of colorful wildflowers!

We would like to thank everyone for their continued support of the project. We will keep you posted on the progress of the invasives removal as it progresses.

Last week the Westlake Picayune printed an interview with Ed Fair and an update about the Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Project.


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