Outdoors: Simon Lake Bio-Blitz
One way to know what you’ve got is to wait until it’s gone, or so the song goes.
That’s the idea behind the Simon Lake Bio-Blitz. Over a 24-hour period last Friday and Saturday, about 100 volunteers explored the Simon Lake area in the southeastern corner of Pope County. They came armed with nets, binoculars, cameras and lots of field guides to help them identify the native prairie plants, birds, insects and other wildlife to be found here.
They put together a record of all that they found so that the diversity of species here can be tracked over time. Some of the volunteers were experts in their fields. They could offer up the scientific names for many of the prairie plants they spotted as easily as if they were singing the lyrics of their favorite songs.
Others were very new to this. They included landowners, nearby residents, and visitors from all over the state, including a group from the inner core of Minneapolis who had never been to a prairie.
All came eager to learn, which is exactly what Robin Moore wanted to see.
“If people know the names and understand the things around them they’re more able and willing to take care of them,’’ said Moore. “They’re more interested. They’re more engaged. They’re more ready to make choices that support those things.’’
Moore is with the Land Stewardship Project, which helped sponsor the second annual Bio-Blitz in the area. The organization is working with private landowners in the area, as well as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Nature Conservancy to protect and manage these lands. The area includes the Nature Conservancy’s Sheepberry Fen, a protected area of native prairie, oak savannah and a calcareous fen.
The private lands includes native prairie. Landowners such as Andy Marcum are grazing cattle in an intensively managed way to maintain the diversity of native plants while keeping invasive plants in check. “It’s very sensitive land out here,’’ said Marcum. “You have to be careful. You can’t over graze,’’ that’s for sure.”
The rewards for rotational grazing can be seen both in the Black Angus and the land they graze. Marcum said the grass-fed beef are doing very well, putting on weight without any supplemental feed or antibiotics.
And the land? It is looking more and more like it did when bison did the work that is now turned over to the cattle. Native plants appear to be increasing in abundance and diversity. Volunteers could not walk more than five feet without recording yet another new plant or insect that spoke to the diversity of life here. Everything from blazing stars and coneflowers to porcupine and bluestem grasses are thriving.
Moore said the landowners and public agencies have been cooperating to maintain and improve the diversity of plant and animal life here. Some of the lands are owned by individuals who had purchased them decades ago for recreational use, mainly hunting.
Left alone, cedar and sumac often took over many of these parcels. Many of these landowners are now installing fences and working with beef producers in the area like Marcum. They allow some grazing on the lands benefit the native plants that better feed and shelter the wildlife they want to see (and hunt).
Moore said the plan going forward is to continue to use rotational grazing and prescribed burning to maintain a healthy prairie here. The recreational landowners will enjoy better hunting or bird watching for the effort, she said.
Managed grazing can actually help diversify the landscape, she explained. “It can help hunting. It is going to help plant habitat and bird habitat.’’
As working lands, they also benefit the economy and the community of landowners who are working together, she noted.
“At LSP we really believe that mid-size farms can farm in ways that are environmentally not only responsible, but beneficial to the habitat and environment around them. So we want to raise up the farmers that are doing that.’’
This was the second annual Bio-Blitz at the site. The Land Stewardship Project, Chipper River Project, Clean Up our River Environment and Glacial Lakes Environmental Trust Fund helped make it possible, with help from the adjoining landowners, public and private.
Moore said credit for the improved diversity here belongs to the landowners. Her organization and others assist, but the real success owes to a “community coming together and working together.’’