Restoring Ecological Integrity
Pierce Cedar Creek Institute is home to a wide variety of natural communities, including constructed prairie, successional forests, mature oak/hickory and beech/maple forests, hardwood and conifer swamps, wetlands, and prairie fens, as well as several species listed on state or federal “endangered,” “threatened,” or “special concern” lists.
Restoring ecological integrity and providing guidance on land management are the goals of the Institute’s stewardship efforts. This restoration and education involves two major components: removing disturbances and non-native species our natural communities are not adapted to and reintroducing native species and the natural ecosystem processes to maintain them.
Prairie and Savanna Conservation
The state of Michigan has only a few small remnants of its original grasslands and savannas, and many associated wildlife species are in trouble as a result. To help these species and to conserve this habitat, the Institute has converted over 100 acres of fallow farm field into native tall and short grass prairie habitat since purchasing the property in 1998.
The stewardship process of converting pre-existing agricultural fields into a prairie ecosystem is a multi-year process. The stewardship department is committed to using Michigan genotype seed whenever feasible and only introduces species historically found in Barry County. These seeds are planted directly on the surface or drilled into the ground. Once a deep root system is developed, the prairie grasses and wildflowers begin to visibly dominate the area. The planting will continue to mature over time as a result of natural disturbances and the recruiting of plants in their preferred microhabitats.
The stewardship department manages prairies and savannas with prescribed fires intentionally ignited under a strict set of weather and site conditions. These prescribed fires reintroduce fire, an important ecosystem maintenance process, to the landscape. Prior to widespread European settlement in West Michigan, fires ignited by Native Americans or by lightning strike served as an efficient prairie maintenance method. The fires maintained prairies and savannas by setting back encroaching shrubs and trees, allowing for increased light penetration, stimulating native plants, reducing competition from invasive plants and fertilizing the soil with ash. Without fires, Michigan’s prairies, savannas, and other fire-dependent ecosystems are quickly disappearing. Prescribed fires are helping to conserve them.
The Institute’s oak savanna habitats continue to undergo extensive management supported by grants provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Habitat Grant Program awarded to the Barry Conservation District and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Stewardship Department staff and Steeby Land Management Fellows work on monitoring, non-native invasive species control, and mid-story thinning in management units to open mid-story canopy, increasing plant diversity within the understory and promoting oak regeneration. In addition to these new restoration activities, non-native invasive species control and prairie mowing management has been ongoing at the recently established Little Grand Canyon oak savanna. Here is a recent video from the National Wild Turkey Federation featuring the oak savanna restoration. The Institute is currently working with NWTF on our oak savannah restoration through a MDNR Wildlife Habitat Grant project.