Monday, June 22, 2009

rare plants and animals

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois supports the following species of breeding "shrubland birds" or "open woodland birds" that are considered significant in this region:

American woodcock
black-billed cuckoo
yellow-billed cuckoo
ruby-throated hummingbird
eastern kingbird
brown thrasher
orchard oriole
rose-breasted grosbeak
great crested flycatcher
red-headed woodpecker

It also has nine populations of endangered or threatened plant species. I wonder if I should list them. Some conservation authorities suggest that their presence not be spread around. Unlike birds, plants can't get away if poachers come to pilfer them.

Do these birds and plants depend on each other. Ultimately, of course, all species depend on each other, but do these eight bird species depend on these nine plant species and visa versa? Or, for that matter, do they conflict with each other?

All the rare plant species would be killed off if the invasive weeds or shrubs in Somme Prairie Grove got too dense. All the birds listed above would lose their habitats if the shrubs and trees were mostly removed to benefit the sun-loving plants -- or if they were all left alone to grow as dense as they would without fire. Historically, fire (and animal impacts of various kinds) mediated the balance among these species. Now, decisions have to be made and priorities set by preserve managers. Which trees and shrubs should be cut? Should the stumps of all of them be herbicided? How often should controlled burns be conducted? How hot should the burns be? (A burn is orders of magnitude hotter on a hot, dry, windy day compared to a cool, damp, still day.)

The decisions also impact hundreds of species of butterflies, frogs, walking sticks, fungi, etc. etc. Are there good ways for the public to be informed advocates on such important questions? I hope so. If few people understand and care, the rare species and hundreds of other species here are doomed.