Today is “Thanksgiving Day.” A holiday set aside to give thanks for the harvest and for the blessings we have, starting with the Pilgrims in 1621. Even though the future of nature’s harvests seems a little uncertain these days because of the undoing of legislation our federal government is undertaking toward the safety of our environment and our protected lands, there is still much to be thankful for in our personal lives. For me, the plentiful summer harvest I was allowed to reap is something for which I am again very thankful. Another is the health and happiness of not only my husband and myself, but also our family and friends. May today find you able to be thankful for many things as well, and looking forward to better things in the future.
Iowa State University initiated a program in 2003 which focuses on planting tallgrass native prairie strips in farm fields, benefiting soil, water and biodiversity. It is called STRIPS. The benefits determined so far can be found in their easy to read report Prairie Strips: Small Changes, Big Impacts.
The Science-based Trials of Row-crops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) program studies the effects of native tallgrass prairie on soil, water, and biodiversity on farms.
Strips of native prairie of varying sizes have been planted on experimental and commercial farms. The strips are often employed in concert with other regenerative agriculture techniques such as cover crops and no-till practices. (Regenerative agriculture seeks to capture carbon in soil and above-ground biomass to reduce greenhouse gas accumulation and support soil health, water quality and native wildlife.)
After several years of data collection, the STRIPS team found including even a small amount of native prairie on a farm substantially improves water quality and nutrient retention, reduces erosion, and generates other benefits.
For example, in farmed watersheds, the addition of only “10 percent prairie reduced sediment export by 95 %, phosphorus export by 90 %, and nitrogen export by nearly 85 % in surface runoff water when compared 100 percent row crop watersheds.”
Further, after seven years, “an average of 51 native plant species were found in prairie strips, compared to 13 species found within the row crop areas.” These native plants, of course, provide habitat for birds, small mammals, bees and butterflies, and other beneficial organisms that cycle nutrients, increase soil fertility, and provide pest control and pollination services. Fields with prairie strips host “twice as many birds and bird species than those with 100 percent row crops.” (Prairie Strips: Small Changes, Big Impacts)
There is one concern, however. The Xerces Society is concerned about the results from farmers who are integrating the STRIPS program, but still using agricultural chemicals in the surrounding row crops. These chemicals could potentially harm pollinators and other organisms attracted to the prairie strips. The Xerces Society is monitoring this concern.
A really good article about the STRIPS program can be found at Civil Eats.
Wouldn’t it be grand if farmers would begin to reverse the loss of native habitat and biodiversity which has resulted because of modern-day agricultural practices, by simply adding some prairie strips to their fields? ‘Practical and beautiful as well!
The information above was reprinted in part from the Native Plant Conservation Campaign with permission from Emily B Roberson, PhD.
Thanks also to Sharon Bochner who brought a similar article to my attention.
As I’ve written before, fireflies are in peril. Reference my post entitled Fireflies are Glowing. The Xerces Society sent out an announcement this past week that they were mounting a new firefly conservation campaign: Conserving the Jewels of the Night.
“Fireflies are some of our most celebrated insects. Not only are they important components of natural ecosystems, but also they have immense cultural, biological, and economic value. Despite their significance, firefly populations appear to be in decline….This concern gains greater significance in light of numerous diversity and abundance studies that have emerged in recent years documenting severe population declines in both better-studied insect groups and overall insect biomass. ” (Xerces)
Xerces has developed a wonderful guideline for protecting fireflies in the USA and Canada. It is available on-line in pdf format and it is entitled Conserving the Jewels of the Night. On page 26 it starts talking about “Creating, Restoring, and Protecting High Quality Habitat.”
As we’ve discussed about wildlife many times before, “In general, all fireflies require four basic things: food, shelter, moisture, and protection from pesticides*. Individual species will have more specific habitat or food requirements, but by keeping these requirements in mind, you can easily provide for fireflies in your yard, park, or natural area. In particular, most fireflies need:
- abundant larval food sources, including soft-bodied invertebrates such as snails, slugs, and earthworms;
- safe places to overwinter, including trees, leaf litter, and underground burrows;
- clean sources of water or moisture so larvae and their prey do not desiccate;
- protection from pesticides—especially insecticides;
- undisturbed ground for burrowing larvae and flightless adult females;
- native vegetation of varying heights (so that adults have places to perch or take shelter); and
- dark nights, for dusk- and night-active species that use bioluminescent light signals to communicate and mate.
Some species also need:
- food sources for species that feed as adults, including tree sap, flower nectar, and other fireflies (e.g., Photuris females often eat other species of fireflies, such as those in the Photinus genus), and
- healthy populations of ant associates for larval and adult female Pleotomodes and Prolutacea species that live in ant nests.” (Conserving the Jewels of the Night)
These are the things we Wild Ones and other native landscaping enthusiasts talk about almost every day, because these things are important for maintaining a healthy ecosystem – a healthy habitat – especially the part about native vegetation. So let’s keep talking and we’ll help The Xerces Society with its new firefly conservation campaign: Conserving the Jewels of the Night.
*The conservation section of the Hunter Education class materials also includes space.
I found a new Dance of the Fireflies video. It’s the music from Tangled by Walt Disney Pictures.
Reference my post Why the Colors of Fall. This year here in East Central Wisconsin one can really see a difference in the colors of fall. The wet year we’ve had has produced variations in leaf color and the recent mild temperatures have slowed the change. But if you look closely, here and there you’ll find some bright oranges and beautiful golden yellows.