Of Marshes and Machines
Although I grew up in a small town, I learned at an early age on my grandpa’s farm that nothing runs like a big green tractor. John Deere has been in the business of helping farmers do their work more efficiently for over 175 years. Today they make a giant 560 horsepower, GPS equipped, climate controlled cab tractor. This is a beast of a machine and quite different from the first tractors they made available back in 1918. It is a great example of how technology has focused on bringing enhanced power, comfort, and efficiency to farming over the years.
My family wasn’t always a “John Deere” family. Back in the day, my great-grandpa actually built his first tractor. In a time when farms were small and money was sparse he used an assortment of parts and pieces from different machinery to construct his own vehicle to help him accomplish work in the field. In contrast to today’s machines, my grandpa’s tractor was nothing pretty, not terribly powerful, and probably not too comfy, but it got the job done. While it didn’t have all of the bells and whistles of today’s tractors, it did have one advantage. This homemade tractor was resilient; if something broke, the lack of specialized gears and gizmos enabled my great-grandpa to handle the challenge by fixing it himself, and moving on.
Differences in Perspectives
Today’s precision farming methods reflect the specialized tools that are used to maximize crop production. Efficiency is the gold standard philosophy. When it comes to wetland management, we often use the same specialized farming equipment to provide food and habitat for wildlife. However, a slightly different perspective has to be taken to be successful in this field. Wetlands are dynamic habitats. At times these areas are awfully wet and a great place to bury a tractor deep in the muck. Other times they are dry as a bone. This drastic variation may happen within a matter of weeks, it could extend across multiple years, or it may vary within a particular field. Instead of efficiency, resiliency is a resounding mantra for natural resource management to handle natural variation that occurs in these habitats.
The Past Couple of Years
At Duck Creek we’ve experienced a wide range of conditions in the past few years. Additionally, we have enhanced the diversity of habitat and function through the course of the renovation.
In 2012 we didn’t have any water control due to the ongoing construction and we experienced a historic drought. Although, this doesn’t sound like a good scenario the results weren’t bad. In response to these conditions we saw nodding smartweed pop up across much of the area, with millet and toothcup hanging on to the moist edges of the restored sloughs. During these drier conditions we were able to get out in the field and spread corn food plots around the area to provide additional food and cover during the immediate growing season and soil disturbance that would help germinate annual plants the following year.
In 2013 we had a wet cool spring that delayed the timing of drawing water down. As the summer progressed, successive rains continued to irrigate the wetland habitat at Unit A, which produced a greater expanse of millet along with pockets of wetter species like common plantain. Additionally, the plant communities varied depending upon the elevation and location within the pools. In the low lying sloughs the aquatic plants like water shield, pickerelweed, and water stargrass thrived. As I mentioned before, millet exploded in the flats and was followed by a golden ring of bidens on the upper end of the units. The wet conditions prevented corn food plots, but a few milo plots were scattered about later in the summer.
Working with Nature
The last two years illustrate the variability that weather has on our range of management actions and the potential plant responses. At the end of the day nutrients, soil, and water interact and the resulting conditions are used by a diversity of plants and animals. Understanding the ecological variability and these different potential options provides us with some flexibility when managing habitat from one year to the next. This helps us work with nature as opposed to fighting against it. Drawing the water down in some pools was well under way this year, but the recent rains remind us that our initial plans could change if this wet cycle continues.
The efficiency that technology often provides is great under optimal conditions. Unfortunately, optimal conditions rarely exist in wetlands so we must take a different approach and alter our expectations. Much like my great-grandpa used a variety of parts and pieces to build and repair his tractor, by promoting and using a diversity of plants the wetland habitat can handle the weather’s variability, take a beating, and keep on ticking into the next season.