Field Notes – March 2016
Greetings Fontenelle Forest Members and Friends!
We are excited that spring is just around the corner! Of course, that means the Forest will soon be awakening from its long winter slumber. Plants will be growing again and Forest animals will become more active and visible. Migratory birds will also soon be using the Forest as a ‘rest stop’ as they move north to their nesting grounds – and some will make their summer homes right here.
In the meantime, lots of exciting things are going on around here. Our new Raptor Woodland Refuge exhibit is nearing completion. This outdoor display will showcase more than twenty live, non-releasable birds of prey. We are looking forward to the Grand Opening of our one-of-a-kind Raptor Woodland Refuge in the late-spring to early-summer timeframe (Specifics will be announced on the Forest website).
Enrollment is now open for our 2016 summer Nature Discovery Day Camp programs. The various day camp experiences target different age groups of students with age-appropriate nature activities. Sign up your children today for these fun-filled summer learning adventures! Click here for camp listings and to register today.
With the coming of spring, numerous groups of school children are now visiting Fontenelle Forest to learn about the water cycle, the food chain, and the habitats of many of the amazing flora and fauna who call the Forest home. Forest Education team members are also visiting classrooms across the metro area to help students learn about the natural world. Last year, more than 35,000 school children participated in Forest-sponsored natural science classes and field study. About one-third of the students were from low-income households and attended for free.
In addition to young people, our Forest Educators also provide programs about the natural world to senior citizens. Last year about 5,000 elder Americans attended more than 300 Forest-sponsored SUN: Seniors Understanding Nature outreach programs throughout the Omaha and Council Bluffs area. Monthly SUN programs were also conducted onsite at the Forest.
Fontenelle Forest also offers many other ways for members to experience, learn about and enjoy the natural world. We offer over 200 public education programs each year including live animal demonstrations, nature activities, guided hikes, and major science exhibits. Our live raptor education programs are offered locally and throughout the state of Nebraska. The Forest even offers an online nature learning opportunity. Our NatureSearch website is an online field guide for the flora and fauna of Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods. NatureSearch offers close up photos and descriptive information about many of the plants and animals who inhabit or visit our properties.
Now let’s turn our attention to the Fontenelle Forest’s Save the Oaks woodland restoration initiative. As you may recall, last year Fontenelle Forest was awarded a three-year grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. This grant enables the Forest to create and implement a comprehensive oak woodland and wildlife restoration strategy for Neale Woods and Fontenelle Forest. The grant will help fund the restoration and enhancement of more than 1,100 acres of oak woodland, floodplain forest and prairie.
An array of restoration strategies which include prescribed fire, invasive species control, and thinning shade-tolerant shrubs are targeted for use at both locations. As a result, when you are out hiking you may notice new service roads, wider trails and fire breaks in some areas of Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods. You may also occasionally see or smell smoke from controlled burns conducted at either property. Oak trees are fire resistant with thick bark and deep roots, and are thus fire-tolerant. Over the past several years, we have restored small segments of oak savannas on ridge tops at both Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods. We have also conducted controlled burns on some prairie and woodland tracts at Neale Woods.
Through deployment of various restoration activities in the years to come, we anticipate that sizable tracts of our oak woodland will be restored to the condition of a healthy ecosystem. Opening up the tree canopy will allow more light to reach to the forest floor. This in turn will clear the way for germination and growth of more oak seedlings. It will also promote the growth of a diverse mix of native wildflowers, grasses and sedges. These plants will provide habitat for diverse animal species ranging from bats to bees to deer to woodpeckers. A more open woodland and canopy will allow more airflow and breezes, thus reducing the number of pesky mosquitoes and increasing wind-blown flower and grass seed dispersal.
Finally, since spring is right around the corner, our 25 miles of hiking trails (eight miles at Neale Woods and 17 miles at Fontenelle Forest) will soon be ice-free and dry enough for enjoyable hiking . I hope you’ll plan to take advantage of the many opportunities afforded by the Forest to experience the emergence of spring and enjoy the quiet wild of nature. See you on the trails!
Tad Leeper, Interim Executive Director