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#savetheoaks: A Day in the Life of a Land Steward

Each morning, we get in our cars drive through the city, and see many individuals dragging along, drinking coffee and reluctantly heading to their place of employment. For me this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our daily work operations, at Fontenelle Forest, whether it is winter, spring, summer, or fall is always different and monotony isn’t a word we use around these parts.

Around 7:30 a.m. I arrive at the Conservation Center at Camp Brewster willing and ready to start my day. It is February and, for the stewards, this is time for us to polish some of our savanna reconstructions. Planning for this type of operation is usually talked about during our weekly department meetings. Place, time spent, and personnel for the job are all topics discussed. After the meeting, we review maps and make our final observations before we actually put boots on the ground.

Thinning is the word of the day for the crew. What does this mean you may ask? Thinning is a technique used to selectively cut or girdle understory and canopy trees to open up the forest floor to about 10 to 50 percent sunlight. This process allows a diverse herbaceous layer to grow under uncontested oaks and hickories on hill top ridges. The technique of thinning for oak savanna restoration is very time consuming and costly; we use these four and half months in late fall, winter, and early spring to clear our savanna hill tops to avoid harming breeding birds that may be nesting during the summer months.

Oak woodland management is very hard on equipment, especially when you are thinning some dense and highly degraded ridge tops.  So at the end of the day cleaning and maintaining our equipment is very important.  This is a team effort; from cleaning the six chainsaws and one brush cutter that we possess, to sharping all of their chains, it is very time consuming but important.   Along with daily chores of checking and cleaning equipment, we always make sure our work sites are geo-referenced using a GPS unit and that we record any observations that are made.  We also note whether more work on an area is needed. By days end, GPS coordinates are loaded into ArcMAP software so that we can plan our next day improving the health of the oak woodlands we all love.

The purpose of this post is to give you, the reader, and some insight into the daily operation of the land steward group.  We don’t always do the same things day in and day out but, in general, we restore native ecosystems, repair and maintain our 50 or so pieces of equipment, and map all management and potential management work throughout the forest.  I live by a simple and sometimes over-used quote: “You will never work a day in your life as long as you love your job.” Each day our little oasis is an escape from the city life, which puts a smile on my face.

Thanks for your time and look for more posts soon!

– Matt Miller, Restoration Biologist

Header image: Jim Beebe, Chief Ranger of Neale Woods, and Matt Miller working at Neale Woods.

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