Save the oaks; what does this phrase mean? At Fontenelle Forest, this phrase has a broad definition, from invasive species removal to mapping and public meetings to prescribed fire. Life for the Fontenelle Forest Conservation Department has taken an interesting step forward in our evolution to become a more efficient and effective conservation group. After field trips, several conferences, and grant awards, Fontenelle Forest is building on an effort that started in the late 1990’s. We plan to take on the challenge of restoring our oak woodlands on the Fontenelle and Neale Woods properties. Oak woodlands are in serious decline; according to the United States Forest Service over 32 million acres of oak woodlands and savannas existed in the early 1900’s, as of 1985 only 6400 acres of high quality habitat was left. This unique and widely distributed habitat that once reached from Canada to Texas and Pennsylvania to Nebraska is now restricted to isolated pockets that are too steep to log or support grazers.
Why is this so important? Oak trees are very important, specifically bur oaks. These oaks are a very resilient species with thick bark that helps combat historic fire regimes set by Native Americans and rigorous longevity that has been proven to withstand changing climatic conditions. Bur oaks, and the ecotype in which they are a part of, give the modern day land manager hope. Climate change at this point is a likely scenario, so as land managers and conservationist we are now looking to the future and ensuring our beloved woods and savannas can reach a point where they are healthy enough to withstand warming temperatures, periods of extended droughts, and competition from a variety of non-native invasive species.
What does the future hold for the properties of Fontenelle Forest? With expanded staff, forging partnerships the Nebraska Oak Woodland Alliance, better training opportunities, and newer equipment, we feel the future is bright for our properties and offers our department hope for the future. As we expand our efforts in improving the overall health of our land with prescribed fire, education, and any of the other various on-the-ground land management techniques we hope that you see more and more noticeable differences in the dynamics of the forest as a whole. Pay attention the ground flora, look for openings in the canopy, and watch for new flowing water that comes from the spring seeps in the hills. As one of the few urban woodlands in the state of Nebraska, we hope to educate the community about the importance of not only having a green space to hike in, but having a fully functioning and healthy habitat that can withstand years of public use, while also influencing the community positively.
Thanks for your time and look for more updates as our conservation department embarks on an adventure that will hopefully out live all of our careers.
Matt Miller, Restoration Biologist
Photos by Peter Carbonell