Restoring Ecological Integrity
Pierce Cedar Creek Institute is home to a wide variety of natural communities, including re-constructed prairies, successional forests, mature oak/hickory and beech/maple forests, hardwood and conifer swamps, marshes and prairie fens, Those communities support several species listed on state or federal “endangered,” “threatened” or “special concern” lists.
Stewardship efforts are focused on identifying best land managment practices to promote biodiversity and resilient natural communities and sharing our findings with landowners and other conservation institutions. Primary components of these efforts include promotiong natural processes such as fire; limiting spread of invastive pests, patnogens, and plants; and incorporating bioloigcial field station and experiemental resoration findings into land management strategies.
Prairie and Savanna Conservation
Contrary to common knowledge/belief, southwest Michigan historically had many fire dependent communities of prairie, oak savanna, and woodlands. Today only a few small remnants of plants and animals associated with these communities remain, and many are in decline as a result. The Institute has converted over 100 acres of fallow farm field into native tall and short grass prairie since purchasing the property in 1998 to promote pollinator and other grassland species while also serving as a reference site for education and research.
The process of converting pre-existing agricultural fields into prairie ecosystem is a multi-year process. The stewardship department is committed to using species and seed genotypes native to the Great Lakes region. Seeds are broadcast on the surface or drilled into the ground. Over several years of development and prescribed mowing, prairie grasses and wildflowers will begin to establish. Over time and with the integration of natural disturbances, such as fire, plants populations will begin to expand and thrive in their preferred microhabitats.
Fire is an important natural disturbance to the landscape. The stewardship department maintains prairies and savanna structure and diveristy with prescribed fires intentionally ignited under a strict set of weather and site conditions. Prior to widespread European settlement in West Michigan, fires ignited by lightning strike or more commonly Indigenous people managed open characteristics of prairie, savanna and oak woodlands.The fire maintained the openings and set back encroaching shrubs and trees, allowing for increased light penetration, stimulating native plants, reducing competition from invasive plants and fertilizing the soil with ash. Without fires, Michigan’s prairies, savannas, and other fire-dependent ecosystems are quickly degrading into dense shrublands. Prescribed fire is helping to conserve native ecosystems. Click here to learn more about prescribed fires.
The Institute’s oak savanna and oak woodland communities habitats continue to undergo management supported by grants provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Wildlife Habitat Grant Program the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). Stewardship Department staff and Steeby Land Management Fellows work on monitoring, invasive species control, and mid-story thinning in management units to open mid-story canopy, increasing herbacious plant diversity within the understory and promoting oak regeneration. In addition to these restoration activities, recent prairies/ oak savannah establishment is occuring on the Jones parcel, near meadow lodge, and adjacent to the Storybook walk.