Posted by: Bridgett Hernandez

  • 04/16/2021

Celebrate Earth Day by restoring local land

“Restore Our Earth” is the theme of Earth Day 2021, and you have an opportunity to do just that here in your community!

Together with our members, ACRES Land Trust protects more than 7,200 acres of natural and working land in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. From planting trees to removing non-native, invasive species that threaten diverse habitats, our land management team restores local land year round.

Will you join us in celebrating Earth Day by supporting these efforts? All donations this week (April 19-23) will benefit restoration projects across the region. With your help, we can ensure the health and biodiversity of these natural areas for generations to come!

With the support of conservation partners, ACRES actively restores land across our 27-county service area. Read on for three examples of the restoration strategies our land management team deploys across the region.

1. Restoring former farmland

ACRES Stewardship Manager Evan Hill plants 20 species of native grasses and flowering plants at Founders Forest, a closed preserve where ACRES is restoring a former agricultural field to a prairie habitat.

ACRES protects over 500 acres of farmland, and some of this land will be restored to forest or wetland. We recently started using a new strategy to restore former farmland at properties like Founders Forest, a closed ACRES preserve in Allen County.

A field left to nature will begin to change over time. First, grasses and wildflowers become established followed by shrubs and trees. Eventually, the field becomes a hardwood forest. This process is called forest succession.

In the past, ACRES often skipped over the natural steps of forest succession to plant native hardwood saplings right away. Now, we’re adding those steps back in. This year, we used a seed drill to plant 20 species of native grasses and flowering plants at Founders Forest.

Giving a grassland time to become established allows essential nutrients and microbial communities to rebuild the impoverished top soil. Decomposing plants with deep root systems reestablish nutrient cycling, with the addition of carbon, nitrogen and other minerals. A forest planted after grassland may benefit from such restored soil communities.

2. Using prescribed fire to allow habitats to thrive

A prescribed burn takes place at Wildwood, an ACRES preserve in Kosciusko County.

Prescribed fire is one of the most efficient tools to manage wildlife habitat. Controlled burns involve the application of fire to a specific area during safe weather conditions. This strategy is used to mimic natural disturbances that improve habitat conditions. Some areas are at risk of being overwhelmed by species that move in and take over without disturbances to halt their spread.

This fall, our specially trained land management team will apply prescribed fire at Wing Haven, an ACRES nature preserve in Steuben County. The controlled burn will take place in an area which has become invaded with shrubs and trees that are shading more conservative grassland species accustomed to disturbance, such as a fire, more regularly than this habitat has experienced recently. Targeting the more aggressive trees and shrubs will allow this grassland habitat to thrive.

3. Removing non-native, invasive species

Volunteers remove the non-native, invasive species Autumn Olive during a workday at Dustin, Johnson & Whitehurst Preserves in Allen County.

Non-native, invasive species are one of the biggest threats to our natural areas. Protecting more than 7,200 acres of land requires persistent efforts to stop the spread of species that threaten natural communities.

At a 96-acre closed preserve in Wabash County, our land management team is taking aggressive measures to remove Autumn Olive, a non-native, invasive deciduous shrub that can grow as tall as 20 feet. It out-competes and displaces native plants by creating dense shade that hinders the growth of plants that need lots of sun.

ACRES mulched and mowed the densest infestations and followed up by treating resprouts. This year, we’re planting trees back into these areas. This process will restore the area to a more diverse, native species diversity that would have been present if it weren’t for the severe and sustained disturbances that took place decades ago.

2 Comments

Emily - April 19, 2021 - 9:46 pm

Wonderful to read about the mechanics involved in land management. It's fascinating to learn about our earth. Thank you for working smart, nurturing the land, and applying yourselves so diligently and faithfully!

Bridgett Hernandez - April 21, 2021 - 8:24 am

Thank you for your kind words of support! We love sharing what we do. We're so grateful for the members, volunteers and supporters who make this work possible!

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