By Derek Shiels, Conservation Easement Specialist, Little Traverse Conservancy
Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, we impact the creatures on our lands and in our waters. With careful and intentional actions, our influence can be positive. A great example of how active stewardship can benefit wild creatures is to look at grassland communities. Grasslands will naturally be overcome with shrubs and trees if they are not actively kept open, yet grasslands offer a whole suite of creatures from butterflies to birds.
Historically, open areas here in forest country would come and go over time. The natural disturbances that maintained the cycle of open areas occur less frequently today because our natural areas are more restricted in size and scope and are closer to human habitation. The conservation of grassland communities will require human intervention to actively maintain open areas.
As part of the Little Traverse Conservancy’s ongoing, multi-year project to restore the Meadowgate Nature Preserve to an open meadow of native species, several volunteer groups have helped remove the exotics, clear brush, and prepare the land for reseeding.
In the fall of 2015, Harbor Springs middle schoolers helped the Conservancy create and disperse hundreds of native seed bombs at the preserve. Conservancy staff worked alongside Kelli Polley’s Harbor Springs 6th graders to create the seed bombs in their class. Mixing donated clay with water and wildflower seeds, the students formed golf sized balls that were left to dry overnight. The following day, they traveled by school bus to the preserve along M-119 just outside of Harbor Springs to “disperse” or throw the bombs around the meadow. Middle School principal Wil Cwikiel helped direct the bombs by running along the meadow with a hoola hoop target.
Needing at least 30 days of cold to make them viable, the seeds lie dormant during the winter and then undergo a process called “cold stratification.” As the land goes through cycles of freezing and thawing in the late winter and spring, germination is triggered and the plants will emerge in the spring and early summer.
A grant from the Wildflower Association of Michigan allowed for the purchase of the native seeds. Clay for the seed bombs was donated by Stuchell Ceramics.
“This project is exactly what we imagine our EcoStewards program to entail: engaging students in nature, on our preserves, and accomplishing something meaningful. In this case, students have added several species of native wildflowers for the benefit of a host of creatures on up the food chain. We humans will also benefit as we drive by and see the colors. Just wait!”