• Help Conserve and Restor the Forest; Volunteer with Land Stewardship

    • Share:
    June 17, 2022

    Hiking through Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods, you may notice that the landscape is changing. We often get questions about dense stands of dying trees, dramatic new openings, and brush piles. All of this is a part of a multifaceted ecological restoration initiative in progress at Fontenelle Forest. Our land management team is working to restore the majestic oak savannas that once dominated this ecologically unique area between the Missouri River floodplain to the east and the tallgrass prairie to the west. We are at the precipice of a critical turning point to restore our oak systems before they are lost forever.

    Bur oak trees are the keystone species for our upland community, but a demographic crisis is playing out before our eyes. Oak trees can live for hundreds of years, but compared to other trees, they grow much, much slower.  Most of our bur oaks are senior citizens. Every mast year, these ancient oaks are producing fewer and fewer viable acorns. That makes every young bur oak sprout immensely valuable.

    Over the last 200 years, we have removed all the historical disturbances that kept the system in balance. Without the aid of fire, elk, and bison, a multitude of invasive species and an overabundance of woody plants have taken the place of prairie grasses and forbs. These fast-growing woody plants have grown up and around the remaining oak sprouts, depriving them of sunlight. So while an oak may sprout, it won’t get enough sunlight to make it past the first year.

    Therefore, we are setting back the clock. Every year, land management staff and volunteers are diligently removing undesirable woody overgrowth and invasive species with chainsaws, brush cutters, skid loaders, and herbicides. Biologists identify where there are valuable plant communities in abundance and ensure these remain intact. Where these are not present, we prepare the soil for native savanna seeds. Into the newly exposed and sunny soil, volunteers sow seed into these openings with native prairie species from local sources. The work does not stop there, or ever for that matter. These areas will be annually burned through prescribed fire or mowed to simulate grazing. Biologists will continue expanding these openings and creating habitat corridors to connect the openings and allow for the movement of native species between them. All areas are continually monitored for the emergence of new invasive or valuable species that could threaten or improve our system.

    Habitat restoration requires immense commitment, patience, and strategic long-term attention. None of this could happen without the support of our community stakeholders, who communicate our mission, volunteer time in the field, and donate to keep our restoration work in motion. While the work area may look at times like a construction site, give it a few years. Return after the seeds have had time to stratify and germinate after the birds and pollinators have discovered the location. Much like the colorful prairie openings that can be found at Neale Woods, you’ll find an explosion of biodiversity returning, the sounds and sights of which haven’t been heard or seen there for a century.

    Do you like being outside in nature year-round, staying active with physical activities, and the idea of assisting Fontenelle Rangers and Biologists with restoration efforts in your backyard Forest?

    The volunteer Land Stewardship crew meets on select Saturday mornings to work on various projects. Anyone is welcome to join, even if it’s just one time. Bring the family and get some hard work done with us.
    Projects, start time, and location will be announced via email blast 10 days prior to the workday.
    Please see the updated information below and changes due to COVID-19:
    We will ask that you sign a COVID waiver/statement. We will be splitting up into separate meet-up points in groups of NO MORE THAN 10 volunteers, plus a staff member. We also will not be providing food. We ask that you bring your own gloves, eye protection, mask (for group settings and potential encounters with hikers/guests), and water bottle.

    TO RECEIVE MORE INFO AND SIGN UP:
    IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING, PLEASE FILL OUT THE FORM BELOW. YOU WILL BE REGISTERED TO RECEIVE THE EMAIL BLAST ANNOUNCING THE DETAILS OF OUR NEXT WORKDAY (ANNOUNCED 10 DAYS PRIOR TO THE WORKDAY).
    YOU MUST opt-in to the email blast via the link above by 5:00 p.m. 10 days ahead of the workday in order to receive the information for registration.
    YOU MUST REGISTER for the specific time/location for which you want to volunteer. Details and registration links will be sent to you 10 days prior to the workday. Because we are limiting group size, if you’re not on the list we can’t let you participate.
    Register here: https://fontenelleforest.us7.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=5cec26f82a09c91c9f63aa46f&id=9561ecabe3
    Contact:
    Bridget Hanson, Marketing and Communications Assistant
    bhanson@fontenelleforest.org, (402) 731-3140
  • Upcoming Events