CLB Journal

Summer 2016

Juniper Management Field Day

On April 9th, 2016, the Hill Country Land Trust hosted the first of two educational field days for the year at the C.L. Browning Ranch in Blanco County. Led by Browning ranch manager and HCLT board member Scott Gardner, and former board member and well-known natural resource educator Steve Nelle, the workshop offered a number of strategies and methods for managing Ashe juniper (cedar). The thirty-eight people who attended the field day learned that Ashe juniper removal is most successful when treated on a site-specific basis, by using a variety of tools and techniques, instead of extreme clear cutting.

Steve Nelle and Scott Gardner discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Juniper management

Steve described the beneficial ecological values and functions of Ashe juniper, including its historic role in the landscape. The effects of over-grazing, loss of topsoil, and lack of natural fire were listed as the primary reasons why Ashe juniper been able to dominate in many places, especially in depleted or degraded areas. In those locations where all the topsoil has been eroded from hills and slopes, Ashe juniper is among the few plants that can colonize barren areas and play an important role in restoring new topsoil and organic litter. Alternatively, when soil is present, removing or thinning Ashe juniper can lead to the recovery of soil-retaining grasses, perennial forbs beneficial to wildlife, and numerous other native tree species.

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Scott describes the planning process that determined where and where not to remove the Ashe juniper on the Browning Ranch.

A description of how the C.L. Browning Ranch planned their project to reduce Ashe juniper was provided, including the important decision of where not remove the juniper. Historical imagery research identified where old growth juniper was located, and on-site observations identified prime Golden cheeked warbler habitat, north-facing slopes and/or any slope greater than 20%, and riparian corridors as locations where no juniper thinning would occur. Due to the challenges of disposing of cut juniper, special attention was devoted to showing the beneficial response on grasses, forbs, and trees when the juniper slash was left spread out over the site. Scott demonstrated how on the “juniper blanket method” used on the C.L. Browning Ranch provided numerous benefits, such as increasing the amount of loose topsoil retained by the fallen branches, more germination of Little bluestem under the cut branches as a result of different temperature and moisture conditions, and the emergence of young tree species under the branches which protected them from Whitetail deer browsing. Cut juniper branches also improved habitat for wildlife, especially Bobwhite quail. The overall message for the day was that properly planned, juniper thinning on a site-by-site basis can improve plant diversity, wildlife habitat, livestock forage, and aesthetic value. Conversely, the message was also stressed that improperly planned juniper management efforts can increase soil erosion and habitat loss, which is turn, reduces land value. The concluding message for the day was that like most beneficial management practices in the Texas Hill Country, juniper management is not a one-time project. As Scott and Steve emphasized, it is a life-long process that requires a commitment to continued follow-up control.

Steve Nelle and Scott Gardner discuss with the group the importance of re-seeding areas disturbed in the Juniper thinning process

An educational video on managing juniper was also filmed during the field day. Stay tuned to learn when that video will be published, and for further detailed information on this common Hill Country management topic.

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Fire Department uses Water Barn

The Rainwater Collection Barn for Community Fire Suppression mentioned in previous posts recently received its first visit from the Johnson City Volunteer Fire Department. Investigators believe that a brush fire was intentionally ignited across the Pedernales River from us that required much of the JCVFD fleet to suppress. Instead of driving the tanker truck back into Johnson City to re-fill, they filled up at our water barn right across the highway from the fire. Using the pumps on the tanker truck, JCVFD personnel were able to fill the three thousand gallon tanker truck in less than fifteen minutes. The driver mentioned that their access to our water barn saved them roughly twenty-five minutes on their re-filling task. We enter this information into a log book that tabulates the time-savings benefit per year that our rainwater tank provides the local volunteer fire department.

The picture below was taken with my cell phone at dusk, so the image quality is really poor.

Converting old barns into rainwater collection systems for community fire suppression is an easy project for landowners that can provide significant regional benefits. Remember...five hundred and fifty gallons of water per thousand square feet of roof space per one inch of rain.

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