Blue Heron Ministries

An opportunity to be stewards of our Lord's creation within the context of community


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Greeting Earth Day at LaTierra- Saturday, April April 22 at 8am

What better place to start off and recognize Earth Day, Saturday, April 22nd, than a walk at Blue Heron Ministries’ La Tierra Sanctuary?

Join interpretive naturalist Fred Wooley and Blue Heron Ministries at the La Tierra Sanctuary for an early morning walk over preserve trails on this special day, at this special time of year, in this special nature preserve. Bring binoculars and dress for weather. The leisurely-paced discovery walk will be a perfect way to being Earth Day, welcome spring, and take not of the blessings of nature around us. Hikers will search for spring migrating birds above, blooming wildflowers below and all nature in-between.

The preserve is located on CR 1000 East, on half mile south of SR 120, six miles east of Fremont. 3845 N 1000 E Fremont, IN 46737.


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The Burning Begins… by Fred Wooley

This unusually warm and snowless mid-winter has given Blue Heron Ministries a jump on our “spring” burn season for prescription fires. The main goal of fire, of course, is the ecological benefits it brings to native landscapes, checking back the non-natives and enhancing conditions for native plants to thrive. We also do it to clear the land of last year’s plants making it easier to spread seed or treat certain plants remaining with herbicide.

Blue Heron Ministries office meeting 2

The project boards in the Blue Heron office show about 40 prescribed burns hoping to get accomplished this spring. Getting the early jump has been helpful. While a skilled and trained team to do the actual burns is required, much work takes place before fire reaches the ground. Detailed burn plans for each individual burn considers overall objectives, then addresses the potential fuel, area size, local conditions, surrounding properties, the required crew size, resources and weather conditions needed to accomplish.

 

Beforehand, on site, fire breaks need to be constructed or updated to assist controlling the fire. When all preparations are said and done and permits are procurred, the sites to burn on a given day are determined if all parameters fall into the “prescriptions” to burn. Hence the name “prescribed fire.”

Peter Bauson taking temperatures and relative humidity

Even with all of the pre-work done, on-site,  day-of-burn conditions are still ascertained. Fuel conditions are studied and immediate weather condition are taken with wind speed and direction indicators, thermometer, and a sling psychrometer for determining relative humidity. It all has to be the right conditions.

 

When all is acceptable, the site is walked by the crew, site maps in hand, discussing the plan and what can be expected. When that is done, teams take their positions and the burn begins. The speed of work is determined by the immediate weather and how the fire is responding. Perfect conditions allow for steady progress. More difficult conditions take more time. Slow and steady for safety is always the key.

 

When complete, the burned area with crisp fire breaks, is a thing of beauty. We take a moment to take it in as we do our after action review and make notes of the fire behavior, how we handled developments during the burn, and what we might do differently next time.

Peter Bauson with flapper and Ben Aberle with drip torch lighting flank fire c

The real beauty though lies ahead when the plants and the landscape respond with new growth, flowers, and fruits. Watch for details of our demonstration burn coming up on Saturday, April 8, 2017.

 


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Duff Lake Seeding Continues by Fred Wooley

In 2016 a huge effort was conducted by Blue Heron Ministries employees and volunteers to collect seeds from native plants. Much of this seed has been directed to a very extensive restoration at Duff Lake, part of the Pine Knob County Park, a unit of LaGrange County Parks and Recreation.

Peter Bauson planting along ditch

Did we say, “HUGE” project? Much work has been done at Duff Lake to take out ditches and tiles and reestablish (to the best of our knowledge and abilities), what was there prior to agricultural changes. There have been major changes to the hydrology and landscape shape to return it to pre-disturbance conditions, Much effort has also been spent to herbicide the nonnative plants that do not belong there.

The next step in restoration took place this winter, sowing the seeds of native species we collected all last year. The Blue Heron barn full of bags of seeds were processed and taken the Duff Lake. Sowing seeds was by various methods: by drop fertilizer spreaders pulled behind a ATV, by broadcast fertilizer mounted on both tractors and ATVs, and by the old-fashioned-hopper-suspended-from-a-harness-hand-crank method. We even had a December hand sowing with BHM volunteers one winter weekend day.

Duff Lake planting

In all, almost 450 pounds of hand-collected (and a little acquired native seed) seed was broadcast on approximately 41.5 acres of lowland. That amount of seed is about half of what we need on the land. We plan to do it all again this coming summer, fall, and winter.

Now the waiting begins, as we look forward to germination, growth, and then blooms. Watch for future trips to Pine Knob and Duff Lake to check it out… and to collect and sow more seed!


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Blue By You by Fred Wooley

cut showing yellow pith

When cutting and herbiciding the stems to control invasive non-native plants, the technique involves dabbing the cut stem or stump with an herbicide to prevent future growth. To help keep track of what stems are treated, a blue dye is mixed with the herbicide. Possibly you will notice the residual of such if you visit a Blue Heron Ministries worksite. It does fade, though, with age.

It came to me at a project at the The Nature Center Conservancy’s Fawn River Fen, that not all remain blue. One characteristic that aids in the identification of the invasive Japanese Barberry, is the pith of bright yellow when cut. It’s unmistakable. Add the deep blue to that stem and you get… (think back to elementary school and mixing primary colors).. green!

blue to green

The cutting and treating of stems can get sort of mindless when doing so hour after hour. We look for breaks and take in the true beauty of what’s around us while working. Sometimes it can also be something subtle… like the mixing of colors in our work.


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Lake Winter Wandering by Beth Williams

tapping a tree

It doesn’t take much to entertain my sons. So when I told them that we were going to hike at LaTierra with Nate, their response was “cool.” They’re generally up for a challenge and like to soak up new information, and this hike with Nate didn’t disappoint.

 

A crisp Saturday afternoon in the woods is a great way to explore the world around them and burn off a little pent-up energy. It;s always fun to learn something new.

 

On this particular day, they discovered how to tap a Sugar Maple by hand, even though it took a few tries; how to “ride a tree” (climb a sapling until it bends, and then ride it down); what owl pellets look like and that owls can’t digest the bones of what they’ve eaten; but their favorite part is likely at the end, when they get to talk about it all over hot chocolate and brownies.


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Planting Duff Lake Fen by Ben Aberle

The culmination of our two-year seed collection campaign is finally upon us as we finish sowing the seeds at Duff Lake Fen before the ground thaws. This seed has been eagerly collected by many hands over the past two years and represents a pure genetic code. It was patiently cleaned by hand, and carefully stored. It was anxiously transported in rainy conditions and rigorously mixed with over a ton of oats. The prairie seed alone weighed almost 450 pounds!

SONY DSC

 

Now, we breathe a sigh of relief as the seed rests on the ground waiting for the right conditions to begin life anew. We rest too, but not for long, for we will collect again this summer and overseed the entire property next winter.

 

The work of sowing seed in a wetland requires mathematical foresight, fearlessness operating an ATV, and a willingness to let go. We had to make sure to spread the total amount of seed evenly over a large area (about 56 acres will be planted this year). The first step is knowing how many pounds of seed per acre. The next step is calibrating our equipment.

ben-seeding-duff-lake-fen1

 

Sometimes this means to drive at a natural pace with perfectly flowing seed. Sometimes it means driving pell-mell over frost-heaving muck bumps in order to get the seed to come out. Once our equipment is calibrated we try to cover as much area as we can while the ground is still frozen.

 

The state of the ground is important when it comes to traversing the wet morass that Duff Lake has become since the ditches were filled. Any ground that isn’t covered with water needs to have seed on it. However, that doesn’t mean that the ground will be solid enough to hold a person or ATV. Duff Lake has many places which look solid but were very recently open channels o water.

 

So we tested our limits an trusted that it we got stuck then we could also get out. We found out that most of the formerly-ditch-ground could be traveled while frozen. We also discovered five areas that could NOT be. Luckily for us we had a tow strap handy and fellow comrades (and trucks, ATVs and tractors) to pull us out.

stuck-atv-at-duff-lake-fen

 

For me it has been rewarding to return native seed to a place where I have worked so often and have come to know very well. The planting felt like a culmination of what we have done thus far although there is much more work to be done.


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Late Winter Exploration- Saturday, March 4 at 1PM

It’s time to get out and see what’s happening in the woods! If the weather cooperates, we may be able to see the sap flowing from the Sugar Maples and learn about making maple syrup.

 

There can be a few challenges along the trail, but the area is fairly easy for children to traverse.

 

The preserve is located on CR 1000 East, on-half mile south of SR 120, six miles east of Fremont (3845 N 1000 E Fremont, IN 46737).

 

Meet us at LaTierra parking lot at 1PM, parking is limited.