Spring Showers Bring Prairie Flowers

By Fiona Edwards, Graduate Research Assistant

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A bumblebee visits large blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) and sea pink (Plectritus congesta). Photo by Jaal Mann.

Several Fridays ago, SPP hosted a Prairie Tour at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in order to share the rare landscape with WDOC and TESC partners. Jim Lynch, Field Biologist for the Fort Lewis Fish and Wildlife Program, led us to two different prairie sites where he explained the importance of maintaining these nearly nonexistent ecosystems.

Jim began the tour by explaining that JBLM has one of the largest last remaining prairies in Washington because it is constantly lit on fire both by military exercises and prescribed burns. Controlled burns are an important ecological function in prairie habitats and were used centuries ago by Native Americans for agricultural purposes. Without these fires, Douglas fir trees and other invasive species (such as Scotch broom) would take over the prairies. Jim stressed the importance of maintaining prairie ecosystems for its endemic species–species that are found nowhere else. The JBLM prairies are home to the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, Mazama pocket gopher, and Streaked horn lark, all of which will soon be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Jim showed us the recent outplantings from SPP conservation nursery production. The native plantings are crucial to maintaining prairie biodiversity. Furthermore, these plants are key to the Taylor’s checkerspot’s survival, as they rely on them for food and shelter.

The tour not only revealed the integral connection between the conservation nursery and the butterfly-rearing program, but between the partners that were present. The work that the conservation and butterfly-rearing crews accomplish in the prisons manifests on the prairies at JBLM. Members of SPP, WDOC, and Evergreen witnessed this complex process during the Prairie Tour, and we were all reminded of the invaluable collaboration required to achieve such a feat. I look forward to the next trip out to the JBLM prairies.

SPP's Carl Elliott shows Drissia Ras, Julie Vanneste, Eric Heinitz, and Fiona Edwards lomatium (Lomatium utriculatum). Photo by Jaal Mann.

SPP’s Carl Elliott shows lomatium (Lomatium utriculatum) to Drissia Ras, Julie Vanneste, Eric Heinitz, and Fiona Edwards. Photo by Jaal Mann.

WDOC Videographer William C. Mader shoots in an oak woodland prairie. Photo by Jaal Mann.

WDOC Videographer William C. Mader shoots in an oak woodland prairie. Photo by Jaal Mann.

 

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