Monday, January 31, 2011

Preview: "The Ecology and Managment of Prairies in the Central United States" by Chris Helzer

This is a book I'm currently reading. I might get to seriously reviewing it in detail at a later date but for now I feel like I've read enough. Bare in mind I'm from New Jersey. The target audience of this book is people with a lot of land living in the Tallgrass prairie region of the US, and some of the mixed grass region farther west. This includes North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa... with a touch of Arkansas and Indiana in there. And you'd think it would be fascinating to hear how prairies differ in such a wide range. However what's missing from this book seems to be the author himself, Chris Helzer. That is a shame because I really enjoy reading his blog, The Prairie Ecologist.

The author warns people to use local plant guides rather than ones covering a broader region because they tend to be to vague. Ironically that's also the problem here as it reads like a series of essays. The methods of managing a prairie, their consequences, and factors are all discussed. But what's lacking are examples from the author's own experience. There are no stories or comments given by the author to demonstrate any of the points. And I feel these would have helped break up the monotony a little.

To be fair Haying, Mowing, Prescribed Fires, Grazing, Using Herbicides, and out right doing nothing at all, will all yield different results if done at different times of the year, in various combinations, and if repeated the next season or not; and these will effect different plants differently. But he says it's not important for anyone to be expected to identify 150 to 300 species of plant so long as there are that many species present. This is a complex process and Chris Helzer doesn't make it any less confusing. It's really hard to get an idea that doing any of this will do anything. 

Here's an example. He discusses the use of haying or mowing to control weeds. (First off I he doesn't explain what haying is but I gather it's just like mowing but at a higher height and so that the plant cuttings are not returned to the soil. Non farmers might not know this.) He doesn't really offer any opinions on it. Doing it in the spring, summer, or fall can be both positive and negative to balancing grasses over forbs (non-woody flowering plants) as research has shown. He mentions the process over the summer and early fall time will likely kill grassland nesting birds or make them more vulnerable to predators. But this only seems to be a bad thing if you care about those birds.

Another gripe I have is the lack of species names. There's an appendix in the back that lists the species names to common names mentioned in this book. That's okay I guess, but it would be nice to know the genus and species name of plants like "Smooth Brome" when I come across it. 

I don't want to discourage him from writing, I just wish this book read more like his blog.