Friday, July 25, 2014

Tree Hugging for Science!

Tree inventories tell us about our forests. They tell the story of our trees by providing clues about past conditions, telling us about the current circumstances and health of the forest and hinting at what the forest may look like in the future. Inventories are vital to understanding our forests and in helping us manage them.

A cottonwood looming over the river.
By regularly inventorying the trees, we can evaluate the success of our management and restoration efforts.

The importance of inventories struck home after the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Network traveled to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) do conduct a vegetation survey that revealed surprising news – they could find no young cottonwoods in the floodplain.

This shocked everyone. Who would have guessed the trees that release millions of seeds that float through the air like snowfall in June aren't regenerating? Thanks to the inventory, the Mississippi River Fund is working with the National Park Service and other partners to seek out a solution to this problem.

With the impact of the last park-wide inventory in mind, we are excited to start a tree inventory program at Coldwater.  This is a new activity for both the Mississippi River Fund and MNRRA  staff so when Suzy and Jessica, leaders of the 2011 park-wide inventory from the Inventory and Monitoring Network, offered to train me and Christine, a biological science technician here at MNRRA, we happily accepted.

Suzy and Jessica explained that they collect data around transects, randomly selected lines that are called transects. These transects are 50 meters long. After they lay out a tape measure showing where the transect lies, they record information on the species, diameter, and general health of all trees are 3 meters or less away from the line. They then regularly stop along the line to record what tree seedlings, shrubs, and non-woody plants they see in the transect.

Compass skills were a must for the inventory.
Laying the line.
After that, it was a hands-on training. Christine and I practiced our compass skills to help record the beginning and end points of the transects and make sure the line was straight.

Once the line was established we got to work taking data on the plants within the transect.

After training with Suzy and Jessica, Christine and I were ready to lay out transects at Coldwater Spring and get started.

It’s a lot of work to take data on so many plants. We are excited to have a team of volunteers from the Tree Care Advisor program, a fellow MN GreenCorps member, a Teacher Ranger Teacher and a UWCA Intern put their tree knowledge to use as inventory volunteers for the Mississippi River Fund and MNRRA. Over the last few weeks, we have been tromping up and down the slopes of Coldwater Spring collecting valuable information about the forest that will tell us about the condition of the forest, inform our management plan and provide baseline data that will help us evaluate the success of our restoration efforts.

Volunteers identified trees and noted their size by measuring the diameter at breast height. 

Checking to make sure the tree is in the transect.
Meticulously identifying trees.
Sometimes to find the appropriate height to measure at they have to get very cozy with the trees and do some serious tree hugging!

Team work was sometimes required to measure the especially large trees.

We counted every tree in the transect that was alive, no matter how unusual the situation. One  poor tree was pinned to the ground by a larger tree that had fallen on it. It was still alive so it still needed to be counted and measured!

Laying on the ground to measure the pinned tree.
With the data the Tree Inventory Team collected, we will soon know more about the forests at Coldwater, which will help us in creating a tailored forest restoration and management plan. We will be completing a follow up inventory in a few years and by comparing data from the inventories we will also be able to measure the success of our restoration efforts.

Tree Inventory Team 2014
Thank you inventory volunteers! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Otter Cam Reveals More Than Just Otters

By Allison Holdhusen, Biological Science Technician with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

In April, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area biologists headed down to Fort Snelling State Park to set up a remote camera on known river otter habitat. We wanted to see if otters were still using the site and what other wildlife shared their habitat. River otter are a sign of a healthy river ecosystem. By better understanding the otter's behaviors, interactions and choice of prey and habitats, we can better understand the Mississippi River's ecological community as a whole.

The Mississippi River Fund financially supports the park's otter research because both organizations are interested in river otters due to their status as top predators in the aquatic ecosystem and indicators of a healthy river. They had disappeared from southern Minnesota for more than a century due to pollution and trapping, and have recently returned to the Twin Cities. Now that these elusive creatures are making a comeback we are excited to learn more about their populations and habitat use so we can better understand how we can help them.

The camouflaged camera, triggered by motion sensors, is an ideal tool for observing elusive otter and other nocturnal wildlife activity. We checked the camera weekly and captured photos and videos for 42 nights.

The results were exciting! Spotting a river otter in the Twin Cities is pretty rare, but with otter tracks and scat nearby, we hoped they’d return to the same spot. And they did! We caught a river otter on camera in the first week.

The camera also got nice shots of great blue heron, raccoon, mink, coyote, muskrat, and waterfowl. There were lots of photos of raccoons, which are very abundant in the Twin Cities, while top predators like coyote and river otter were only seen once or twice. Sometimes something as small as a spider would trigger the camera.

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area biologists plan to further study coyote and river otter in the coming months using remote cameras.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tree mysteries to tough cookies: Top ten reasons to come to Second Saturday at Coldwater Spring

By Kate Havelin, Community Outreach

Ten tree-mendous reasons to bring your family to Second Saturday at Coldwater Spring, July 12th from 9 AM to noon:

10. Tree Mysteries! Cue the eerie music…We’ve got a mystery in the park. Come hear what’s happening to cottonwoods, some of the tallest trees in the forest floodplain. Eagles like to nest in cottonwoods, but lately, the big trees have hit a big snag.
9. Coldwater Spring is conveniently located—tucked between Minnehaha Falls Regional Park and Fort Snelling State Park. It’s a quick and easy way to visit our local national park, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. You don’t need a park pass to visit Coldwater Spring, located at 5601 Minnehaha Park Drive South, Minneapolis. You can bike, drive, or take light rail to Coldwater, which has limited free parking, with metered parking nearby.
8. Geocaching! Use our National Park GPS to find cool caches hidden in the park. Our geocache course is easy for all, so whether you’re new to geocaching or not, come scout out our adventures.
7. Explore the trails of Coldwater. Walk & hike throughout the park and down to the river along trails that show you the wilderness in the heart of the city. Bike along the trails that border the park to the east and west.
6. Cookies! OK, they’re not edible. Our tough cookies are full of fiber. They’re slices of old trees. Kids can count the rings on the tree cookies to figure out a tree’s age.
5. Try one, two, or three different scavenger hunts. From easy to challenge, our scavenger hunts are ideal for everyone in the family. Ours is a nature-friendly game; no need to pick up or collect anything. Just grab a crayon and a scavenger hunt sheet, walk around the park and circle what you see, hear and smell.
4. Easy-to-do crafts—we’ve got all the supplies so kids can do a quick and simple make-and-take craft.
3. Coldwater blends new and old, with a historic 1880 springhouse and a newly restored oak savanna prairie. From birds and bugs nesting in tall grasses to fish swimming in the reservoir, come explore life at the park. Since 2012, Mississippi River Fund and National Park Service volunteers have planed 500 trees and more than a 1,000 native plants.
2. Every Second Saturday, kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge, and visitors can chat with a National Park Service ranger. Ask a ranger about bugs, trees, and what’s happening at the park.
1. Free! Second Saturdays won’t strain your budget. No reservations needed. Just show up, ready to play in the park.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Celebrate America in Your National Park!

America is preparing to celebrate Independence Day this Friday. Where is the best place to celebrate? Why, in your national park!

Photo courtesy of L'etoile Magazine.

The best fireworks in the park will be at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. This National Historic Engineering Landmark reaches across the river and definitely adds to the view. 

Photo courtesy of Joe Michaud-Scorza.

Before the fireworks, visit the Mill City Museum to learn more about the history of the flour industry and the river that made it possible. It will give you something to talk about while your waiting for the fireworks to start!

For more information about Red, White and Boom in Minneapolis, check out the city's Park & Rec. website, where you can learn more about live music and family fun activities in the park.

Fireworks in St. Paul usually launch from Harriet Island during the Taste of Minnesota. Due to flooding, however, the fireworks are moved out of the park and onto the State Capitol Mall. If you want more photos of the flooding, check out our post about the river levels.

Photo courtesy of NPS.

If you want to celebrate the day through 19-century history, visit Historic Fort Snelling. They will have a flag ceremonies, musket firing, mock battles, fife and drum performances, and a cannon salute. For more information, visit their website.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Every time you visit a national park, you celebrate and honor a unique aspect of America. Enjoy your colored explosions this Fourth! And thank you for supporting your national park on the Mississippi River on Independence Day and everyday!