I visited Huntsville, Alabama’s Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary on November 14, 2023, with Dr. Marian Moore Lewis, author of Southern Sanctuary. We sauntered through the western side of the Sanctuary, observing and reflecting upon all manner of seasonal life we encountered from Hidden Spring to Jobala Pond to the wetland mitigation project underway in the mid-property meadows and fields. I focus this photo essay on our superficial examination of the mitigation.
This black gum seedling, planted during the 2022-23 dormant season, is now emerging from its tree shelter. It has survived its initial growing season and escaped the ravages of foraging rabbits and mice. From this day forward it must contend with grazing deer until it grows out of their vertical reach. Most of the shelters we examined contained living seedlings, of various species (black gum, willow, redbud, and diverse oaks).
Red oak occupies this tube. It will likely reach into aerial freedom next spring.
I photographed this initial planting area in February 2023, when the shallow constructed wetlands stood at full water capacity. Because in mid-November 2023, we had gone since mid-August with little to no rain, we saw bone dry soils across the mitigation area.
The meadow vegetation had reached seasonal dormancy. Because our northern Alabama fall months are frequently dry, native plants can handle periodic droughts. Fortunately, the tree seedlings in this first (2022-23) planting tranche enjoyed an adequately moist spring and early summer, hence their likely survival through this fall drought.
The second planting, east of the first, appeared to be underway when we visited. The area evidenced extreme drought, with soils bone-dry and cement-hard. The tree shelters below right held seedlings already desiccated and likely dead. Planting should have been delayed until after fall rains brought drought relief.
This willow seedling (below left) lay on the ground at a drilled planting hole, deader than a proverbial door nail. The willow seeding at right stands beside a wooden stake. It is too shallowly planted, its root collar and some of its root mass two inches above soil surface level. However, it doesn’t matter. The tree is dead.
I recorded this two-minute video on the site. I refer incorrectly to the seedling beside a planting tube as a willow. Instead, it is actually a redbud.
Like other doomed seedlings in this area, the oaks lying within this scraped future wetland depression are deceased. I hope the project managers have made alternate plans, to include holding seedlings in nursery beds awaiting fall rains and adequate soil moisture in the Sanctuary fields. I learned long ago during my forest products industry days that unless seedlings are carefully tended and properly planted in soils that contain adequate moisture to sustain transplant vigor, the planting will not succeed. This fall drought planting window failed all criteria.
I am not pointing fingers or assigning blame. I simply visited this year’s mitigation chapter at the trailing end of an extended drought. A week later I measured 2.63″ of rain, and another 3.4″ since then through December 17, 2023. Soil moisture levels are approaching seasonal norms, but far too late to overcome the experienced negative forces. Importantly, it’s not too late to plant seedlings held and tended in nursery beds.
I offer several observations and applicable lessons. Any forestry operation is subject to the vagaries of Nature. Managers should be prepared to deal with extremes and variances from normal. Though a plan may have called for planting this second tranche in the October/November time frame, managers should have delayed, awaiting overdue autumn rains.
I predict that unless alternate plans were made to replant with freshly lifted seedlings now that rains have begun, this second tranche planting will be a total failure. Leonardo da Vinci, a sage and practiced observer of Nature, said 500 years ago, Nature never breaks her own laws. Those who planted these seedlings apparently expected Nature to break a natural law that I learned five decades ago as a young practicing forester: Nature demands that plugged seedlings require adequate moisture both pre- and post-planting, well-packed friable soil, and suitable growing conditions (e.g., avoid excessively high late season temperatures at planting time.
I will continue to monitor the wetland mitigation project, including these 2023 plantings. Again, the seasonal rains have resumed. The Flint River will likely flood these fields at least once over the dormant season. Casual observers may not know that the fields suffered through an extreme drought from mid-August through mid-November. They may wonder why the tree shelters house no or very few living trees.
I have been unable to secure detailed information about the wetland mitigation project. I hope that City personnel have such planning and implementation records. I would like to see survival records for the first tranche planting, as well as 2023 planting records. The project is expensive. Are managers tracking success? Failure? Progress?
Please know that I have no direct or implied oversight of this project. I am merely a very interested observer. I view the Sanctuary as one of my special places. I applaud Margaret Anne Goldsmith for the original gift of approximately 300 acres that enabled establishing the Sanctuary. I admire Marian Moore Lewis’s expertise and passion for publishing Southern Sanctuary. We three share a keen interest in this incredible Nature legacy project.
I leave you with the 15-minute video telling the Sanctuary legacy story that Bill Heslip directed and I produced three years ago.
Thoughts and Reflections
I offer these observations:
- Nature never breaks her own laws. (Leonardo da Vinci)
- Any forestry operation is subject to the vagaries of Nature. Managers should be prepared to deal with extremes and variances from normal.
- Past average monthly rainfall gives no comfort to a seedling planted during this year’s extreme drought.
Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all blog post images are created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2024 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”
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A reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause
If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied by untold orders of magnitude:
Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.
- People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
- They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and understand their Earth home more clearly.
Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!
Steve’s Three Books
I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.
I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:
- I love hiking and exploring Nature
- I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
- I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
- I don’t play golf!
- I do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
- Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grandkids, and all the unborn generations beyond
- And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future
All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship with the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.
I now have a fourth book, published by Dutton Land and Cattle Company, Dutton Land & Cattle: A Land Legacy Story. Available for purchase directly from me. Watch for details in a future Post.