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>> GRANT: I want to take a little time today and review a big habitat improvement project we started last year.

>> GRANT: In this area of The Proving Grounds, given the aspect of the slope and some other things, I suspect this area was originally a savanna and what leads me to think that even more is the amount of eastern red cedar that’s encroached in the area. It’s basically filled up all the gaps between the hardwood trees.

>> GRANT: That’s very unproductive habitat. Cedars, of course, keeping the sun from reaching the forest floor. It’s competing with water and nutrients from the oaks and it makes it doggone tough just to walk through. They were so thick.

>> GRANT: When it’s shading out, there’s really no cover; less acorns – a lot of issues with having this cedar-choked hardwood forest.

>> GRANT: I had a crew I do a lot of work with come in and fell all the cedars. Those guys work really quick. In a few days they felled every cedar in this area.

>> GRANT: Here’s a perfect example of how a well-trained crew would fell cedars. You want to make sure you cut it below the bottom limb.

>> GRANT: You can see just a few inches above this cut, there was a limb. They cut right below that bottom limb because cedars are different than hardwoods. If you cut below the bottom limb, that tree is dead. It will not stump sprout. It will not green back up.

>> GRANT: This may look a little messy now, but I’m already seeing a beautiful hardwood savanna.

>> GRANT: In my view, we’ve finished stage one of this project. We’ve felled all the cedars. Stage two, well, that one can be a little bit more fun. We’re going to use prescribed fire to consume a bunch of the cedars laying on the ground and remove that leaf litter base so sun now is getting down through there and that will stimulate native grasses and forbs to grow.

>> GRANT: When to burn the cedars is another important decision in this process. I want to leave them laying a minimum of a year. So they were cut last spring and we’re coming up on spring again.

>> GRANT: Sometimes I’ll let them lay two growing seasons to make sure that skeleton has dried out more.

>> GRANT: I like to check quarter-inch, even half-inch limbs. I want to see if they snap, not just bend. And that’s clearly dry. And I like to do that.

>> GRANT: You can see all the needles falling. This area has had a lot of sun. It’s kind of open right here.

>> GRANT: And this tree would probably melt right down to just a stem laying on the ground.

>> GRANT: So, we’re going to get a big dump of fertilizer by all these and over time as those stems break down, even a slow release fertilizer for that native vegetation.

>> GRANT: If you burn them after the first year, you’ll likely consume all the small limbs and even up to an inch or so. But the bigger stems probably still have enough moisture that the fire will not consume that portion of the tree. It’s no issue. It’s just an aesthetic decision.

>> GRANT: So, I’m in a bit more of a hurry to get this habitat going. These cedars are still blocking a lot of sun from reaching the soil. I may try – if conditions are right – to burn this spring. That will remove all the needles; most of the little stems; put those skeletons down closer to the ground; and allow full sunshine to reach the forest floor.

>> GRANT: Whether I burn this year or next year, I need to burn before these oaks put out leaves.

>> GRANT: That canopy is kind of an insulation and would hold more heat in. Therefore, that heat from the fire would damage the residual trees much more.

>> GRANT: Nice cool day. Just enough wind to push the fire through here because we’re using a backing fire. And a low enough humidity that it carries really well will be ideal conditions for this prescribed fire.

>> GRANT: I’m really excited about this one because as we walk through here, even when the cedars were here, wherever there was sun reaching the forest floor, there was a pretty good component of native grasses and forbs. So, I know this area will respond really well to a prescribed fire and be another beautiful savanna here at The Proving Grounds.

>> GRANT: Just within a few feet of me here I see some pretty cool natives. Of course, we’ve got some native grasses, smaller bunch grasses. But when I get down and look, I’m seeing some green forbs showing signs of life.

>> GRANT: Those are probably biannuals. They grew that first year, made a basal rosette and they’ll bolt out of the ground this year, many of them providing high-quality feed for deer; a lot of them make seeds which are a big attractant to turkeys.

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>> GRANT: Now, you’re putting fire in a hardwood stand. If there’s trees with a hole at the bottom or a decayed portion, it may catch on fire. Now, it’s not going to torch like you see in California. Our humidity just doesn’t get that low.

>> GRANT: But it may scar or terminate that tree. That’s okay because when I look through here, that hardwood canopy is pretty thick.

>> GRANT: So, I’m okay if a small percentage of these trees are killed by the fire and let a bit more sun reach the forest floor.

>> GRANT: This is a winged elm tree. It’s not a high value tree. I’m okay if it’s killed by the fire. There’s enough fuel right around the base of this one. It will probably girdle it, but it may stump sprout back.

>> GRANT: That’s why you have to use fire on a rotation every two or three years. Especially a growing season burn – a burn during late August or September – if we ever get a day dry enough. It’s hard to do growing season burns here in the Midwest.

>> GRANT: But if you do, a growing season burn hitting a tree like this, well, that will girdle it down low and keep these leaves up here from transferring carbohydrates or energy to the root system to survive the winter. You’ll kill way more of these saplings with a growing season burn than a dormant season burn during the late winter or early spring.

>> GRANT: This is obviously a dry site based on the hardwood species that are here. A lot of post oaks, a few white oaks, not many. And they’re mainly on off the ridge a little ways. So this is obviously a place where savanna would occurred before a European settlement and that type of native habitat is super productive for game and non-game species.

>> GRANT: I think one way to analyze that is when these cedars were covering all the forest floor, we were maybe getting 50, 100 pounds of quality native browse per acre.

>> GRANT: After this fire and we get a rain and it starts growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 500, 1,000, maybe even 1,500 pounds of quality forage per acre.

>> GRANT: This wasn’t a good turkey area. Turkeys don’t like being boxed in where they can’t sense predators around them. But we’ll open this up. There’ll be a lot more bugs and insects in those native grasses and forbs and cedars. And this will be a turkey heaven – both for just feeding, nesting and brooding habitat.

>> GRANT: That’s a big problem with turkey populations throughout the turkey’s range. Habitat quality has declined. There’s a lot more predators than there used to be. And that’s a double whammy on the wild turkey.

>> GRANT: Here at The Proving Grounds our turkey population is doing pretty good. We’ve removed a lot of ground based predators and we’ve worked to have great quality turkey habitat.

>> GRANT: I’m super excited to take the next step of this habitat improvement program and we’ll keep you posted, especially when we get ready to drop a match. All this fuel, it will be a pretty exciting day.

>> GRANT: Restoring habitat to how it was before European settlement here in the United States is a great way to learn more about Creation.

>> GRANT: Even more importantly, I hope you take time every day to be quiet and seek the Creator’s will for your life.

>> GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.