Area Nine.One - Vimeo video (alt: YouTube)

Nine.One at Deer Lake State Park 2017

On March 30 2017, I went to see area Nine.One where biologists and park service people have placed and flagged over 1600 propagated plants, including 1400 trumpet pitcher plants, in the ground. Technically, the label is DL09_01, which means it is subparcel 1 in Deer Lake Management Zone 9. At this time last year, biologists John Bente and Jeff Talbert introduced me to the restoration project at this site. Below, see a transcript of the dialog from the 2016 video, for background.

About this year, 2017, Jeff says, "They (carnivorous including pitcher plants) are doing well there and we augmented the population with the planting. All we've done is cut the regrowth (of titi primarily) and burned it."

This movie shows what Nine.One looks like this year. You see what head-mounted GoPro sees, with pop-up photos as I zoom into details with my other camera. First come the established carnivorous plants in the natural boggy area. Then comes the quarter of a mile stretch that had been previously cleared of overgrown titi, recently cut, cleared and burned in preparation for the large planting and flagging of new seedlings.

The images show:

titi Trunks Cut 1. Titi trunks cut flagged 2. Flagged planted seedlings seedlings 3. Close-up of pitcher plant seedlings pitchers 4. Older pitcher plants in the bog

Transcript of video of tour with biologists 3/22/2016

Edited for clarity. All punctuation, spelling , and interpretation of verbal dialog is by Caroling.

Video starts with Jeff Talbert pointing out a corner marker. John Bente says "This area here was cleared earlier. There's been an effort to restore pitcher plant areas, seepage slopes, really since '96, '97 , since the park was new. Then we had a pilot project that was funded by US Fish and Wildlife Service from the Panama City field office. The funds came through the coastal program. In 2011, that's when we started in earnest clearing some of the Titi down here.

"It is easy to pick out the Black Titi right now because it's in bloom. That's typical of the stand, the sort of forest of titi that has grown up on the seepage slope areas, prairies, all the wetland areas where carnivorous plants formerly grew. It was the lack of natural fire in the landscape that triggered the decline. That's what starts the whole thing happening. In the uplands there was no fire either. But the main driver for these carnivorous plants and for these communities to exist is it's extremely low nutrient. That's why they evolved to be carnivorous because there's very little for them to exist so they catch the insects. When the uplands didn't burn it allowed to build up duff and such. Water that seeps down and comes out feeds these prairie slopes, these bog communities had more nutrient in that water which favors the titi. Also the fire did'nt burn back the titi and keep it there so snowballing effect.

"So in this location here, the titi are two-year old trees, not as old as some of the stands 70 years old. They have been growing above a shrub level. We don't really have good reference sites. Everything degraded. We really think and imagine that titi and other wetland hardwoods were more in a shrub layer , more like gallberry. Or lyonia. From below your knee to head high. But not this kind of forest. That was an open meadow. That was grassy.

"We can even look at the old aerials from 1941 that were open and grassy. Basically the project is to cut this out, put it through a chipper, take all this biomass off. Because if we leave it or burn them up, that recycles nutrients. When burned, a lot goes up and away but ash is like fertilizer. They WILL grow back from the roots. That's why this is going to be a long time. Cut it again.

"Eventually the rootstock will be depleted as this duff decomposes. All of this is organic material needs to decompose and degrade. Eventually that store of nutrients will be gone. It will be back now to sandy soils." He walks over to a white patch. "That's silica sand. It will go all the way down through this zone here. How long it will take I can't say. But every time you burn across it, it removes a little bit more. By keeping it open to the sunshine, the UV degradation of the organics is going on. Fire is a rapid oxidation. But there is constant low-level oxidation when the sun's on it. That's another reason to keep this from being shaded. The titi leaves build up the duff.

"The problem is the level of disturbance. Somewhere in the layered interface there's a seed bank, existing roots and suppressed plants, so that some of the pitcher plants are still there. Just some, they've been shaded, they've been sitting in the shade for 50, 30 years. So some just die. Some do respond.

"If they don't then there is a process of propagating those plants. We're looking for seed, watching the bloom, so we can get the seed, propagate those plants at the botanical garden, bring them back and plant. We're going to go look at a site where two weeks ago we planted over 900 white fringed orchids. Seed, propagated. And those came back. It is a continual and long-range project."

"This part is not done, it is a good place to stop because it is typical. All through this area where the stumps are showing, that was already cut off." Jeff says, "This whole cleared area would have looked like the titi forest to the left. Left the young pines. In the 1941 aerial there were scattered larger pines. But in this beginning part of the process of restoration, we're leaving those pines. There's no grass here to speak of. It's all been shaded for so long. The pines drop needles. Look at all the pine straw that is here. Annually the pines drop needles. That is a fine fuel that allows the fire to move through. We have to have fire back in the system. It is complicated now though because it has gone so far."

John continues, "If we had come in here in 1945, 10 years after the fire stopped moving through, we don't actually know when the natural fire stopped. We put highways in. Hwy 98 probably disrupted, that's an old road. If you had a creeping fire through the grasses, it would stop at the highway. The pines initially will help us reintroduce fire. Ultimately some of the pine trees may be taken out. Other level of restoration. We know the titi has to go."

"This area was cleared earlier," (Jeff says "2, 3 years ago"), "then it grew back and it's been cleared again. Right here" (points at the sprouted stumps), "within three years.

"Take this material from the sprouting Titi stump and get it off the site.

"Pitcher plants, yellow trumpets. You can see here, these are old tussocks of probably wiregrass found in here. Barely hanging on. The tufts of green coming from an old tussock are the response coming out of that ancient root.

"Grass has been growing from that clump where the leaves and flowers are coming at the same time. Will form a seed capsule that will drop in the fall. Some of those, given the right substrate to land on, adequate sunshine and everything, will germinate and replant. Pitcher plants are perennial, they keep coming from the root so the old plants continue to develop. The grasses and the butterworts and the sundews can all grow together. The woody plants that create this shady canopy, that's just not compatible with the herbaceous stock.

"We're standing on a thick layer of duff that builds up for a long time. There's still water at the spongy surface. Rain falls on the uplands. Because it's all sand, the vast majority of what falls, unless it is a really heavy rain period, soaks right in. That raises the surficial water table. Basically that is level all along. There is a great deal of topography here. When this incline reaches the water table, then this whole sandy surface would flow. Seep water. It is seeping water. It's just underneath this duff. If we were down to sand here, if we weren't standing on duff, our feet would be in the water. That's what we're trying to fix. When this is fully restored, that's the condition that it will be. But that hangs out in the future. Still it's our job to work on this aspect.

"Can't just burn, even though the area stopped that natural burn cycle, that's what triggered the decline, so much soils have built up, you are so far that the fire alone, if it restored, it hangs so far out in the future that you continue to have all this shading and everything and we're losing the plants. That's the reason we have to have this restoration project, to accelerate it. We're striving to get this extreme poverty of nutrients. This nutrient-poor situation is why the restoration project is to cut the bio-mass, take it away. Take it out of the park.

"Currently we take it to the paper mill in Panama City, and they use it as a bio-fuel to fire the boilers. There's a better use for it and there are a lot of products that wood is harvested for. I think they still use fossil fuels, fuel oil and such. But we'll show you the chip pile. Someone comes and they have a contract to take those chips and dispose of them at the mill because we have an enormous amount of product that's going to come out of this project.

"Even in a zone like this, where you are really lower than the flat highland up there, this surface could easily be wet when this duff is gone. Definitely grasses, probably some of those pitcher plants will extend up this hill. It's just that they've been lost here.

"These bushes are titi growing back. It looks kind of pretty, actually. It's a plant. We're not trying to get rid of titi completely, it's just the balance. It's beautiful and the bees love it.

"That white patch of sand is relatively undisturbed. This community up here is sandhill and there's quite a mosaic of how these natural communities grade together. Sandhill and scrub are the most xeric. Scrub has generally sand pine in it. Sandhill has Longleaf pine. Then as you get closer to the water, there are scrubby flatwoods and then mesic flatwoods and then wet flatwoods and those are all pineland communities.

"Sandhill, the easiest way to see is usually there are turkey oaks. Wire grass is throughout them. The indicator for scrubby flatwoods is rusty lyonia. That's the one I can always see in the understory. Mesic flatwoods, palmetto . Wet flatwoods, other shrubs.

"For about 20 years, in most of the pine uplands here, the park has been putting fire in. So they are in pretty good condition. Back down to the duff layers have gradually been burned off, so now you're at a sandy substrate. That's the good news. That part of the restoration is much further along. Not perfect but is getting in pretty good shape. So at least the nutrient flow that's coming from pine uplands is reduced.

"Curtiss' sandgrass is not nearly as widespread as wiregrass. It is a completely different genus. Aristida is the wiregrass. Curtiss is calamovilfa curtissii. They are both grasses and they both occur in these wetter areas. The wiregrass is only up in the xeric community. Xeric means dry. The scrub. The edges. The ecotonal areas scrub intergrades with Sandhill. Ecotone is the transition zone between two plant communities. The other interesting thing is the coastal scrub in the panhandle is not really driven by fire like the rest of the communities. It is more of a storm-related situation. It's not typical of the scrub that occurs in the peninsula, like the Ocala National Forest. That Sand Pine scrub has an even-edged stand of Sand Pine. This coastal scrub here in the panhandle, the Choctawhatchee Sand Pine has an uneven-edged stand. Sand pine, Longleaf pine and in the wetter areas Slash pine form an uneven edge because they are fire-tolerant. So you have old trees and seedlings together. In an intact sandhill, you can have old growth (50 year old trees) and seedlings.

"But in Ocala, the infrequent fire kills the whole stand of trees and then all of the seedlings grow up at the same time. Our scrub is not so widespread or expansive. It more intergrades with the other pinelands. It's a very unique situation in the panhandle. We also have some unique assemblages of plants in these little cypress domes where we have Myrtle Leaf Holly and Dwarf Cypress and such. So it's a pretty neat place.

"If you walk up here we have vegetation monitoring blocks. Transects. To monitor progress. That's laid out by corner post here. Then we create a baseline with these PVC pipes. There are 3 in a row set on the baseline and run perpendicular across this area, where the titi has been cut out for the restoration. We collected the vegetative data before it was cleared and then we'll follow up on that to monitor the recovery. Transect is a verb, to cut across. Transection is a noun meaning a cut across at right angles. The transects go down into the remaining titi. 50 meters that goes down here. We pull a tape along here and every 5 meters we put a quadrant quarter meter quadrant and assess what the vegetation is. A way to get regular samples. Right now there's nothing here. But we should be standing in wiregrass and carnivorous plants. Eventually, monitoring and collecting data for this project over a five-year period, at some point after the restoration, at least the clearing that data will be published in a report in peer-reviewed scientific journal. It will be there for others that want to do more activities.

"This is a new process. We are at the beginning of this wetland restoration. Particularly in the Panhandle, all of these wetlands are full of titi. We're out in the leading edge of this. In April of 2015, the award was made, announced in the previous November. The park didn't get money until June of 2015. We're coming up to a year now. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to get continuing funds. It assumes that we will have success with reporting. There's no reason to think that it won't be. There are successive rounds of funding from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF). The funding came from the oil spill for this project. That hopefully will be continued. This project should take care of Deer lake. Then hopefully successive rounds will fund Grayton Beach State Park and also for the continuing restoration efforts.

"Can't just come in, do an action and walk away. When you have a situation that has taken this long to degrade these natural communities it takes a longer time to put it back.

"Another example of one of the activities we're doing is a piece of rebar that was driven in to the ground, with the top of that at the level of the duff. As the duff decomposes, more of the pipe is exposed. The duff is this deep (about a foot). The pipe is. 2' long. That's a duff tube. We'll measure the exposure of the tube. Ironically where we put this pin, it didn't burn, it was too wet. So we set another one over here (about 12' away) more likely to burn.

"When fire comes through here, it does two things. Burns some of duff and releases nutrients that benefit the decomposers. The next time we burn this in four years, we'll have to cut the titi. The iris and the yellow-eyed grass is growing fast.

"This stump was much closer to the ground level. The fire took out a lot and now it is 2" or 3" above ground. When this top layer is loose litter, when decomposes a little, is duff and below that is mineral soil. You could have raked it away.

" You can see how bad it was. You can see the first level of restoration.

"Here's some that didn't get fed into the chipper. That's the size. Some are a lot bigger. The fact that wiregrass and pitcher plants are in the forest show that it was overgrown. We have 1940s photography that shows the previous condition.

"It was a joint proposal. There's a partnership between the Park Service and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Two different but simultaneous proposals together for the award. ABG has the ecological component. We have less staff. What Jeff and I are hired to do is the monitoring, develop the plan, map the area with GPS. Given the acreage and the footprint, used the map to develop the plan. We have the first year's draft. Because this is a new process, if we learn we'll readdress at least annually or at least continue. ABG also does the propagation of the plants. The Park Service is the operational component. They got the bulk of the money. That's the biggest job on the project. Because this was an oil spill project, they didn't want to fund the plant propagation. So we're actually looking for funding now because that was cut out of the project.

"The pine sap from the fire is their defense mechanism. It is the pine tree's natural response to injury. If the bark is broken, the tree begins to ooze sticky, yellowish sap that eventually dries and seals the wound with a layer of resin. The material is resistant to most wood-eating insects that might further damage the tree.

"These needles right here from this branch probably got too hot and that will probably die. Because, see those drooping needles, those twisted little needles? Those were killed by the fire, not just scorched. Look up to the next level up there and those needles are straight and intact and even the brown ones are going to fall to the ground and be replaced by new needles. We refer to that upper section that's brown as scorched. This right here is called 'crown consumption.' Normal process which eliminates the lower limbs on some of these trees. If it happened enough into the canopy the tree could die.

"When you cut a pine tree down, it doesn't grow back. But you cut a number of these hardwoods down and they grow back.

"Eric Johnson was a park service biologist in the central office in Tallahassee, who found the original orchid in the park. He was a good friend of mine, since deceased."

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