Another fall has come and gone as we now experience the intermittent polar vortex mid-January. We all check the weather regularly to see how many layers we need to put on to stay warm before venturing outside. But only two months ago we were still enjoying what to us what was great fall weather while waiting for a hard frost. When a point of conversation with family across the state is that tomatoes are still producing in November you know it is not a normal fall. Meanwhile, Whiterock staff eagerly waited for a hard frost to conduct dormant season burns. These unseasonably warm falls make for some tasty eating and t-shirt weather late in the year but at the expense of our native ecosystems. The climate is changing and impacting the world around us.

As we enjoyed the fall weather we ate tomatoes and enjoyed spring garden bulbs putting on display – all of this in November. Those spring flowers that bloomed in November will likely suffer next spring from being killed mid-bloom by the November frost. The native forbs and sedges throughout our prairies and woodlands will suffer the same fate.

The late fall did not just delay dormancy for many fall native species but also delayed our ability to conduct fall prescribed burns. After a long fall wait we were able to burn on only one day, the same story of the last three falls. Returning fire to the landscape of the Middle Raccoon River is one of our main tools to rejuvenate our native flora while suppressing nonnative or invasive species. This single tool from the land management toolbox is critical to landscape management with the results being visible throughout the Middle Raccoon River Valley over the past 22 years. But, these 22 years of progress after 150 years without fire through these fire-dependent ecosystems is a drop in the bucket. Having this critical tool removed from the toolbox makes it that much harder to protect and rejuvenate our native ecosystems. We do still get some burns in but frequently we are not able to conduct all prescribed burns that are needed due to the changing climate. As climate dictates what, where, and when we burn, staff at Whiterock continue to feel the anxiety in knowing that our native ecosystems are being threatened by yet another danger.

As we experience these climate threats first hand we need to first take a close look at what we can do to reduce our own habits. As part of this process I hope that we all consider our open spaces and what we can do to ensure that these lands are protected for future generations. If you like to live on the wild side, volunteer for prescribed burns this spring. We will have lots of woodlands and prairies to get to. If the weather doesn’t cooperate again this spring then join us this summer to cut and treat invasive species that threaten the prairies, oak savanna, and oak woodlands that line the Middle Raccoon River Valley. Join us to project the Whiterock landscape or an open space closer to home.

To become a volunteer, contact Rob Davis, Land Manager at landmanager@whiterockconservancy.org.