Details of past projects led by Eagles for Environment are below. Check out the scope and impact each one of our projects has on the Blackland Prairie ecosystem and the environment as a whole.
Texas Blackland Prairie is a tallgrass prairie named after its dark-colored soil. The
Blackland Prairie is home to hundreds of plants, wildflowers, grasses, native birds, and
other animals. The prairie was once home to the great Bison and Jaguar of Texas before
they were hunted to near extinction. The prairie’s decline began with conversion into
farmland. Over 80% of the prairie had been converted by the early 1900s. Today, there
remains less than 1% of the original 12 million acres. Urban and suburban sprawl still
encroach on the prairie lands. In addition, invasive species such as Johnson Grass,
Bermuda Grass, and King Ranch Bluestem continue to ravage the remaining prairie land.
While herbicides are applied to control the invasives with some effectiveness, the sheer
number of invasives make them difficult to eradicate.
Our primary objective is to restore two acres of the Blackland prairie lands at the Heard
Museum. The area was overrepresented with dogwood plants. The goal of our project was
to fully reseed the area with a diverse variety of native forbs and grasses and to slowly
eliminate the dogwood's domination.
The prairie ecosystem plays a critical role in the lives of not only its inhabitants but also
humans. Tall grasses of the prairie have roots that grow more than 10-ft below the ground.
As a result, the risk of soil erosion is significantly reduced as tall grasses secure the soil
with their roots. Native grasslands also protect the watershed and improve water
infiltration, giving us higher water yields. The prairie that we have left today may be the
most it will ever be, as some environmentalists believe that this generation will be the last
generation to see the Blackland Prairie.
The project involved the following steps and considerations.
Project Time Frame
It is important to mention the season we completed this project in. There are two
common seasons to plant seeds for restoration: the Spring and the Fall. There are
advantages and disadvantages to seeding in each season. For this project, we chose to
plant the seeds in the Fall for two reasons:
1) Some seeds such as the Little Bluestem seeds require cold, moist stratification.
2) Many Blackland Prairie plants disperse seeds in the fall.
1) First the Heard Museum mowed the 2 acres of prairie land
2) Herbicides were applied in efforts to get rid of the dogwood plants
a. Unfortunately, we could not use controlled burning due to the private
properties nearby the project site
b. Secondly, we did not till the dirt since dogwood roots have rhizomes.
Tilling will only cause the roots to spread more instead of destroying them.
After mowing and applying herbicides, volunteers came to rake the thatch. The raking
exposed the soil and allowed the seeds to be planted in the dirt. Groups of volunteers were
then able to spread the seeds and walk on the seeds to push them into the ground (this
action mimics what bison would do).
The support Eagles For Environment has received for this project was outstanding.
We needed at least 50 rakes to cover the two-acre area. We were able to borrow 25 rakes
from the neighborhood through the Nextdoor App. Troop 25 also lent over 10 rakes. Many
volunteers brought rakes of their own which closed the gap.
Mr. Spencer Dudas, the Sanctuary Manager of the Heard Museum supported me the
entire way through the project. Every time I visited the Heard Museum, we would be
discussing the plant growth, monitoring the project, and identifying plants.
Mr. Higginbotham and Mrs. Hollingsworth both guided my research by asking me
thought provoking questions.
We had 64 volunteers sign up for the project. We had tremendous representation from 3
o Jasper High School National Honor Society
o Jasper High School Environmental Club
o Boy Scout Troop 25
We received a seed grant from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center belonging too the
University of Texas-Austin. The grant provided 500 dollars for purchasing seeds from the
Native American Seed organization. Native American Seed sells Blackland Prairie seed
mixes. This grant tremendously helped the project.
Monitoring took place over eight months. During each visit, I took pictures, and I
identified as many species of wildflowers and grasses as I could with Mr. Dudas, the
Sanctuary Manager of the Heard Museum. In addition, I used other online resources such
as the Seek App by iNaturalist to aid me with identification. In June, we identified nearly
every wildflower in the seed mix we used. We found many types of grasses, including
some that were bluish green—typical of native grasses such as Indian Grass and Little
Bluestem in the spring and summer. We hope to be able to confirm which specific grass it
is in some time. Annuals including Indian Blanket, Lemon Mint, and Thistles were
identified—we believe these came from our seed mix. We have also found an abundance
of Maximillian Sunflowers and Prairie Parsley. The video "Blackland Prairie Restoration:
200 Days After Seeding" goes through the pictures for each monitoring day. In addition,
every plant we identified in the prairie is listed in the video's description.
Long Term Impacts and Maintenance
The Heard Museum will do some maintenance for this project. Periodic mowing will begin
this fall. The wide leaf herbicides will be applied periodically to combat the continued
presence of dogwood. We see a significant reduction in its presence as the planted grasses
and wildflowers sprout up. As we continue this maintenance process and the prairie grows
more, we expect the dogwood to diminish.
Follow the link below to see the results of our work 200 days after seeding day.
This is the second part of our restoration effort for the Blackland Prairie of Texas. Starting in the Fall of 2021, we organized another project at the Heard Museum in a three acre plot known as "Ken's Prairie". We followed a very similar project plan as the previous year. In terms of objectives, organization of people, and idea, the plan was the same as Phase I.
The key difference lies in the seeding of the prairie. In Phase II, our seeding will be in two parts. In the fall, we will plant native grasses. These native grasses will go through cold stratification over the winter months and start to develop their complex root systems before they sprout from the ground. In the spring of 2022, we will plant the wildflower seeds. Our intention with this type of seeding is to get more data into when one should plant prairie seeds for restoration projects. In Phase I, we planted all the seeds in the fall. Some online literature and other experts have suggested that planting wildflowers in the spring time is best.
Once again we had tremendous community support both through volunteers and through tool support. We had around 120 volunteers support us through the three days of site preparation and fall seeding in the month of October 2021. We had 20 volunteers join us once again in March 2022 to plant the spring seeds.
Follow the link below to the Phase 2 Prairie Restoration video!
The Eastern Box Turtles in Texas are currently a threatened species. Habitat loss, illegal trade, and the lack of governmental protection are factors that are contributing to the decline. Fewer and fewer Box Turtles are found in the wild now-a-days. Box Turtles have a life expectancy of more than 100 years. They take 3-5 years before fully maturing and their reproduction rate is slow. Thus, when they disappear from locations, they rarely recolonize the area.
The Eastern Box Turtle is an omnivore— an organism that consumes both plants and animals. They contribute to the continuity of the foodweb. In addition, their intestinal waste distributes seeds of various plants such as the mayapple. Lastly, their eggs provide food for other predators such as scunks, racoons, and crows.
LLELA Box Turtle Restoration Group
This group at LLELA has taken the initiative to help raise awareness and begin the efforts to reintroduce the Box Turtle back into the LLELA nature preserve. They raise the baby turtles from the moment they hatch for about 1-2 years. This allows time for the shells to harden which will ensure that the baby turtles do not become prey to other predators. The group works alongside UNT research students who place trackers on the turtles to help with the monitoring after they are released. The turtles are sheltered in enclosures which are maintained multiple days of the week by volunteers and UNT students. Before our project, they only had two enclosures.
Our project was to build an additional two turtle enclosures for the LLELA Box Turtle Restoration effort. These additional enclosures would allow for LLELA to raise more turtles each season.
MATERIALS FOR ONE ENCLOSURE
3 inch wood Deck Screws
Hardware cloth 4ft x 25ft
U staples 1lb pack 3/4 inch
Our design was to build an enclosure with four doors. The walls of the enclosure would use 2"x12" boards. In total we had four doors for each turtle enclosure. We used 1" x 4" boards as the material for the doors in order to ensure that anyone of any age can open and close the door without straining too much or damaging the enclosure. Furthermore, four doors allows easier aaccess into the enclosure for cleaning, maintainance, or feeding. The doors were supported by a support beam inside the enclosure. The support beam uses a half-lap joint to be secure. Design pictures are shown to the left.
For the door frame, we used corner braces and wood glue. On the main enclosure frame, in addition to using 3 inch deck screws, we used 4" x 4" x 1' posts to ensure stability and security. The hardware cloth mesh on both the door frame and the exterior used U-staples.
Long Term Progress
We are continuing to follow up on the efforts by the Box Turtle Restoration Group of LLELA to ensure our enclosures are functioning well. So far, 2 turtles are sheltered in each of our enclosures!
Once again our outstanding Troop 25 came to support us with their tools and knowledgable adult leaders. In particular, Mr. Jim Row, Mr. Scott Mailloux, and Mr/Mrs. Allen of Troop 25 made tremendous contributions in terms of tool expertise and design experience.
Ranger Rob Smith's continued support helped us through this project from the start to finish. He reviewed all steps of the design and gave beneficial tips as we were building.
The Blackjack Trail, one of the most popular trails at LLELA, is dealing with soil erosion.
Due to the varying slopes throughout the trail, water runoff moves at rapid speeds. The
concern is that water is picking up the soil. There are two key signs of this taking place.
First, several sections of the trail are forming gullies. Second, there are multiple well
exposed tree roots throughout the trail.
LLELA’S SOIL EROSION MANAGEMENT BEFORE PROJECT
At the moment, LLELA uses puncheons— treated lumber logs used to elevate the trail
above wet, muddy areas. Since people tend to walk around muddy areas, trail widening
becomes more prevalent. Trail users walk over the puncheons, thereby avoiding trail
widening. Unfortunately, puncheons are only a workaround that help the trail users but
do not solve soil erosion. Similarly, bridges and corduroys are also possible workarounds
for trail management.
There are many ways to solve soil erosion on trails. A few of these methods are outlined
Rock Based Water Bars
Rock waterbars use rocks of varying lengths to divert water into the vegetation on the side
of the trail. These rocks are dug 2-3 inches into the ground and placed at 45–60-degree
angles. Rock waterbars have better durability than wood waterbars. However, their main
problem lies in their security. Since they are only dug into the ground, they will move
around as nearby dirt loosens over time. In addition, there is a lot more maintenance
involved for the proper function of these types of waterbars. For example, if they become
loose or misaligned, they must be adjusted and set correctly. Rock waterbars are much
more susceptible to these natural forces.
Wood Waterbars (The Solution Used In Our Project)
Consistent with the idea of rock water bars, wood waterbars also are placed to divert water
into the vegetation. Wood waterbars can be used for various slopes and stretches of the
trail. In addition, wood waterbars installed with rebar are more secure than rock
waterbars, and they are much easier to maintain than rock waterbars.
Pressure treated pine 8’ landscape timbers from Lowes.
Two 2-inch rebars as it works well with both wood and dirt
The first step of installation is determining the position and angle of the waterbar. We
determined the position and angle of each waterbar on a case-by-case basis. We used the
following factors to make a decision. We need to understand the direction of water flow.
Then we need to consider the slopes caused by the varying elevations on the sides of the
trail. Using these factors, we must angle the waterbar in a way that would divert the water
away from the trail.
The second step of installation is to dig a trench at the location and angle determined
using the steps outlined above. The trench should be approximately 2 inches deep and
long enough to fit the timber.
After fitting the timber in the trench 2-3 inches above the ground, backfill the dirt into the
excess space. Then drill two holes for the rebar using a 1/2woul inch drill bit. Finally,
hammer in the rebars with a sledgehammer. Perform a successful kick test to ensure that
the waterbar is secure.
We observed two kinds of problem areas we had to pay special attention too. One section
of the trail, where the path turns, and slopes sharply was heavily gullied. Our usual
method of installing the waterbars would not work. We had to cut the bars and fit them
like a check dam (refer to pictures at the end of this document). The primary purpose was
to reduce the speed of the water. In dips between two bars, we also added rocks to prevent
water from puddling. Over time, sediments will drop in the space between the logs and
create a “stair step” pattern. This will restore the trail and also prevent further gullying.
Another section of the trail had a steep hill very close to a river. Water would go down the
slope at high speeds in the rain, and instead of emptying into the river, the water runoff
would continue down the trail. This was addressed by adding two waterbars to guide the
water into the river.
Monitoring showed us the real impact of the installations. Most installations worked as
intended. A few, however, were not so successful, and it was clear to us after the rain. We
identified three areas that needed correction and addressed them. The first problem we
found was that four bars were not strongly secured. To fix this, we rearranged the dirt
around the waterbar, added extra rebars, and ensured it passed the kick test. Then, we
found four areas that could benefit from adding waterbars. Finally, in the first problem
area (Problem Area 1—heavily gullied section), we still found puddling. We added larger
rocks to prevent it.
Long Term Progress
The waterbars are expected to last for up to 10-20+ years. Ranger Rob Smith and the staff
of LLELA plan to use future scout or volunteer projects to maintain the waterbars by
checking for debris or clogged-up sediment along the drain side of the waterbars. I also
numbered the waterbars to help with quick identification for maintenance.
Troop 25 once again gave us outstanding support. Special thanks to the Allen family for
helping with the problem areas. The Jasper Environmental Club and The Jasper High
School National Honor Society worked many hours with us over the 16 workdays.
Ranger Robert Smith of LLELA pointed out a few critically eroded areas and continued to
be a great supporter and mentor throughout the project.
The Chinese Privet is a non-native plant that has made its home in Texas. It has a high reproduction rate and the soil conditions within the Blackland prairie ecosystem provides the plant with favorable conditions to grow. The Chinese Privet is also a plant that establishes a hardy root system which allows it to regrow even if it is cut from the stem. Some form of a herbicide must be used in order to ensure that it is eliminated.
The best time to do this project is during January through early March. During this time, most of the other native plants are still dormant and do not have leaves. The Chinese Privet on the other hand still does have leaves. During such times, it is very easy to determine which plants are privet and need to be eliminated.
To identify the Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense, one must look closely at the leaves. The leaves follow a distinct patter. They are usually in two rows at near right angles to the stem. The leaves are between oval and elliptical with a rounded tip. Also, look out for a whiter colored stem. Such a stem is not common to native plants.
The removal of the privet has been going on for several years before Eagles for Environment made its effort. Several groups of volunteers have worked with the staff of LLELA to remove privet from their grounds.
-Machine powered saws
-Disposable plastic jars/bottles
Once the privet plant is identified, we cut the plant near its the lower stem leaving a few inches above the ground. After the cut is made, another volunteer applies herbicide to the top of the stem using the paintbrush. This ensures that only the appropriate amount of herbicide is used and other plants in the vicinity are not affected. The herbicide is extremely potent and can kill native plants as well. For that reason, the herbicide should be used conservatively.