As spring gathers momentum, so does planning for the 2015 Simon Lake BioBlitz, which is being held July 10-11 at Sheepberry Fen in west-central Minnesota. And along with the planning come the questions: What is it? Why have it? Why should I come? The answers to those questions crash down in a tidal wave of purpose, excitement and a million tangents that all crowd to the front to be explained first.
The most important thing to know is that the BioBlitz is so much fun I can hardly stand still talking about it. To sum it up, it’s a day on a gorgeous prairie, filled with people humming with excitement to be there and all of them ready to teach, learn and search for plants, birds, bugs, etc. But that’s just the foam on the tsunami.
Nature nerds don their wide brimmed hats, clean their binocular lenses, and step out of the shadows into a crowd of people hungry for their knowledge. We get excited about that sedge or warbler and have 10 other people get excited right along with us! We cozy up to one another, share a reference book, argue about genus and families, swap stories of what was spotted, and show those of us who are unschooled in prairie ways what all the fuss is about. And yep, talk about scat and plant naughty bits all day long. This event takes skeptics and turns them into forb-collectors, birders, and prairie champions.
Sheepberry Fen in itself is a special treat, presenting an astounding array of biological diversity. Containing “mesic,” “dry” and “upland” prairies, it exemplifies the prairie pothole biome in one relatively small area. It’s like a mega mall of prairie species (please excuse the comparison). This area was burned last spring, removing years of residue build-up and making plants much more visible. How many of us know about these hidden prairie jewels or have impetus to go visit? The BioBlitz offers a reason, a map, and the promise of a LOT of good company.
Did I mention Shakespearean feuds? This BioBlitz serves to highlight the hard work and collaboration in a community made up of stereotypically chilly neighbors. Public and private agency land butts up against private ranches and recreational property. But members of the Simon Lake community have overcome their differences (imagined and otherwise), worked hard to learn the best way to steward a grassland ecosystem, and come together to plan better management of the whole area.
Some examples of teaming up to improve the natural community include invasive tree (western red cedar) and shrub (sumac) removal on a landscape level. It doesn’t do The Nature Conservancy much good to remove all the invasive plants on Sheepberry Fen only to have the neighbors’ properties full of them and vice versa. Some of the agencies and private landowners have worked hard to understand that well managed cattle are good for wildlife and native plants and have made investments of time and infrastructure to allow their grasslands to be grazed as well.
Finally, something that I think gets overlooked in all the neon lights of amazing prairie, revolutionary community action, and nerd-love-fest, is that this event helps us all to connect to each other, to the life around us, and ultimately, to ourselves and our movement through this landscape.
We walk by “grass” and “flowers” and even “weeds” all the time without knowing their names, without knowing that one specific bird or butterfly needs that specific plant to survive, without knowing the stories, history, uses and myths that go with so many prairie species. We walk by each other without knowing the deep wells of passion for plants, birds, dragonflies or frogs that lies under the mild-mannered exteriors.
In these kinds of gatherings, we better understand the rarity, the beauty, the individual natures of native species; we learn their names and learn how to better take care of them. The same can be said for each other—we meet people out of our age group, our political proclivities, our immediate work or social environments. We learn together, we learn from each other, and we come away full of knowledge and love and a deeper connection to our surroundings and our neighbors.
LSP organizer Robin Moore is coordinating the 2015 Simon Lake BioBlitz. She can be reached at 320-269-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.