Fields are important components of the park’s natural and cultural landscape. Fields and natural open areas are distinct in character and use from those of the surrounding forest. Over the last 230 years, more than 90 percent of grasslands in the Mid-South have disappeared, largely due to: conversion to agriculture (crops & pasture); other land use changes; fire suppression and succession to closed canopy forest; infestation of invasive species, and loss of large grazers (bison) & browsers (elk). The parks efforts to create and maintain grassy fields and grass-dominated woodlands are part of a region-wide effort to preserve grasslands.
Why does the park cut fields and why are some of them cut in strips?
Fields composed of herbaceous species and grasses are considered early successional plant communities. Left undisturbed by fire, grazing or other disturbance, they would become more and more dominated by woody species, eventually maturing into late successional/climax forest communities. To preserve the early successional stage of Big South Fork fields, the park emulates natural disturbance by mowing to halt the succession to forest.
Mowing is typically done before leaf fall in order to cut woody species that are actively growing, preventing them from sending excess sugars to their roots to store energy for the next season of growth. Mowing at this time is most beneficial for eliminating woody competition. However, mowing everything at once can eliminate critical wildlife habitat. In addition, removing all plants at once can reduce pollinator populations by killing plants with egg masses, or by removing host plants and plants that provide nectar later into the fall.
The park has chosen to cut large fields into strips to leave some wildlife cover and at least half of the plants required for pollinator survival. There are several mowing patterns the park can cut fields, but strip mowing is efficient and easy to maintain (e.g. strips mowed in even years are left during odd years, and vice versa). For small fields or areas with numerous small fields, individual fields may be completely cut in alternating years. Resource management is currently researching methods for field mowing that will benefit biodiversity as well as catering to other park values.
What are the park’s main objectives for keeping fields open?
Because Big South Fork NRRA is a multi-use park, we have multiple objectives for maintaining fields in open conditions including the following.
Last updated: October 11, 2018