One of the unique jobs we got early in 2021 was mowing the Milford Center Prairie, a State Nature Preserve. It is one of those unique relic prairie habitats that is ironically protected by a utility corridor. These narrow seams of prairie flank an old railroad bed that now functions as powerline right of way. You may be wondering, “why mow this habitat if it’s so rare?” Aside from development and agriculture, the greatest threat to prairie habitat is actually the encroachment of woody species. Most prairies require periodic fires or mowing to prevent trees, shrubs, and woody vines from establishing and creating shade. These disturbances arrest succession, allowing the system to maintain a community dominated by herbaceous species.
Our team of conservation technicians mowed the majority of the prairie by hand using brushcutters to minimize soil disturbance, and brush-hogging a small portion. An arborist was hired to fell large trees that grew in an old fence line. Now, before you cringe, know that many of these species will survive the initial cutting due to reserves stored in their roots. This initial effort will help the state crew manage woody species moving forward by selectively cutting and treating woody plants. For those of you still not convinced that you could mow without harming the community, take a look at the photograph below, taken during the 2021 growing season. Better yet, go visit it yourself!