Restoring Oak Savanna
“You can’t have Oak Openings without the openings.”
-Harold Mayfield, Internationally renowned ornithologist
The globally rare Oak Openings region is home to one-third of Ohio’s endangered plants. These rare species have specific habitat needs that require active land management.
By combining best management practices to care for oak savannas, Metroparks can ensure that the Oak Openings region will be here long into the future.
Metroparks efforts to restore areas within Oak Openings Preserve is consistent with science-based management practices recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and supported by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Board of Park Commissioners has approved the ongoing project to restore oak savanna throughout the region.
Among the many plant and animal species that will benefit from the project is the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly, which feeds only on the plant species, Lupine (Lupinus perennis). Lupine cannot persist under dense forest canopy because it requires direct exposure to sunlight to produce seeds and maintain viable populations. Dense forest canopy shades nectar plants used as food by many species, including the adult Karner blue. Similar management efforts conducted by The Nature Conservancy at Kitty Todd Nature Preserve have yielded substantial increases in plant species critical to the Karner blue’s survival.
Tree Canopy Reduction
Work includes removing the tree cover from 10 to 45 percent in the project area so more sunlight can reach the ground to stimulate plant growth. A firewood collection program helps reduce land management costs while providing the community with an opportunity to obtain wood for personal use.
Other management efforts include invasive species control, native seed and plant propagation for the site, and the application of prescribed fire.
Years of fire suppression and lack of tree thinning, in combination with historic logging prior to ownership by Metroparks, has resulted in a relatively dense stand of even-aged oaks in areas that were historically much more open than they are today. The oak savannas that existed throughout the Oak Openings region at the time of settlement had an average tree density of six trees per acre. As an example, an area the size of a football field would have just six large oak trees.
Metroparks encourages research within the Oak Openings. Currently, at last 15 independent researchers study birds, butterflies, habitats, soils, turtles, wasps, and the carbon-water cycle. Metroparks naturalists, volunteers, and natural resource staff conduct ongoing studies in management areas. Research helps evaluate management efforts and guide future management efforts.
Once areas have been managed, native plants grown from seeds gathered by students, volunteers and program participants are planted to supplement existing vegetation.
Native Plant Nursery
A nursery at the Blue Creek Conservation Area provides seed beds to help increase native plants at restored sites.