A quick family trip to the Black Hills was taken last week. Seed collection season at work isn’t in full swing just yet, so I was able to squeeze some time in for this. One thing that worried me was seeing such an abundance of Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis), Timothy-grass (Phelum pratense), and Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomeratus) in many areas of an otherwise rare Black Hills montane grasslands.
Other tree species found in the Black Hills are Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), White Spruce (Picea glauca), along with lesser amounts of Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta). This fairly diverse mix of trees could lend itself to an equally diverse fire regime, though intensive logging – strictly for pine sawtimber – as well as fire suppression over the last 150 years, has changed the composition of the forests, lessening the extent of all species but the Ponderosa. This in turn has changed the way fire behaves in the Black Hills.
For more in-depth reading on the ecology, silviculture (industrial logging is big in the Black Hills, which, over time, creates its own set of ecological problems) and management of Ponderosa Pine and associated species, click here.
For more on the grazing ecology and interactions of the above mammals:
American Bison – http://www.nps.gov/wica/naturescience/abstracts-bison.htm
Black-tailed Prairie Dog – http://www.nps.gov/wica/naturescience/research-bibliography-prairie-dogs.htm
While the Black Hills is a very scenic region, it is very ecologically degraded in a lot of areas. That’s not surprising for a national forest/park/monument that receives millions of human visitors each year. It is one of the most heavily, industrially logged national forests in the Rockies, and the impacts from industrially-focused silviculture, cattle grazing allotments, road construction, subdivisions, ranchettes owned by people with no understanding of grazing ecology or the ecology of a montane grassland, annual haying on now tame meadows, nuclear waste sites, mining and its associated heavy metal contamination, off highway vehicle (OHV) trails, noise pollution, and introduction of invasive plant species cannot be ignored if the beauty and integrity of the park is to continue.