Title: Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary-Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary Grassland Restoration Project
Purpose of Grant: Grant funding would allow for the purchase of herbicide and native prairie seed, as well as operational costs of converting a fescue pasture in an urban park to a diverse native grassland. The project area consists of 13.5 acres owned by Columbia Audubon Society (CAS) and the City of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department (CP&R).
Project Location: The 28.5 acre Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary (CANS) shares a border with the City of Columbia’s 89.5 acre Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary (Bonnie View) and both areas are located in a residential area within the Columbia city limits. The project site is located on the north end of Cunningham Road. The estate of F. Garland Russell Sr. gifted these properties to Columbia Audubon Society and the City of Columbia, respectively, to serve as a contiguous nature area to be developed specifically for a natural outdoor experience. Since 2012, CANS has hosted 2,000 second graders for a field trip called Band With Nature that focuses on birds. This program is a cooperative effort of CAS, Missouri River Bird Observatory, the University of Missouri Raptor Rehabilitation Project, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and Columbia Public Schools. Band With Nature often serves many students as their first introduction to nature in this urban setting. The education and conservation value of these two contiguous properties is significant: the former Russell properties represent one of the last large undeveloped tracts in the Columbia city limits.
Ecosystem restoration efforts began in the mid-2000s as CAS and CP&R wished to preserve a large contiguous nature sanctuary for hiking and nature viewing. In 2011, the city of Columbia approved a master plan for Bonnie View that calls for minimal development that would be compatible with its designation as a nature sanctuary. Bush honeysuckle management in the old growth white oak-dominated forest has been a primary focus for several years at CANS. CP&R has begun native grassland restoration in one of the old fields on the property, but drought conditions in 2012 and invasive species encroachment impacted the germination of many desired forbs and grasses. A 13.5 acre fescue field spans the properties and both landowners desire native grassland restoration across this area. Weekly bird surveys at CANS, conducted since 2011, indicate high species richness throughout the year, and point to the importance that these nature areas have on birds. 127 bird species have been documented from the site, including 26 species of warblers, 13 species of sparrows, and abundant populations of Indigo Buntings, Eastern Wood Pewees, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. This urban nature area is not designated as an Important Bird Area nor located within a Conservation Opportunity Area. However, these contiguous tracts harbor significant woodland, forest, and grassland bird populations, and offer an outstanding opportunity for restoration that will benefit all wildlife, especially birds.
Columbia Audubon Society has not previously applied for a grant through the Missouri Bird Conservation Initiative. CAS is a founding member of MoBCI, and supports efforts of other agencies in MoBCI grant projects by assisting with bird surveys and habitat assessment. The proposed grassland restoration project represents a strong partnership between CAS and CP&R. To date, neither agency has received grant dollars for ecosystem restoration efforts at this site.
Project Description: This highly visible project is located on a flat to slightly rolling upland area and is bordered by the Scott’s Branch Trail and entrances to CANS and Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary. Previous efforts to convert the 13.5 acre fescue field to native grasslands have included a one time herbicide treatment on 5.1 acres, but the process was abandoned due to lack of dedicated funds and restoration expertise. In 2014, CAS met with members of the Hawthorn Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society and other experts to develop a project timeline that includes repeated mowing of the fescue (started in July 2014), repeated treatment with glyphosate-based herbicide, seeding with native seed, and follow-up treatment to include spot spraying and mowing. CAS proposed the grassland restoration project to CP&R who has agreed to serve as a partner for this project and will provide assistance in mowing and maintenance. Grant funding would allow for the purchase of locally available seed, which will be supplemented by seed collected by volunteers from Tucker Prairie and Prairie Fork Conservation Area to insure that seed used for this project will be well adapted to Columbia’s climate and soil conditions. Funding would also enable contractor removal of invasive woody species, the purchase of herbicide, and for contract spraying across the large acreage. Grant funding will be matched by in-kind labor from CAS volunteers, Audubon Society of Missouri volunteers and CP&R staff. Funding of this project will also come from the CAS budget earmarked for ecosystem protection and restoration. CAS will be the lead organization in this project and will conduct regular bird surveys of the entire area to track bird populations in response to the restoration efforts.
Historic data from the localized area indicates the presence of open woodlands, with savanna openings on ridge tops and closed-canopy forests in valleys. Today, the wooded tracts of CANS and Bonnie View maintain the tree composition of white oak-maple-elm that existed during the 1843 survey by the General Land Office. However, the fields in the uplands were cleared of mature trees over 100 years ago, and the Russell family used the fields for grazing and haying throughout their ownership. The long history of fescue has impacted woodland development, though in some areas of CANS, widely scattered mature trees and shrubs exist, making suitable nesting for the documented populations of Eastern Towhees, Field Sparrows and Yellow-breasted Chats. The restoration project aims to remove scattered undesirable woody species, particularly honey locust and Eastern red cedar, to favor the grassland-savanna setting. The project aims to restore native vegetation consisting of warm season grasses and prairie forbs to replace the fescue and weedy annuals that exist today. This effort will enhance wildlife habitat for pollinators which will influence breeding bird populations. As the site exists today, grassland-shrubland-dependent birds utilize the marginal areas for foraging and nest building, but with restoration they will likely expand their range and abundance throughout the project area.
Habitat Types and Wildlife Benefited: Restoration of native Central Dissected Till Plains prairie-savanna vegetation at CANS and Bonnie View will result in a heterogeneous natural landscape setting that will benefit grassland-shrubland birds. The Partner’s In Flight Yellow List, birds identified as declining across their range due to habitat destruction, includes Yellow-breasted Chat, Red-headed Woodpecker, Wild Turkey, and White-eyed Vireo. All of these and other grassland-shrubland birds which include American Woodcock and Eastern Kingbird have been documented at CANS. Wild Turkey is rarely seen during spring and summer at CANS, but with restoration may increase in population. Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, and Blue-winged Warbler are also known at the site, and have been noted by the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture as Priority Species. The ecological value of this area for bird life is largely due to the Russell family’s stewardship, and their generosity in bestowing these tracts to CAS and CP&R for protection. The protection of these properties as a nature sanctuary has proven immensely beneficial to bird life in the area. The Missouri Comprehensive Wildlife Strategy identifies grassland-savanna birds of the Central Dissected Till Plains as conservation targets; among them, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood Pewee, Bell’s Vireo, and Grasshopper Sparrow have been identified at CANS. CAS maintains highly productive Eastern Bluebird boxes and has plans to install a Purple Martin house at CANS.
Public Benefits: CANS and Bonnie View have become increasingly popular among the citizens of Columbia. The CANS trail system recently connected to trails on Bonnie View to provide visitors to both sites the opportunity to experience this urban nature sanctuary on a greater acreage. Columbia Public Schools frequently take advantage of these sites for outdoor education opportunities. Eagle Scout projects at CANS have involved bridge building across the creeks and multiple bench installations to allow walkers of all abilities the chance to enjoy this urban sanctuary. CAS plans to install interpretive panels during the restoration project to explain the benefits to wildlife and the process of native grassland restoration. Upon visible restoration, CAS will partner with the Missouri Prairie Foundation to install a permanent interpretative panel highlighting the restoration and its benefits to birds.
Measurable Outcomes: Progress of this project will be measured by the elimination of fescue and establishment of native prairie plants. We expect that this transition will lead to increased use of the area by grassland-shrubland bird species, which will be documented by post-project monitoring. The establishment of a native prairie habitat will require maintenance by periodic haying and/or prescribed fire.
Measurable Deliverables: CAS will provide preliminary and final written reports during and after the grant period. Photo documentation of work in progress will accompany the reports and by June 2016, bird data and a vegetation success report will be submitted to MoBCI. CAS will take part in the poster session at the annual MoBCI Conference to highlight the restoration efforts the grant funded.
Grant Request Amount: This grant request is for $11,306.00 to defray the costs of contractors for tree removal, herbicide application, and for purchase and planting native grass and forb seed (see budget). Matching costs to be incurred by CAS and CP&R are estimated at $12,463. These costs consist primarily of labor for mowing fescue and weeds, applying herbicide, removing trees, collecting seed, consultation with Greenbelt Land Trust, and post-project bird monitoring.
Reporting and Monitoring Plan: CAS will provide MoBCI with progress reports as described above. Bird surveys on the project area will be conducted by the Audubon Society of Missouri and CAS volunteers; these monitoring exercises will entail a minimum of 100 hours in the three years following seeding. Bird data will be entered into the eBird database. Interpretive panels pertaining to bird life and the importance of grasslands will be developed as CAS determines population density of target species that visitors to the site will likely encounter.
Columbia Audubon Society
P.O. Box 1331
Columbia MO 65205
2746 W. Willowbark Ct.
Columbia MO 65203
City of Columbia, Parks and Recreation Department: Brett O’Brien
Hawthorn Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society: Becky Erickson
Audubon Society of Missouri: Shari Harden
Greenbelt Land Trust: Gene Gardner
Fiscal Responsibility and Management: Project funds will be distributed to Columbia Audubon Society’s Nature Areas budget. The grant dollars will be spent on herbicide and its application, tree removal, native prairie seed, and planting.