Meadowlark Sanctuary Piedmont Prairie

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Meadowlark Sanctuary Piedmont Prairie

The Friends of the Meadowlark Sanctuary Piedmont Prairie are initiating a project to restore and preserve native species and their habitats on a property that currently supports a mixture of native and invasive exotic plants. The group intends to reintroduce native Piedmont prairie species and will apply for appropriate permits to include endangered species in the project. This property is regulated under a conservation easement with the Piedmont Land Conservancy as the land steward and maintained by the City of Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department.

The project is named for the Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna, a grassland bird species that relies on insects that are attracted by native plants.

Many grassland birds are threatened by habitat loss due to changes in agricultural practices and grasslands being converted to housing developments. The Eastern Meadowlark is of special concern nationally and in North Carolina. According to the National Audubon Society, the Meadowlark has declined in North America by 72 percent in the past 40 years. Partners in Flight Landbird Population Estimates Database shows only about 120,000 Eastern Meadowlarks remain in North Carolina, which is the second lowest population among Southern states, with only South Carolina having a lower population.

NC E-News reports that in NC , the Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, and Eastern Meadowlark -- all grassland bird species -- topped the Audubon list with declines of between 79 and 96 percent. The Eastern Meadowlark, however, has been in our sanctuary and is believed to have nested there this year.

Project plans call for the following activities:

Eradication of non-native invasive plant species. A preliminary plant inventory revealed there are several species of non-native plants that are aggressively forming monocultural colonies at the sanctuary. Whenever possible, these plants will be eradicated by hand or with power tools. It will be necessary to use some herbicides on difficult species such as Elaeagnus pungens (Silverberry), Pyrus calleryana (Callery Pear), and Celastrus orbiculata (Asian Bittersweet). Licensed City employees will use the “cut and paint” method of lopping the plants low to the ground and then coating the stumps with herbicides.

Conservation of existing desirable native species. Work already is underway to identify and preserve populations of native species that are important to wildlife as well as attractive to the public. For example, seeds from Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed), a host plant of Monarch butterflies and other insects, have been collected from one part of Price Park and sown in two distant locations that currently do not have this species.

Reintroduction of species native to Piedmont prairies. Native grasses and forbs likely to have once been part of the Piedmont will be reintroduced to the sanctuary. This will be done through site preparation and sowing of seeds in selected patches where they are most likely to succeed. Permission will be sought to introduce populations of endangered species such as Echinacea laevigata (Smooth Coneflower) and Helianthus schweinitzii (Schweinitz’s Sunflower).

Installation of informational and educational signs. Price Park is the home of the Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch Library, the City’s environmentally focused library branch that hosts numerous environmental education classes and programs throughout the year. An important goal of this project is to ensure that the Meadowlark Sanctuary Piedmont Prairie provides learning opportunities for visitors. Interpretive signs will be installed within the project area that explain the nature and importance of the habitats and provide information about North Carolina’s native plants and vegetation. (More detailed information will be available in the library.) The Friends group has acquired six signs for installation on the periphery of the property that explain why reduced mowing practices are in place. More signs will be installed as funds become available.

Installation of features to attract animals appropriate for a grassland. As grasslands decline, so do the birds, butterflies, and other animals that are adapted to the grassland habitat. Several structures will be constructed to encourage and support some of these animal species such as a Chimney Swift tower, Loggerhead Shrike perch poles, and a bat roosting structure.

Maintenance of the project site. The City and the Piedmont Land Conservancy have made a commitment to long-term maintenance of the site as a grassland. Maintenance practices will include tree and shrub removal from specified areas, mowing on a rotational schedule, and fertilizing patches where necessary. The Friends group is seeking approval for periodic controlled burning of the area, a practice that is supported by both the City Parks and Recreation Department and the Piedmont Land Conservancy.

Plan objectives:

This project will enhance, preserve, and protect an endangered type of habitat. Not only will plant species benefit, so will the creatures that live among and on the plants. Some grassland birds eat seeds, while others such as Eastern Meadowlarks rely upon insects for survival. As a large grassy meadow, the project site is a unique property within City limits. Throughout North Carolina and North America, grasslands and the species that occupy them are declining rapidly. In urban and suburban settings, grassland habitat is rare. The Meadowlark Sanctuary Piedmont Prairie project will provide public education as well as protecting plant and animal species.

The objectives of this project are to enhance the existing grassland, preserve and protect threatened habitat and species, and educate the public about North Carolina’s plant and animal species in a Piedmont prairie setting. This project will also provide a model for other urban and suburban communities in North Carolina to initiate similar projects that involve cooperation among government and non-governmental organizations.

Although a preliminary plant inventory has been done, volunteers from the organizations involved in the Friends group plan to identify native and non-native species in selected plots of the project site before the soil is prepared and seeds are sown, and then do another inventory in the same plots during the next three growing seasons to measure germination and survival rates. In addition, the City's Invasive Plant Policy Committee is considering sponsoring a comprehensive inventory of invasive species in Price Park. This inventory process may be used as a training activity for Parks and Recreation employees and volunteers who will work in Price Park and other City properties to begin an invasive plants eradication program.

The Friends of the Meadowlark Sanctuary Piedmont Prairie:

Carolina Butterfly Society, Triad Chapter (Don Allemann)
City of Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department (Brooks Mullane)
National Audubon Society, T. Gilbert Pearson Chapter (Gregg Morris)
North Carolina Native Plant Society, Triad Chapter (Kathy Schlosser)
Piedmont Bird Club (Judi Durr)
Piedmont Land Conservancy (Ken Bridle)

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