Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Using GIS: Changes In The Prairie At Jennings Environmental Center Over Time In Butler County

The following story appeared in the November Catalyst newsletter from the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition based in Butler County--

Some of the best Geographic Information Systems (GIS) practices in our community today were showcased October 18th and 19th at the 13th Annual Northwest PA GIS Conference at Clarion University.
Many GIS applications used for data gathering, analyzing, and sharing were discussed amongst dozens of GIS professionals and academics in an exciting environment for networking and education.
Several GIS applications explored at the conference included drone deployment, crowd-sourcing techniques, water monitoring systems, evaluating bluff recession rates, GIS legacy parcel digitization, European bison reintroduction in central eastern Europe, PA Great Lakes water and land technical resources, and more.
Shaun Busler, a GIS Professional and SRWC participant, presented a “Review of Relict Prairie at Jennings Environmental Center Over Time Utilizing Open Source GIS Software.”
In his presentation, Shaun shared the history of JEEC, the nearby Old Stone House, the role of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and the Jennings relict prairie.
Shaun discussed how the relict prairie has been expanded to about 12 acres to create additional habitat for the massasauga rattlesnake, a PA endangered species. The massasauga rattlesnake is known to be a timid, shy snake, growing to an average adult length of about two feet.
Shaun shared results of a WPC telemetry study, suggesting between 90 and 100 massasauga rattlesnakes currently live in the Jennings prairie ecosystem.
He also shared information on the symbiotic relationship between the terrestrial crayfish and the massasauga, which hibernates in crayfish burrows often seen along the walking trails of the prairie.
Shaun also shared information about common limitations of aerial photos, and how the process of orthorectification can remedy such distortions.
Another part of Shaun’s presentation focused on the maintenance of the prairie, which includes prescribed fires. Over time woody vegetation has encroached upon the relict prairie.
The prairie needs to be actively maintained in order to preserve this unique ecosystem.
The first prescribed fire was originally conducted by the WPC in 1959; nowadays the prairie is split into quads and burned on a two-year rotational basis. The idea behind controlled burning is to simulate what was once a normal part of life for ecosystems like prairies.
Ecosystems native to the Midwest depend on periodic fire events to rejuvenate growth and ensure long-term survival. At Jennings, periodic fires slow the growth of woody plants and aid the growth of native grasses and wildflowers.
One such flower the Jennings prairie is famous for is the magnificent blazing star. This bright purple flower is more commonly found around the Great Lakes and on the coastal plain of the eastern United States.
But every late July and early August its 4 to 6-foot tall stalks burst with a bright brilliant purple during the hot and dry midsummer of western PA.
Shaun enjoyed sharing his GIS data analysis and interesting information about one of his favorite outdoor places to visit, and was equally thankful to learn more about others’ GIS applications in their respective lines of work.
Excellent job to all who provided a poster and/or a presentation!
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition website.
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