Igniting Restoration

In the early spring of 2011, I was able to talk two of my college professors and a handful of students into jumping in a van and taking a road trip from Iowa State University to a 200 acre plot of land in Decatur County, Iowa called Timberhill Oak Savanna.

Timberhill is a truly unique place to visit.  Owned by an incredibly fascinating couple who bought the land in 1993, they were frustrated by how overgrown the woods were and the lack of diversity in plants found on the site.  After consulting with multiple foresters, ecologists, biologists and with a lot of trial and error, they began to restore Timberhill to the gorgeous Oak Savanna that it once was.

Prescribed burning at Timberhill Oak Savannah


They have since become experts in using prescribed fire on an annual basis to root out invasive species and spur the resurgence of long-dormant native flora from the seed bank below the litter layer.  This method is somewhat controversial, most ecologists do not recommend burning every year, and every site should be individually assessed for its needs and constraints; but the success that has been witnessed at Timberhill in the very short amount of time speaks volumes to the method of choice. See “before” and “after” photos below.

A few highlights from a scientific study conducted on the site:

-460 native species of vascular plants found at Timberhill

-43 species of native bees

-57 species of ants

-86 species of birds

-Some of the most rare species of wildflowers and fungi native to the midwest regularly bloom at Timberhill, it is the only site in the U.S. where a rare, red-pored bolete mushroom regularly fruits.

A full published report can be found on a highly detailed blog maintained by the owners of Timberhill, as well as a detailed history of the site and description of management techniques HERE.

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