Here’s the problem: cottonwood woodland has disappeared from much of its historic range along the Missouri River. What remains is largely stands of old trees. Over time, the lack of young (and middle-aged) stands of cottonwoods will lead to a drastic change in habitat for many species in the Missouri River valley – like bald eagles, migratory songbirds, and other woodland plants and animals.
Volunteers from the Arbor Day Foundation and Nature Conservancy members spent two days in January collecting over 5,000 cuttings. Now not much taller than a ruler, these cuttings are designed to be tomorrow's forests.
It’s not difficult to get cuttings that can grow into trees. You just need to cut 8-12″ sections from stems that grew during the previous growing season. When those stems are put in the ground, the buds on the stems will facilitate the process of transforming them into new trees.
Through a partnership between the Nebraska Forest Service, the Arbor Day Foundation, and The Nature Conservancy, the Conservancy’s Wetland Restoration Specialist Tyler Janke is leading an effort to create experiment and demonstration sites for Missouri River cottonwood restoration. (Funding for the project comes from the U.S. Forest Service, the Arbor Day Foundation, and State Wildlife Grant funding through Nebraska’s Natural Legacy Project.)
"One of the big reasons we need this work is because grassland restoration keeps failing in places that flood too much and too often. Those places are much more appropriate as woodland habitat, but we don’t really know how to make that happen. That’s what Tyler’s going to try to figure out, and then we’ll share what we learn," said Chris Helzer, Eastern Nebraska Program Director.
Over the next three years, Tyler plans to establish 300 acres of new cottonwood woodlands on land that is enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program.