Black Hills regional pictorial

A quick family trip to the Black Hills was taken last week.  Seed collection season at work isn’t in full swing just yet, so I was able to squeeze some time in for this.  One thing that worried me was seeing such an abundance of Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis), Timothy-grass (Phelum pratense), and Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomeratus) in many areas of an otherwise rare Black Hills montane grasslands.

There were many colonies of Golden Pea (Thermopsis rhombifolia) throughout the Black Hills, both in the grasslands and scattered openings in pine forests.
There were many colonies of Golden Pea (Thermopsis rhombifolia) throughout the Black Hills, both in the grasslands and scattered openings in pine forests.
The dominant plant in the Black Hills is Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa).  An easy (and fun) way to identify this tree is, on warm, sunny days, to sniff the crevices of the bark - it produces an aroma much like butterscotch.
The dominant plant in the Black Hills is Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa). An easy (and fun) way to identify this tree is, on warm, sunny days, to sniff the crevices of the bark – it produces an aroma much like butterscotch.
Bur Oak is one of the major competitors of Ponderosa Pine for sunlight, water, and space.
Bur Oak (Quercus marcrocarpa) is one of the major competitors with Ponderosa Pine for sunlight, water, and space.  The Black Hills represents the westernmost population of this oak.
The Bur Oak is the lighter yellow colored leaves in the mid-story of this pine stand.
The Bur Oak is the lighter yellow colored leaves in the mid-story of this pine stand.

Other tree species found in the Black Hills are Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), White Spruce (Picea glauca), along with lesser amounts of Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta).  This fairly diverse mix of trees could lend itself to an equally diverse fire regime, though intensive logging  – strictly for pine sawtimber – as well as fire suppression over the last 150 years, has changed the composition of the forests, lessening the extent of all species but the Ponderosa.  This in turn has changed the way fire behaves in the Black Hills.

For more in-depth reading on the ecology, silviculture (industrial logging is big in the Black Hills, which, over time, creates its own set of ecological problems) and management of Ponderosa Pine and associated species, click here.

Rocky Mountain Iris (Iris missouriensis).
Rocky Mountain Iris (Iris missouriensis).
American Bison ( ), along with its ecological counterpart, the Prairie Dog ( ), are considered keystone species in the North American prairie.  Here, two bison graze in a prairie dog town in Wind Cave National Park.
American Bison (Bison bison), along with its ecological counterpart, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), are considered keystone species in the North American prairie; both of these creatures and their grazing ecology set the stage for all other life that depends on their actions and interactions on the shortgrass prairie. Here, two bison graze in a prairie dog town in Wind Cave National Park.  Bison are the largest land mammal in North America.

For more on the grazing ecology and interactions of the above mammals:
American Bison – http://www.nps.gov/wica/naturescience/abstracts-bison.htm
Black-tailed Prairie Dog – http://www.nps.gov/wica/naturescience/research-bibliography-prairie-dogs.htm

The montane grasslands of the Black Hills are scattered, and, like almost any grassland in North America, is subject to invasion of woody plant species - Ponderosa in this case - in the absence of fire.
The montane grasslands of the Black Hills are scattered, and, like almost any grassland in North America, is subject to invasion of woody plant species – mainly Ponderosa Pine at the site pictured – in the absence of fire (wild or prescribed).
Pronghorn Antelope () grazing.  This ungulate is the fastest land mammal in North America.
Pronghorn (Antilocarpa americana) grazing. This ungulate is the fastest land mammal in North America, having been clocked at 60mph.  They tend to select predominantly for forbs when grazing.  Just like the Bison and the Prairie Dog, Pronghorn are very well adapted to wide open country.
And then there was a Chipmunk who helped itself to a Nacho Cheese Dorito at a campground near Keystone, SD.
And then there was a Least Chipmunk (Tamius minimus), who helped itself to a Nacho Cheese Dorito at a campground trash receptacle near Keystone, SD.

While the Black Hills is a very scenic region, it is very ecologically degraded in a lot of areas.  That’s not surprising for a national forest/park/monument that receives millions of human visitors each year.  It is one of the most heavily, industrially logged national forests in the Rockies, and the impacts from industrially-focused silviculture, cattle grazing allotments, road construction, subdivisions, ranchettes owned by people with no understanding of grazing ecology or the ecology of a montane grassland, annual haying on now tame meadows, nuclear waste sites, mining and its associated heavy metal contamination, off highway vehicle (OHV) trails, noise pollution, and introduction of invasive plant species cannot be ignored if the beauty and integrity of the park is to continue.

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