Tag Archives: Ganondagan State Historic Site

Fire Improves Bird Habitat at Ganondagan State Historic Site

Have you heard about wildfire outbreaks in California or New York on the news? Do you know how a prescribed burn and wildfire differ from one another?  A prescribed burn is very different from a wildfire. Prescribed burning is a management tool that is precisely planned for safety and meeting set goals, while wildfires often occur unpredictably and without warning. State Parks utilizes prescribed burning for both public safety and conservation purposes. This past spring, at the Ganondagan State Historic Site near Rochester, prescribed burning was used for both conservation and to replicate traditions of the Seneca people.

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Control lines are created at the edge of the area to be burned so that the fire does not escape designated areas. These lines are approximately 12 feet wide and are kept wet and clear of fire by prescribed burn staff, photo by Joel Carlson of Northeast Forest & Fire Management LLC.

Ganondagan State Historic Site (Ganondagan) celebrates and interprets the lives and culture of the Seneca people, specifically the Seneca that lived on site between 1655-1687. The site is 570 acres, and in 2009, a 70-acre portion was set aside for grassland management. Journal entries from European visitors during the time of Seneca occupation, described the areas surrounding Ganondagan. In 1669, explorers Galineē and Dollier described vast oak openings with sparse, but lofty, oak trees and grasses taller than a man that extended for hundreds of miles in every direction.¹ These observations paint a picture of warm season grasslands, with grasses reaching heights of 8 feet or taller, sparse wildflowers and oak trees around their fringe.² Warm season grasses begin growing in June, reaching full maturity by August or September. Some of the earliest observations indicate that the Seneca people burned these grasslands annually, managing them to attract game animals and birds, and to facilitate nut collection.³

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Prescribed fire at Ganondagan was lit with drip torches, photo by Joel Carlson of Northeast Forest & Fire Management LLC.

The 70 acres set aside for grassland management began its transformation in 2009, with the goal of recreating the landscape that existed for the Seneca at Ganondagan almost 400 years ago. A fully established warm season grassland can support many forms of life, and at Ganondagan it is a haven for rare grassland bird species. Grasslands are ecosystems maintained by natural disturbances like fire. Without disturbance, a grassland will gradually go through the steps of succession to become a shrubland and later a forest.

Before the prescribed burn at Ganondagan in May 2017, the grasslands had begun to build up a thick thatch layer, decreasing both the amount of sunlight reaching its sun-loving plants and the amount of bare ground between plants (which grassland birds and mammals like for habitat).

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A successful prescribed burn is designed to keep the fire within control lines and the smoke up and away from people and homes, photo by Joel Carlson of Northeast Forest & Fire Management LLC.

Time of year can play an important role in how an ecosystem reacts to a burn. At Ganondagan, a spring burn was chosen to cut off early growth of invasive species and to promote the growth of the warm season grasses like big bluestem and Indian grass. Future prescribed burning done on the site may happen in different seasons depending on the desired outcome. For example, a prescribed burn taking place in this warm season grassland in the fall would promote the growth of forbs (broad leaved plants), such as wildflowers. Regardless of the timing, a properly done prescribed burn will not completely remove grasses or forbs, but can help achieve the best plant composition for grassland birds.

Prescribed burning was the perfect way to manage the grasslands at Ganondagan: it created a disturbance to maintain the ecosystem, returned carbon and nitrogen to the soil in the form of ash, and opened the grassland to more sunlight. This burn also provides a unique opportunity for educators to interpret this management tool, once used by the Seneca at Ganondagan to maintain the grasslands in the 17th Century, and now updated for the 21st century!

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The ‘mop up’ of a prescribed burn ensures that all of the fire is completely out and, as in the case of the Ganondagan Prescribed Burn, can take longer than the burn itself, photo by Joel Carlson of Northeast Forest & Fire Management LLC.

This valuable management tool will continue to be used at the Ganondagan State Historic Site and are exploring future opportunities.

Post by Whitney Carleton-DeGeorge and Michael Galban , State Parks

Featured image: Joel Carlson of Northeast Forest & Fire Management LLC.

1 Galinée, René de Bréhant de. (env. 1670) 1903. “Le Voyage De MM. Dollier et Galinée.” In Exploration of the Great Lakes 1669-1670 by Dollier de Casson and de Bréhant de Galinée, ed. James H. Coyne. Toronto: Ontario Historical Society Papers and Records.

² Parker, Arthur – New York State Archeologist – “The League of the Five Nations – a Story of the Aboriginal Empire State” published in Livingston County Historical Society 34th Annual Meeting, Geneseo, NY, 1910.

³Donck, Adriaen van der, 1620-1655. (Beschryvinge van Nieuvv-Nederlant. English) A description of New Netherland / Adriaen van der Donck; edited by Charles T. Gehring and William A Starna; translated by Diederik Willem Goedhuys; foreword by Russell Shorto.

Iroquois White Corn Project

Ganondagan State Historic Site, in the Finger Lakes Region, was once the capital of the Seneca Nation and home to as many as 4,500 people. Ganondagan is translated to mean “a town on a hill surrounded by the substance of white” referring to white blossoms growing there which turned into an edible fruit.   Located in Victor, New York, Ganondagan is the only New York state historic site dedicated to Native American history.

The original Ganondagan (ga·NON·da·gan) community was destroyed by a campaign of the French in 1687.  At the time the French army and their allies spent days destroying corn, beans, squash and other foods that sustained the Seneca Nation and other Haudenosaunee (Iroquois people).  Records show that that over 1,200,000 bushels of corn were cut down, burned and destroyed in mid-July of 1687. Seneca homes were also burned to the ground.  In 1987 Ganondagan State Historic Site opened as a New York State historic site 300 years after its demise.

The Iroquois White Corn Project (IWCP) was first established in 1997 by Dr. John Mohawk, on a Seneca reservation known as Cattaraugus, upon his death in 2006 the project became dormant.

In 2012 the Friends of Ganondagan re-established IWCP in a farm house on site with the help of Historic Site Manager Pete Jemison who moved the equipment and Iroquois White Corn Project Ganondagan.  Today the IWCP produces three products from heirloom Iroquois White Corn: whole hulled dried corn, roasted white corn flour, and white corn flour, which are marketed by the Friends group. Iroquois White Corn is a slow food, gluten free and highly nutritious, especially when combined with beans.

The process of removing the hulls from the kernels using cooking lime is known as nixtamalization.  This culinary technique softens the corn hulls and kernels, creating whole hominy which can be ground in to masa flour.  Nixtamalized corn has healthy amino acids and vitamin B and is more flavorful and aromatic. Nixtamal is the Spanish interpretation of the Aztec term for the process of soaking dry corn in fire ashes to improve flavor and nutrition nixtamalli.

About 75% of our corn is obtained from Haudenosaunee farmers and products are sold to the Seneca Nation, Oneida Nation, retail outlets (including Wegmans) and through the gift shop in the Seneca Art & Culture Center.

The Iroquois White Corn Project provides employment and training for both Native American and non- Native youth. Volunteers assist the IWCP at the annual husking bee (held in the fall) and by sorting corn kernels.  Volunteers also assist in maintaining our onsite gardens.  We grow the three sisters – corn, beans, and squash – known to the Seneca as Our Sustainers – Dioheko.

The Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan opened in October 2015 and houses a gallery, two classrooms, an orientation theater, auditorium, caterer’s kitchen, archival storage, and offices for the staff.

More information about Ganondagan and special events sponsored by the Friends can be found at Ganondagan.org

Post by Peter Jemison, State Parks

A Conservation Cornerstone Celebrates 20 Years

This year, the New York State Bird Conservation Area (BCA) Program celebrates its 20th anniversary. Since 1997, the BCA Program has been promoting the conservation of birds and their habitats on designated state-owned lands and waters in New York State. There is no other program like it in the United States. The BCA Program is modeled after Audubon’s Important Bird Area (IBA) Program but is backed by legislation.  Sites are considered for BCA designation if they meet criteria relating to high concentrations of birds, bird diversity, or the presence of at-risk species. Recognizing a site as a BCA brings awareness to the needs of birds on state-owned lands and encourages management that benefits the bird populations. While the BCA Program focuses on birds, the program also benefits other species that share the same habitats.

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A rare cerulean warbler, photo by Charlie Trampani.

Audubon has partnered with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) on the BCA Program since its beginning, and has held up the BCA Program as a model for other states to protect birds. This fall, Audubon was delighted to join State Parks in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the program, in conjunction with the designation of the 60th BCA in Ganondagan State Park.

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Dedication of the Bird Conservation Area at Ganondagan State Historic Site, photo by Laura McCarthy, Audubon NY.

In recent years, Audubon’s partnership with State Parks has expanded to include Audubon in the Parks initiative, which is a partnership with Audubon New York, State Parks and its Regional Commissions, Audubon Chapters, and friends groups to advance bird conservation in State Parks, specifically focusing on BCAs and IBAs. Through Audubon in the Parks, Audubon assists with the implementation of BCA management recommendations, conducts bird monitoring, and helps with other strategies and research activities that benefit priority birds and habitats. In addition, Audubon advocates for funds to ensure that habitats are preserved and managed in a way that benefits priority birds and further connect people to these unique places.

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Audubon New York staff and members bird watching in Fillmore Glen State Park, photo by Jillian Liner, Audubon NY.

Through Audubon in the Parks, Audubon has been active in more than 50 State Parks across the state, including 20 BCAs. This successful initiative continues to grow through projects like the one recently completed at Schodack Island State Park, which has been designated as a BCA because of nesting Cerulean Warblers and wintering Bald Eagles. Led by the Audubon Society of the Capital Region, this BCA project included building bird blinds for visitors to view birds without disturbing them and removing invasive species within the park. The chapter continues to foster a community connection to the park and importance of this BCA by hosting eagle walks and other events such as the recent Schodack Island Raptor Fest.

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Members of Audubon Society of the Capital District constructing a bird blind at Schodack Island State Park, photo by Laura McCarthy, Audubon NY

Audubon congratulates New York State on the BCA program and looks forward to continuing the strong partnership with State Parks to make New York a better place for birds and people.

More about BCA’s

Map of Bird Conservation Areas

Post by: Jillian Liner, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon New York

The Mysteries of Fall Foliage Revealed

Have you ever wondered what makes the leaves change color in the fall? Or why some years are more vibrant than others? It is quite a fascinating phenomenon, and it all starts with the seasonal temperature and day light hour change. In the fall, the days become shorter and the evenings become cooler. This is what triggers deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in the winter) to begin their process of preparation for the winter months to come. This is also why the foliage changes color around the same time every year.

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Photo of abscission layer and leaf detachment. Photo by Lilly Schelling.

It starts with the expansion of the abscission layer between the stem and leaf, which slowly blocks the movement of water and sugar back and forth between the leaf and stem. This causes the leaf to lose the ability or resources to replenish chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green coloration. The chlorophyll rapidly breaks down and we are left with xanthophylls and carotenoids, which are responsible for the yellow and orange pigments you see on trees like aspen and birch. These pigments are usually present in the leaf throughout the growing season but are masked by the green pigment of the chlorophyll.  Anthocyanins are responsible for red and purple coloration and are created by the buildup of sugars trapped in the leaf. As fall progresses into winter all of the other pigments break down, as the chlorophyll did, and the only pigment that remains are the tannins, which are responsible for the brown color of the fallen leaves – though some trees retain their brown leaves throughout the winter, such as oak and beech.

Factors that affect the color and duration of fall foliage are temperature, sunlight and moisture. Ideal conditions for colorful fall foliage are a good growing season followed by dry, warm, sunny days and cool nights. If there was stress in the growing season, such as a drought or flood, the abscission layer may form early and the leaves will fall off before changing color. Additionally, too low of temperatures (freezing) in the beginning of fall will rapidly break down the products responsible for bright colors and the only pigment left will be brown. Other factors that can affect colorful fall foliage are heavy rain and windy storms, as these conditions will cause the leaves to fall.

When you are out admiring the fall colors this year, try to identify which pigment products are responsible for the colors you are seeing on the trees. A great way to view the fall foliage is from a canoe or kayak, but remember to wear your personal floatation device as the water will be chilly! The New York Fall Foliage Report is a great tool for tracking the color changes across the state: http://www.iloveny.com/seasons/fall/foliage-report/#.VgQGwstVhBd.

References:

The United States National Arboretum

Post by Lilly Schelling, OPRHP.

 

See Through the Eyes of the Seneca at the Ganondagan Grassland Management Area

The Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY boasts a historically accurate 17th century longhouse and will be opening a new Seneca Art and Culture Center this fall. However, there is a hidden gem at this historic site that not many realize exists! It is the Grassland Management Area at the corner of Boughton Hill Road and School Road which covers around 80 acres (over 60 football fields!) and is one of the most intriguing interpretive areas at the site!


In 2009 OPRHP restored 67.4 acres of the Grassland Management Area to represent oak opening communities in both plant composition and spatial arrangement. The Grassland Management Area has since spread to fill around 80 acres with the native plants seeded back in 2009.

The idea behind creating an oak opening came from Ganondagan’s past. Journal entries from French and English visitors to the site in the mid to late 1600’s described the landscape they saw when visiting the flourishing Seneca town of Ganondagan. Their descriptions of oak openings were used to create a scene that can transport the viewer back in time to when the Seneca were living at Ganondagan 400 years ago!

Oak openings are fire-dependent savannahs (grasslands) dominated by oak trees and are rare ecological areas, especially in upstate New York. The oak opening created at Ganondagan consists of warm-season grasses (grasses that thrive in the heat of the summer), wildflowers and large oak trees along the surrounding wood edge. Spring fire management promotes lush growth of warm-season grasses and oak trees. Controlled fires also suppress grassland succession (gradual changes in plant species in an ecosystem), provide fertilizer in the form of plant ash, reducing plant height to allow sunlight to reach new (young) plants and hinder the development of invasive species. The fire management of oak openings such as the Grassland Management Area have historically maintained their species composition mainly due to wildfires, to utilize this historic management technique OPRHP will be conducting a prescribed burn. A prescribed burn is a well-planned fire managed by trained firefighting professionals with specific plans in place to keep smoke high and away from the public.

Proper permits and permissions have been received for OPRHP staff to conduct a prescribed burn at the Grassland Management Area in spring of 2016. The burn will cover 20 acres in the first year and help maintain the plant communities of the Grassland Management Area that are representative of the Town of Ganondagan in the 17th century.

When you visit  Ganondagan’s oak opening, look for native plants include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), tall white beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), smooth blue aster (Aster laevis), New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), zigzag aster (Aster prenanthoides), and Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum).

Throughout the year, the grassland at Ganondagan are a delight to visit.  In spring, it is a lush open area of low, green grasses where chirps and buzzes can be heard above anything else. In the late summer it transforms itself into a beautiful 8-foot tall wonderland of wildflowers and golden brown grasses with different seed head patterns, where you can watch even the slightest of breezes wave through all 80 acres!

Post by Whitney Carleton, OPRHP. Photos by Whitney Carleton and Alexis Van Winkle, OPRHP.