American Forests, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of Regional Councils, has recently launched its Vibrant Cities Lab, an online resource that provides curated information about all aspects of urban forestry. Using the visual language of city planning websites, research showing the benefits of urban trees from many different perspectives is presented in an easy-to-read format.
In the Fall 2017 issue of American Forests Magazine Ian Leahy writes: “Urban forestry as a discipline has matured to a stage whereby it is ready to integrate into the decision-making processes of the disciplines that impact tree canopy the most. Vibrant Cities Lab is an important online infrastructure to begin doing that on a national scale.”
The volume of research showing the benefits of trees for public health, economic development, transportation, and many other functions of a city that urban planners work to improve, is now considered sufficient to guide decision-making. As planners seek to produce urban environments that are vibrant and provide a good quality of life for people, they can now turn to this resource to support decisions that result in the growth and maintenance of urban canopies.
The Vibrant Cities Lab empowers citizen groups advocating for greenspace with an Urban Forestry Toolkit to organize information to help planners make better decisions that affect the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
The Users Guide includes this animated video explaining the benefits of urban forests:
By providing research and easily understood video material, the Vibrant Cities Lab has framed the discourse for citizens and urban planners alike so that intelligent decisions can be made regarding management of the vital biodiversity that sustains urban life.
John Steward, M.P.H., a faculty member of the Georgia State University School of Public Health, recently published an article in the Saporta Report about the public health benefits of parks and greenspace. Some beautiful photos of the Briarlake Forest are included in the article, which discusses the results of a recent online survey conducted by the Friends of Briarlake Forest Park. The results of this survey confirm the results of a focus group study the Briarlake Community Forest Alliance conducted in January 2015. Information from the 2015 focus group study is included in this video linking the public health needs in the area of the Briarlake Forest to the Georgia Conservancy‘s 2006 LaVista Road Corridor Study:
The Briarlake Forest was among several of Atlanta’s original forests inducted into the Old-Growth Forest Network on April 25, 2017 at a standing-room only event at Emory University sponsored by EcoAddendum. Coverage of the event may be viewed in the Saporta Report.
Briarlake Forest, along with some other forests in the Atlanta metro area, will be inducted into the Old Growth Forest Network at an author talk and panel discussion at Emory University on Tuesday, April 25 at 7:00 p.m. Please click the image above for more information and to RSVP.
The Briarlake Forest has some colorful flora this time of year. The native Cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) is blooming in several places in the forest, usually near a large oak tree.
These orchids are native to most states east of the Mississippi, and are threatened or endangered in several states including Florida (see USDA Plants Database for more information). Some may be seen to the left of the trail leading from Castleway Lane, and a cluster of them can be seen to the left of the trail bisecting the park midway between the Castleway Lane entrance and Briarlake Road.
Cranefly orchids bloom in late summer and early fall. The stalks appear only at this time. During the late fall and winter the plant shows only green leaves with purple spots. These plants thrive especially where the soil has not been disturbed, and where trees such as white oaks are well-established. They need the leaf litter and dead twigs from the oak trees to have the right nutrients to live.
Adding to the color of the forest at this time of year is the native mushroom called Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). This mushroom lives on trees or fallen logs and is so called because it “tastes like chicken.”
According to the following video from LearnYourLand.com, a distinguishing feature of this mushroom is that it has pores instead of gills. It is one of the easier mushrooms to identify because of its color, and there are few other species that resemble it in any way. Learn Your Land’s Adam Haritan explains how to identify this mushroom and some of its medicinal uses:
NOTE: DeKalb County Park Rules prohibit removal of any plants or plant materials from the park.
Native ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) is also visible throughout the year in the park. This plant makes a flower that resembles a little brown jug. According to Walter Reeves, the seeds of this plant are distributed by ants.
There are many other interesting plants in the forest that depend on the old-growth soil to sustain them. They will thrive best with the least disturbance to the soil possible and with careful removal of invasive species that deplete the soil of the nutrients they need.
In the evenings one can hear many types of birds in the neighborhoods surrounding Briarlake Forest. One call that stands out is the “WHOO-oo-oo, Who-Who” of a great horned owl. Joe Weissman spied this one high up in a tree using the telephoto lens on his camera. After about 15 minutes of hooting, the owl took flight and swooped over a path in the forest, perhaps to find some dinner. Voles anyone?
According to the Wikipedia article on Great Horned Owls, these birds have a wingspan of between 3 and 5 feet, and weigh between 1 1/2 and 5 1/2 pounds. Naturalists also call them “tiger owls” because they seem to be the functional equivalent of tigers in the air. They hunt small mammals, birds, and the occasional reptile or amphibian, typically eating the equivalent of a couple of voles each night. Mice, rats, and rabbits are often found in the Great Horned Owl’s diet, but they sometimes hunt opossums or raccoons, and sometimes even coyote pups.
Great horned owls typically live about 13 years, though some that were studied in the wild lived 21 or 22 years, and one has been reported to have lived 38 years in captivity. They stay within about a one mile radius throughout their entire life once they have established their territory.
Owls help balance the population of rodents in their area. The mystique of the owl’s call and the grace of its flight are some of the impressions that make the Briarlake Forest a special place.
An Australian Bearded Dragon
Photo by Ellery McLanahan, used with permission
On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, around 5 p.m., Ellery McLanahan discovered an unusual guest in the forest. He posted this photo on Facebook asking if anyone knew anything about this lizard. Though I did not know much about them, I offered to help because obviously this was not the right place or climate for this type of animal. Ellery knocked on my front door around 6:30 and we went into the forest and rescued this Australian Bearded Dragon.
I kept it in a cat carrier overnight in a very warm room. Fortunately, by the next morning someone who already had a terrarium and other equipment for taking care of reptiles offered to keep it until its owner claimed it.
The American Veterinary Medical Association website contains important information about pet ownership:
Owning a pet is a privilege, but the benefits of pet ownership come with responsibilities. Be a Responsible Pet Owner: Commit. Avoid impulsive decisions when selecting a pet. (more at Responsible Pet Ownership)
The Briarlake Forest Park was created by DeKalb County in response to people in this community exercising responsible citizenship. It is my hope that this community will show an exemplary level of responsibility towards all living things.
The DeKalb County Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs will hold a Park Visioning meeting at the Northlake-Barbara Loar Library, 3772 LaVista Road, Tucker, GA 30084, on Monday, November 9, 2015 from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. This is the second meeting held by the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs. A draft master plan has been prepared and will be available for public review at the meeting. This process is supported by the Friends of Briarlake Forest, a volunteer group dedicated to maintaining the 21-acre urban forest. For more information or directions, the telephone number for the Northlake-Barbara Loar Library is (404) 679-4408.
The Eastern Box Turtle is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because of declining populations. Many states have laws protecting this species from exploitation; in Georgia it is illegal to keep a box turtle as a pet.
Box turtles can live over 100 years. Here is a quote about Box Turtles from an article on HubPages.com that should give you an idea of why Box Turtles are protected:
Every adult box turtle is vital to its population’s future.
In the fragmented habitats that are typical of the eastern United States box turtle populations are so sensitive to losing adults that, in modeling studies performed by Dr. Richard Seigel of Towson University, a loss of only three adult box turtles from a population of 50 males and 50 females could put the population on a slow, and irreversible, decline to extinction.
Most box turtles never survive to reach breeding age (8 + years): Foxes, raccoons, skunks, crows, opossums, turkeys, domestic cats and dogs, and other animals eat turtle eggs and young turtles with shells not yet hard enough to provide good protection. Any turtles that do survive have to contend with roads and also with development which causes a loss of habitat, which also brings more roads, more dogs and cats, and more people who like to take turtles from the wild, hoping that they can make pets of them. Every one of the years (50 – 100) that a wild female box turtle can live is critical to ensuring that, of the three to five eggs she lays a year, at least one of her young will become an adult to replace her in that population.
Box Turtles spend their whole life in a 2 to 4 acre range. They have an instinctive homing ability; if removed from their home, they will go back to it. They need sunlight and the moist forest floor to thrive.
So if you see a Box Turtle in the forest, leave it alone! But feel free to take a photograph and share it here or with the Friends of Briarlake Forest.