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Helping keep Cranberry Bog afloat

Ice has locked in Cranberry Bog. The workers removing trees dragged their equipment in a small boat across the ice. Beacon photo by Scott Rawdon.

Ice has locked in Cranberry Bog. The workers removing trees dragged their equipment in a small boat across the ice. Beacon photo by Scott Rawdon.

BUCKEYE LAKE– Cranberry Bog is becoming more buoyant.

Buckeye Lake Historical Society members – the society took charge of the bog’s well being at ODNR’s request – are clearing trees from the bog to keep it afloat and extend the life of the one-ofa kind natural wonder.

“The trees are not supposed to be there,” said Buckeye Lake Historical Society Director J-me Braig. She explained that the trees being removed, mainly “swampy maples” and sumac, are literally weighing down the floating bog and shortening its lifespan. The bog, which was once 50 acres of sphagnum moss, has been whittled down to 11 acres due to weather and wave action. The felled trees are being used to create a reef around the outside of the bog to protect it from waves and boats, and to create a fish habitat. “The bass love it,” she said.

“The problem with trees is that they are invaders that are not naturally part of a bog meadow environment and the damage they cause to the bog is easy to see,” said bog volunteer tour guide and Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow member Sharon Spahr. She said the trees being removed have an especially harmful effect on the surface of the bog, which is a huge, 40 foot thick sponge created by more than 10,000 years of growth of sphagnum moss.

The weight of a tree depresses the spongy bog surface, allowing lake and rainwater to pool on the surface, destroying the acidic conditions the bog requires and cutting channels through the bog mat. Spahr said sometimes larger trees, lacking good root support in the spongy bog, topple over leaving a large gash on the surface where even more water can collect. “The result is areas of dead bog where invasive plants flourish, margins of the bog that are submerged into the lake, and even chunks of bog that break off and float into the lake,” she said. In addition, bog plants thrive in sunshine and are choked out in the shade of trees.

“Felling selected trees on the margin of the bog will allow the surface of the bog in those areas to rise above the lake level, minimizing the damage of infiltrating lake water and allowing more sunshine to reach the surface of the bog,” said Spahr. The felled trees can also stabilize the margin of the bog and protect it from damaging wave action.

“Cranberry Bog State Nature Preserve is unique and cherished by so many nature-lovers,” said Spahr. “I hope felling trees on the margin of the bog will be a step toward slowing the rapid deterioration of the environment.”

“There will be a whole lot more meadow and a whole lot less poison sumac,” said bog guide Lois Holler. “People will be able to see more of the plants they came to see. There’s been more done to (the bog) in the last two years than the last 100.”

She said some of the felled tree trunks were sliced to create “stepping stone” pathways across the surface of the bog so volunteers and people maintaining the bog don’t step directly on the moss. “We’ve been very creative along those lines,” Holler said. She said the pH level is also being maintained on the bog. “It has to be four or close, or the bog will die,” Holler said.

It’s not only plants that will be enjoying the healthier bog. Birds are migrating there as well, including the Prothonotary Warbler, some of which travel all the way from South America to roost on the bog in the summer. Volunteers have created birdhouses to attract unusual species, including one particular warbler named “Berry.”

Bog volunteer and birding expert Joy Pratt explained how the Buckeye Lake Historical Society, the Grange Insurance Audubon Center (GIAC), warbler experts and volunteers became involved with protecting the threatened warblers, which Pratt calls the “jewels of the swamp.”

“Two summers ago Jim Mc- Cormick, Columbus Dispatch wildlife columnist, brought a group of OSU students to the lake to tour the bog,” said Pratt. Buckeye Lake Historical Society bog tour guides were invited to join. “Immediately, Jim spotted the Prothonotary warblers. They are small, vibrantly colored, with a stunning yellow-orange head and neck, singing ‘sweet, sweet, sweet.’ They were everywhere. We were all thrilled,” she said.

Pratt said the songbird is only two of the known 50 warblers that nest in cavities, such as trees. They are considered threatened and declining due to several reasons, including a 90 percent loss of habitat, especially the mangroves from their place of migration in Central and South America. “They arrive at the lake in late April and are among the first of birds to return home in late August,” she said. According to Milton Trautman’s “Birds of Buckeye Lake,” there were 50-80 nesting pairs in the 1920s and half as many by the 1930s.

“I thought surely this bird could use some human assistance,” said Pratt. “I volunteer at the GIAC and they gave me the emails of warbler experts. The conclusion of our discussions was to build nest boxes and they will come, at least no harm will be done.”

Pratt said Dick Tuttle, an authority on warblers, led a workshop last February at the Buckeye Lake Museum. “We had expected about a dozen people and 40 people attended,” she said. One volunteer said he would build the boxes, one provided the funding, and the boxes were put on the bog by late April. “And yes, come they did,” said Pratt. “Cranberry Bog is an ideal home for (the warbler) we call ‘Berry’ to spend the summer.” She said there are no known predators on the bog because of the moss’ acidity. “Snakes and raccoons are absent, but other birds can be a threat,” said Pratt. Nest boxes for tree swallows were built next to the warbler boxes because tree swallows are stealth defenders of their homes and will protect the warblers living next door.

Throughout the summer the nest boxes were monitored, eggs and babies were counted, and 16 new babies were born. The monitoring facts sheets were compiled with the help of warbler consultant Anne Balogh of GIAC and submitted to the Cornell Ornithology Lab.

“The Cranberry Bog and the Prothonotary Warbler share more then just the same space, they are both nearing extinction,” said Pratt. “As they say, it takes a village, and we are trying to make a difference.”

Braig said the bog could definitely use more volunteers as it annually draws hundreds of tourists. She wants to promote tourists’ education to help them understand how unique and special the bog is. “We need volunteers to promote and help clear it,” she said. Braig said the historical society is following the ODNR’s guidelines for the bog’s care and longevity.

“It looks like we’re on the right track,” she said, as evidenced by the thousands of cranberries that grew on the bog last year. In previous years, there were none. “(The bog) is healthy,” said Braig. “It’s in good shape.”

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