Spring comes earlier than many people realize. What isn't seen is all the underground activity in February and March as the soil gradually warms and shoots develop just waiting to pop up suddenly on the right warm day.
Many plants even produce a fall rosette of leaves, overwintering that way ready to jump start the bloom stems. Butterflies can overwinter at any stage, on state per species. Most have a chrysalis ready to hatch into an adult as soon as it gets warm enough. The big yellow Tiger Swallowtails already have begun hatching.
Nature has more or less fixed cycles. Plants and animals match them with flexibility and redundancy. The daylight cycle is the most fixed with a steady daily increase or decrease over the year. Photosensitive things like the onions in your garden have days, or even weeks, of opportunity, not just one day of the year.
The temperature cycle is variable and can have daily, weekly or seasonal fluctuations, but these still fall within certain fairly narrow limits. In fits and starts, things warm up in spring and summer and cool down in fall and winter. Temperature-sensitive plants and animals have to be fairly flexible, ready to take advantage whenever the right temperature comes along. That's why forsythias can bloom in a prolonged warm spell in December.
The moisture cycle is the most variable of all. There can be whole seasons or even years that are wetter or drier than average. Seed redundancy helps some plants survive. Not all sprout in the same year. Some sprout every year. That's what happens in deserts: A few plants bloom, even in a string of dry years, but there is a big display when a wet year comes along, even bigger is the second wet year in a row with more seeds available. Southern Ohio has had somewhat wetter years the last few.
Fire is one more cycle to mention. It's highly irregular. In the drier coniferous forests of the West, natural fire might impact any given area once every 30 years. This is enough to create a fire-dependent ecosystem. Here in the wetter broadleaf forests, the natural lighting-caused fire interval is more like hundreds of years with many areas never experiencing fire.
Fire has been an artificial, unnatural human influence in eastern forests for 10,000 years, imposed first by Native Americans, then by European pioneers and now by “modern” man.
Before 10,000 years, before humans, it was elephant-sized megafauna like mammoths and mastodons that shaped the forest, not fire. They ate and dispersed seeds of osage orange, honey locust and coffeetree. That's why these fruits now sit uneaten under the trees. Thorns on honey locust, which only extend up the first 20 feet or so, developed as protection against the large browsers. Now they only repel the ghosts of the past.
Spring has begun early in southern Ohio, but it will be abruptly interrupted on 1,500 acres in Shawnee State Forest if prescribed fires are carried out. The prescribed fires are being used to get reimbursable federal grants and matching state funds. Money is not a good reason to burn a forest. Fire hurts the forest with no positive benefit to it.
Shawnee State Forest has three Ohio EPA air pollution control open burn permits which are in effect until April 30, 2007. The permits are under appeal to the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission. A hearing was in October, but to date, there has been no final ruling.
An appeal does not stop a permit action. Shawnee State Forest can legally burn, but would it be right? In six weeks during the fall of 2005, when the prescribed fire program was made public, some 6,000 local residents signed a petition saying they did not want Shawnee State Forest burned.
Those who still feel that way need to let government officials know. Contact Shawnee State Forest, the Division of Forestry, CDNR, Ohio EPA, state Rep. Todd Book, state Sen. Tom Niehaus and Gov. Strickland. Scioto County Commissioners and Portsmouth Visitors Bureau also should be concerned and contacted. Speak up now to avoid complaining later.