Using software that locates specific vegetation via aerial photographs, Carole Neidich-Ryder is working to preserve and spread the prairie grass found in the Hempstead Plains, remnants of which can be found at the golf course at Eisenhower Park in Long Island, N.Y. The original plains have been lost to development or encroachment of invasive species, and is considered a globally endangered habitat.
Naturalist Carole Neidich-Ryder is working to preserve and perhaps spread the prairie grass in the Hempstead Plains, which covers the golf course in Eisenhower Park in Long Island, N.Y., the Long Island-based Newsday reported.
“When the grasses come up in the spring, they’re like a bluish-green, so when the first settlers got here they thought they were at the ocean, because it was about the height of a cow and it was waving,” Neidich-Ryder said of the park’s golf course.
Centuries of grazing and mowing and human activity have taken their toll, and the grasses grow shorter in the present day, Neidich-Ryder said. But with the help of a computerized mapping technique she developed with a colleague, she hopes the grasses can be preserved in the Hempstead Plains, Newsday reported.
The original plains have been lost to development or encroachment of invasive species, but “remnants” remain, she said, including 21 acres of rough on the Red Course at Eisenhower, 19 acres on the grounds of Nassau Community College, 15 acres in a county recharge basin, and 19 acres near the Nassau Coliseum that is known as the Hempstead Plains Preserve and the Francis T. Purcell Preserve, Newsday reported.
“That is why it is considered a globally endangered habitat,” Neidich-Ryder said. “So finding other remnants or areas that have prairie plants that can be utilized as seed banks for restoration projects is important. You can get seed from the prairie grass in the Midwest, but it’s not our prairie grass.”
Neidrich-Ryder, who retired from her job with the Nassau County park system in 2007 and then signed up for a class at LIU Post on geographic information systems, teamed up with her instructor at the Brookville campus, Patrick Kennelly. They got maps from the New York State Geographic Information System, shelled out $100 for a software program and began the work of separating the colors in map images. The computer program correctly identified 89 percent of the ground objects, Newsday reported.
“There was very little prairie grass,” she said. Of the 328 pixels identified as prairie grass, she confirmed that 307 of them really were by eyeballing them on the ground—a positive identification rate of 82 percent, Newsday reported.
The mapping project is important because Hempstead Plains is the only true prairie east of the Appalachian Mountains, she said. The soil is the same as that under Midwest prairies, but it has a separate geological classification as “Hempstead loam,” Newsday reported.
There are plenty of grasses similar to the ones in Hempstead Plains, and they’re often found in areas laid bare by forest fires, such as Harriman State Park upstate, she said. Prairies also are dotted with wildflowers, but the violets that grow in the Midwest are different from the ones in the Hempstead Plains, Newsday reported.
While her own interests have been largely local, she said the mapping system is “a tool in the box” that land managers anywhere can use, Newsday reported.
“It has the potential to locate specific vegetation and by using [aerial] photographs taken over different years or different seasons, it may be used to track progress in land restoration projects and changes in ecosystems,” she said.