Researchers working to devise plan for Palo Alto Battlefield Restoration

COLLEGE STATION - It's typical research for a group of Texas Agricultural Experiment Station rangeland specialists, but the project itself is far from typical considering its historical implications.

Drs. Steven Whisenant and Ben Wu and graduate student Michael Margo are charged with devising a plan that would re-create the vegetative appearance of the 1846 Palo Alto battlefield in Brownsville - the site of the first Mexican-American war.

"The historical aspect of this project is something new and exciting to us as ecologists," Wu said.

Putting a 156-year-old battlefield back to its original appearance takes a lot more than one would think. The challenges? Consider it's been grazed by livestock and some of it farmed-up until the 1990s. And throw in the fact that the researchers have only had to rely on old aerial photographs, historical accounts and topography maps to help them vision the landscape where the U.S. army was victorious May 8, 1846.

By performing experiments on the range and studying the vegetation and hydrological makeup of the soil, the group says they will be able to come up with a restoration model they can present to the National Parks Foundation, which commissioned the $116,900 study.

There are two components to the research. First, the group will try to restore native Gulf Cord grass on the previously cultivated portions of the battlefield. The thick sections of cord grass served as camouflage for the soldiers.

"According to one historical account, the soldiers would hide in it," Margo said. "It had needle-point leaves and would poke their legs. It can dominate when in a healthy stage."

However, the grass can't be re-established by seed. "The saline soils crust over. It's a tough environment for seed," Whisenant said.

But it can be done by transplanting stems. Margo said current experiments involving both till and no-till planting methods in different seasons have been attemp

Contact: Blair Fannin
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

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