Day in the Life: Stewardship Monitor

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

There’s nothing before me but a seemingly impenetrable tangle of browns and emeralds, and nothing beneath the soles of my boots but springy mats of verdant sphagnum. No trails exist here, unless of course you count the meandering tracks laid down by generations of hungry white-tailed deer or the occasional rambling moose. The trees here grow thick and wild. Young saplings strain towards what limited light exists in the understory, much of it occurring only in shimmering patches that dance with every sigh of wind. Branches of the highest trees intertwine in a bizarre decades-long fist-fight, each trying to claim a few extra inches of the sky. And above it all tower the supercanopy white pines, far beyond the reach of any prospective competition. Bald eagles perch in the lofty branches of these natural skyscrapers, often choosing to raise their young up here, in eyries so large a grown human could comfortably nap inside. Welcome to the Upper Peninsula.

I’m the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s summer Stewardship Monitor, and my objective when I’m out in the woods is fairly straightforward: conduct annual stewardship monitoring visits to each of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s 65 conservation properties. Stewardship monitoring is a legal requirement for our conservation easements, preserves, and reserves, and requires UPLC staff or volunteers to visit a property and ensure that its stewards (i.e. landowners) are adhering to the terms of the conservation easement or management plan. The practical translation is that I walk the boundaries and through the center of each property, checking for out-of-place disturbances caused by humans (for example ATV use or littering) or natural events (such as trees felled by wind storms).

Lacking wings, my only option for traversing the landscape is good old-fashioned bushwhacking. Even when the U.P. gets (relatively) balmy, I suit up in head-to-toe “northwoods armor”: sturdy boots, long pants tucked fashionably into tall socks, long sleeves to guard my skin from the sharp fingers of spruce, and a helmet of mosquito netting to keep those pesky needle-faced insects at bay. This isn’t exactly the Amazon, but bushwhacking just a quarter mile can take twenty minutes if the undergrowth is thick, and there might be some scrambling and bog-hopping required!

It’s time for a full disclaimer: stewardship monitoring can be a sweaty and unglamorous job. But it is always rewarding, meditative, and freeing. It’s by far one of the favorite work tasks for UPLC staff, because we get to see firsthand how our efforts to protect ecosystems are paying off (not to mention we all jump at any chance to “play in the woods”).

Even though I’m out here to work, my stress levels plummet the second my boot hits the soft undergrowth of an Upper Peninsula forest. The repetition and exertion of cross-country hiking quiet my mind. My gaze drifts among the gentle visual chaos of the forest, where there are no straight lines or right angles anywhere to be found. The gentle crunch of twigs and birdsong drifting down from the branches fill my ears, while my nose drinks in the scent of rich humus. It’s so easy to get distracted when my attention is split between ogling the beauty of the forest, looking for anything that’s out of place, and choosing the most sturdy-looking place for my next footfall. I’m often glad I’m alone in the woods, so no one else can count the number of times I trip over roots or rocks or – let’s be honest – air. (If a Jill falls in the forest and there’s no one around to see it, did it even really happen? Not if I don’t tell anyone.)

Even though I’ve spent endless summers in the Upper Peninsula, I routinely stumble across things I’ve never seen before. Healthy forests often have thick carpets of deadwood lying thick on the ground, and close inspection might reveal dozens of fungi colonies that have gathered for a feast. A fallen aspen might be riddled with the meticulously ordered holes mined by a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a native woodpecker whose name sounds like an insult straight out of a Monty Python movie. Snow-white Indian Pipe, a parasitic chlorophyll-free plant, clings to the hillside above a floating bog covered in fuzzy Labrador tea. And the endless march of time brings new discoveries every week: one week I’ll be walking through a carpet of minuscule spring beauties, the next the lady’s slippers orchids will unfurl.

So, yes, I’m out here to work, and to conduct an annual task that is critical to the continued conservation of our protected lands. But that doesn’t mean I can’t thoroughly bask in the beauty of the Upper Peninsula while I’m at it.

If you’re interested in experiencing some of these properties for yourself, check out our Interactive Map. Most of our Reserve and Preserve properties are open to the public for recreational day use including hiking, nature photography, and snowshoeing.

Photos and words by Jill Sekely, 11/06/2018.

Things are happening with our proposed Dead River Community Forest project!

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

Promo videos, Field Trip, Grant Update, and more!

 

Promo Videos

Videographer Deke Ludwig, a staff member funded by of Heart of the Lakes, has put together a few short teaser videos from the footage shot late this summer, and we’re thrilled to be able to share three of them with you today. Our other piece of big news is that two of these films will be presented on the big screen at the 2018 Fresh Coast Film Festival!!! This documentary film festival, which celebrates the great outdoors in the Great Lakes region, is happening in Marquette on October 18-21.

The latest video–released today!– features 14 year-old kayaker Alyssa LeTorneau talking about her roots, and the importance of protecting land for future residents of Marquette. Check it out!

 

The first video we released features high-spirited Jeremiah Johnston, trail builder for the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN). Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy has paired with NTN to create multi-use trails on the Dead River properties. Ride along with him in this beautiful teaser promo, “Building a Sense of Place.” The lineup to view this video during the Fresh Coast Film Festival can be found here.

Our second video features our very own Chris Burnett, who has spear-headed this project from the beginning.  Experience his great enthusiasm as he talks about the Dead River Community Forest and what its protection would mean for residents and visitors of the Upper Peninsula. The Fresh Coast lineup to view this short film can be found here.


Upcoming hiking trip on October 8

On Monday, October 8, we’ll be headed out to the “Bridges” portion of the Dead River Community Forest project to experience peak fall colors! Come learn about the project with UPLC staff and enjoy a hike over the old bridge, up to the new 510 bridge, and through the proposed DRCF. Meet us at the UPLC office at 5 P.M. to carpool/caravan to the pocket park on the North side of the old CR 510 Bridge, or you can meet us at the property at 5:30 P.M. We’re also aiming to catch a beautiful sunset, so don’t forget your cameras.


Update on Community Forest Program Grant

Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy applied for a Community Forest Program grant in early summer 2018, to obtain funding to help us purchase the Dead River parcels. Competition was fierce for this year’s grant with 34 applicants, and regrettably the Dead River Community Forest project was not chosen for the grant award. However, grant administrators told UPLC that our application was strong – we placed in the top 50% of applicants – and encouraged us to apply to the same grant program in 2019, so we’re hard at work improving our proposal for re-submission next year!

While this was a setback, we are still going full-steam-ahead with our plans to secure these beautiful parcels. This also means we’ll need all the help we can get to make our dream of protecting these parcels a reality, and that’s where you come in! We need partners, and plans, and proven community support for this project. When the full film is complete, we will begin hosting community input sessions and will pull together a steering committee this fall to help us move forward on the project. In the meantime–you guessed it–the most immediate thing you can do to help move this project forward is to donate to the project here.

Exciting Progress for the Proposed Dead River Community Forest!

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Film Planned to Promote Dead River Community Forest Project!

Last week, Deke and Kevin Ludwig, brothers and film-making team with Heart of the Lakes, worked long hours with UPLC staff and volunteers to capture the essence of the Dead River Community Forest project in film.

We spent about 72 hours scaling cliffs, scrambling over rocks, wading in muck, swimming by waterfalls, paddling canoes, mountain biking, tromping through the woods without trails, and listening to inspiring stories from people who are excited about what the DRCF will mean to the community of Marquette and the visitors to the area….all with camera equipment!

We hope that as we move along with the process of acquiring these 181 acres of impressive forest on the edge of town, we will be able to use the film Deke produces to help the community fall in love with the resource that will soon be available to them. Our goal was for people who watch the film to feel like they know the DRCF without having gone there–after all, the DRCF tells the story of most natural places in the UP.

It’s a place full of history, with direct connections to the mining and logging booms. It’s a place that has been considered a given part of the landscape around us–of course there’s a vast forest next to the shopping centers. It’s also a place that is changing–it’s slated for development and surrounded by ever-expanding parking lots.

It’s also a place of hope and a place where we want the community to be able to envision our future together. A way to move forward into a new era of living together in conjunction with the natural world around us.

Big, big thanks to Deke, Kevin, Heart of the Lakes, UPEC for the grant that allows extra staff time for this project, and to our volunteers and support crews the last week! Jeremiah, Alyssa and Kim, Kathy, Chris, John and Chelsea, and everyone who hiked through the rain on Saturday–you all are amazing. THANK YOU for your help!

Keep tuned in for more updates about this video and for updates on the Dead River Community Forest!

 

An Opportunity to Protect the Chocolay River

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Do you love the Chocolay River?

We do, especially now that we have established the Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve.  So, here’s a thought: How about protecting more land upstream? 

For a short time, an anonymous donor is offering to donate to UPLC over 100 acres along about a mile of the river in Chocolay Township.


The catch is that whenever we accept a donation of conservation land, we must also secure enough funding to cover our ongoing expenses, such as annual monitoring costs and legal defense insurance.  In this case, as in many others that come to us each year, the donor is “land rich and cash poor” and cannot donate funds in addition to the land itself.


We don’t like turning away “free land”, especially great wildlife habitat like this property, home to kingfishers and all manner of wetland and aquatic flora and fauna.  However, the truth is that protecting land in perpetuity is not free.

 

We need at least $10,000 in stewardship funding to be able to accept this potential gift.


So, if you love the Chocolay, have some extra cash, and want a tax deduction, give us a call.  Or maybe you would like to help create a memorial preserve for a loved person who loved the river.  We know this is a long shot, but you don’t catch any fish if you don’t go fishing, nor will you catch fish if we don’t work together to protect the river.

Donate to our “Land Rich, Cash Poor” Fund below to help us to take this project on! You can also call or send a check as you see fit, of course. Your donations are tax-deductible, and we will send you a receipt for your records. If we are unable to raise the money needed to accept this Chocolay River project, (or if we raise more than necessary) we will retain the funds in the hopes that the next time a “land rich, cash poor” donation crosses our paths, we’ll be able to protect land with your help.



We Did it! Chocolay Bayou Preserve Officially Protected

Friday, July 8th, 2016

What a journey the Chocolay Bayou Preserve Project has been! Over the past year, The Preservers have been learning more than we ever thought we would have to about the DEQ and Army Corps of Engineers regulations on Lake Superior Bottomlands, railroad right-of-ways that have been abandoned for almost one hundred years but are still retained, how complicated survey work really is, and—even though we truly believed we knew a LOT about easements going into this situation—we have learned so much about what easements the UPLC can and cannot accept on a Nature Preserve in order to truly…well…preserve it.

When UPLC closed on the Bayou purchase this afternoon, we technically purchased 3 parcels of land adding up to 12.886 acres.  Two of those parcels, , are now legally combined into 12.357 acres and are what we’re considering to be “the Preserve”, and the third, a tiny strip of land that we call “C,” we will be divesting as soon as we can, due to the easements that come along with it. In order to purchase the Preserve, we had to purchase C—the parcels were only to be sold to us as a unit. C is 0.529 acres, a thin rectangular strip that borders a small portion of the Preserve and has easements that allow the neighbor to store dumpsters and tractors and block access to the other parcels at all times. It would be impossible for us to monitor and impose ecological standards on this property and these allowances truly detract from the ecological value of the Preserve.  It is our hope that the neighbors, who currently hold the easements, will want C.

The land in the Preserve has been surveyed by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine what portions of the Bayou are part of the Lake Superior Bottomlands—land that is protected by the DEQ  with very strong environmental regulations. This is incredible news!  This means that the waterway of most of the Preserve is protected even more than we would be able to protect it on our own, and the DEQ’s protections extend from the Bayou out into the big lake.  Here’s what the DEQ’s website says about the Lake Superior Bottomlands:

“Michigan’s Submerged Lands Program began in 1955 with the passage of the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act, 1955 PA 247, as amended, which is now incorporated as 325, Great Lakes Submerged Lands, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), 1994 PA 451, as amended.

The bottomlands of the Great Lakes are held in trust by the State of Michigan for use and enjoyment by its citizens. The State, as the owner and trustee, has a perpetual responsibility to the public to manage these bottomlands and waters for the prevention of pollution, for the protection of the natural resources and to maintain the public’s rights of hunting, fishing, navigation, commerce, etc. The State of Michigan’s authority to protect the public’s interest in the bottomlands and waters of the Great Lakes is based on both ownership and state regulation. The Public Trust Doctrine, as the basis for Part 325, provides state authority to not only manage but also to protect the public’s fundamental rights to use these resources.

Michigan courts have determined that private uses of the bottomlands and waters, including the riparian rights of waterfront property owners, are subject to the public trust. In other words, if a proposed private use would adversely impact the public trust, the State of Michigan’s regulatory authority requires that the proposal be modified or denied altogether in order to minimize those impacts.”

http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,1607,7-135-3313_3677_3702-10865–,00.html

 

At this point, we have made headway into the Stewardship (or “Forever”) fund—but not much.  The celebration on September 10th will not be a fundraiser—simply a way to say thank you to the community for their support and efforts turning this Preserve Project into a true Nature Preserve. We do still need to raise approximately $15,000 more to support the perpetual maintenance of the preserve as well as to build trails, install signs, establish a parking area, and more. We’ll get back to that later, though.  For now, we’re just celebrating two years of hard work finally coming to completion. We’ll be raising our glasses at the Chocolay River Brewing Company soon to cheers one another, and we hope you’ll join us at some point so we can say thanks in person.

A celebration and dedication is planned for Saturday, September 10th and a public forum will be held this fall for public input on trail access for the Preserve. For more information on the Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve, the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy, or on joining the Chocolay Bayou Preservers in their mission to protect and care for the Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve into the future, please call or email the UPLC at (906) 225-8067 or uplc@uplandconservancy.org  An official press release can be found here.

Good work, everyone. Job Well Done.

Andrea

Only $1500 (and some change) To Go!

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Chocolay Bayou Calendar2016-3 copyYup, you read that right. With the help of partnering organizations and donors, we’ve already raised $152,468 towards our goal of $154,000 to purchase the Chocolay Bayou Preserve – and we only have $1,532 to go!

Recreational opportunities abound at the 14-acre Bayou Preserve, which is ideally situated along the banks of the Chocolay River. From birding, fishing, and paddling, the Bayou has offered the community excellent outdoor recreation throughout the years, and the property even borders major hiking and biking trails, providing access to the Iron Ore Heritage and North Country National Scenic trails!

The final purchase of the property will preserve these activities for the community in perpetuity. In other words, FOREVER!

But, we still need your help. The Bayou – and all the outdoor activities the community has come to enjoy on the property – is in threat of development. We only have until May 9 to raise the remaining $1,532 to purchase the property and protect a popular outdoor recreation area for the community.

In addition, we need $20,000 to help maintain the Preserve once it’s purchased. This additional funding will also be used to expand public access, build an interpretive trail and wetland boardwalk, and also build benches throughout the property.Chocolay Bayou Calendar2016-1 copy

With your help, we can do this! We currently have a CrowdRise funding campaign to raise the remaining $1532 purchasing price by May 9. To make a donation, please see the Save The Chocolay Bayou! and help preserve this cherished outdoor recreation area today.

For more information, please contact Andrea Denham, Assistant Director of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy at (906) 225-8067 or uplc@uplandconservancy.org.

 

We want to thank our partners for their continued support in making the Chocolay Bayou Preserve a reality:

Bayou Bar and Grill

Cedar Tree Institute

Chocolay Raptor Center

Chocolay River Brewery

Chocolay Township

Ducks Unlimited

Hiawatha Water Trail

Hirvonen Foundation

Iron Ore Heritage Trail

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

Lakewood Cottagers Association

Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society

Marquette County Resource Management Dept.

Marquette County Conservation District

North Country Trail Hikers

RE/MAX

The Nature Conservancy

Trout Unlimited

Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition

Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy

Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation & Development Council

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Chocolay Bayou Preserve Project Underway!

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

It all started several months ago, when rumors began flying about a beautiful piece of land that would be going up for sale soon.  The Audubon Society heard about it first – the spot is a popular one for local birders.  The Historical Society got interested next; as the Chocolay River is the boundary between the 1836 and 1842 Native American treaties and once held some early sawmills and charcoal kilns. It’s adjacent to the popular Iron Ore Heritage Trail and North Country Trail (combined at this location), and as the news spread, the groups who maintain those trails have  became involved in the quest to protect this land and create public access to it’s natural treasures. Soon the entire non-profit sector of Marquette and Harvey was all a-buzz with the news that a piece of land that interests us all was coming available.

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A group of folks, loosely organized from various non profit groups with an interest in the property, began to meet  at the Bayou Restaurant and Chocolay River Brewery, just a short walk from the prospective preserve. We started calling ourselves “The Chocolay Bayou Preservers” – mostly because we think we are clever, also because, well, that’s what we wanted to do! This intrepid group has consisted of Jerry Maynard of the Chocolay Raptor Center, Scott Emerson of the Lakewood Cottagers Association, JD Forrester of the Alger Conservation District, Bruce Ventura of the Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society, Jeff Knoop of The Nature Conservancy, Darcy Rutkowski of the UPRC&D, Abbie Debiak of Superior Watershed Partnership, Allyson Dale of NCRS, Dane Cramer of Ducks Unlimited, Kelly Woodward of Chocolay township, and a few others from time to time as well as Chris Burnett and Andrea Denham of the UPLC.  It’s been a fun and informative time as we meet with everyone to discuss grants, fundraising, foundations, planning, preserving, promoting…and local craft beer.


 

But who would be the best to care for it, if we’ve all got an interest in it?  The group has decided the UP Land Conservancy is the organization best suited for perpetual stewardship of the Bayou Preserve.  UPLC is located right across the highway from the Bayou and its main purpose is the permanent legal protection of high value conservation lands.  We are happy to announce that UPLC, with the help of many other partnership organizations, has put forward an offer to purchase 14 acres of the Chocolay Bayou to protect forever as a nature preserve, easily accessible to the public, and set aside for the sake of our communities both natural and human.

So now we have until May 9th, 2016 to raise nearly $200,000 to pay for the land and to set up a stewardship fund to maintain the preserve in perpetuity.

Hooray!

Chocolay Bayou colors birds-1


To allow for easy public access, we will crate a parking lot and a boardwalk through the wetland.  We’d love to see a bird observation deck as well as some welcoming and fun informational signs throughout the preserve.  We hope to collaborate with Chocolay Township for maintaining facilities like trash collection and parking lot plowing and with all of the various groups and organizations involved to make this a place for the community to gather and learn from one another as well as from nature.  Expect to see field trips, bird observation, environmental education programs, and all sorts of fun things happening in the Bayou Preserve!

Chocolay Bayou Site Plan #1

This is our first site plan–flexible at this point, of course, but eventually (and depending on amount of donations we receive) we’d love to see multiple pathways allowing for a diversity of experiences to be had within this complex ecosystem, and for visitors to the preserve to be able to explore and connect with their natural surroundings…even in this urban area.

We are even starting to hear rumors about signs being donated to specify one of these trails as a bird-observation trail! Complete with interpretive signs explaining the importance of the bayou to migratory birds and waterfowl…but I’ll update you on that in our next blog about the Bayou.

 


 

So for now, the Preservers still meet at the Bayou Bar each month, and we discuss the same things: protection, promotion, fundraising. Outreach.  And craft beer from the brewery.

We received a grant from the North American Wetland Conservation Act for almost HALF of our fundraising needs! And other organizations are beginning to pledge support. Individual donors are starting to reach out, and foundations are being contacted. It’s starting to look real good around here! Want to join the fundraising excitement?

What’s next? A big Fundraising Concert with local favorites “Circle of Willis” on February 20th at the Bayou Bar and Grill and Chocolay River Brewery, of course! We’ll have a hike out to the Bayou at 6, with the concert and celebration of land protection to start at 7 pm.  Appetizers provided, local craft beer available for purchase, and a great, big goal to be reached!

Keep an eye out on the blog, on Facebook, Twitter, and the Website for more exciting updates, and come to our Annual Meeting on January 26th to listen to local experts share their knowledge of the Bayou’s historic significance, ecological importance, and geologic interest.

 

We are so excited, and we hope that you, as a member of this community, are excited along with us.

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Indian Lake Conservation Preserve Dedicated

Monday, August 24th, 2015

22 August 2015 – Indian Lake Conservation Preserve, Michigamme Twp.

Last Saturday, a group of dedicated conservationists gathered at Indian Lake to formally dedicate the 635-acre property as a conservation preserve. With the adjacent Murphy Family Preserve, we now own over 1,000 acres of wilderness in the headwaters of the Peshekee River.

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Looking West across Indian Lake, which is about 100 acres, depending on water level.

 

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Inlet to Indian Lake.

 

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Outlet from Indian Lake to the Peshekee River.

 

 

 

“Tory’s Woods” Conservation Preserve Dedicated

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

15 July 2015 – Tory’s Woods Conservation Preserve, Onota Twp.

Last Saturday, a group of dedicated conservationists gathered at the newly erected trailhead sign at the Tory’s Woods to formally dedicate the 233-acre property as a conservation preserve.

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Tory Parlin addressing the group at the dedication of Tory’s Woods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Parlin (on the stool) and guests at the dedication of Tory’s Woods Preserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A magical, moss-covered section of trail explored by guests at the dedication of Tory’s Woods Preserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lizards in the Hurons: Five-lined Skink Range Extension Documented

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

11 July 2015 – Huron Mountains, along on the Marquette-Baraga county line.

During a reconnaissance mission to look at a potential conservation easement, we had some interesting encounters. The most exciting was the discovery of a population of five-lined skinks.

CDBurnett-2015-07-11-130-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryne Rutherford, a professional field biologist and co-founder of Biophilia Nature LLC, who lead the search for the skinks, summarized the discovery this way:

 In addition to being the first  five-lined skink documented for Baraga County, the skink population on … is the northwestern most record in the species entire range. It also represents a small range extension westward from know localities in the Huron Mountain Club. Five-lined skinks range throughout eastern North America where they are obligate forest dwellers in the south and central part of its range. At the northern extreme of their range in northern Marquette and Baraga Counties colonies of five-lined skinks are restricted to open granite bedrock outcrops and adjacent openings within a few miles of Lake Superior where  the climate is locally moderated and south facing rock exposures provide the necessary warmth for them to persist.” 

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Granite bald skink habitat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Huron Islands in Lake Superior from the study area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The skinks were hard to catch, but a garter snake was so preoccupied with trying to swallow a toad that we could take close-up photos.

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The granite balds are also home to an interesting community of plants, unlike the usual parts of the northern forest.

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Black trumpet or horn-of-plenty. A choice edible mushroom that is symbiotic with oak trees.