Sunday, 12 November 2017

Prairie Strips Help Farmers

Prairie strip embedded in an agricultural (corn) watershed. Prairie strips increase nutrient and sediment retention, reduce runoff, and increase biodiversity. Iowa State University

Farming is tough and farmers want to make sure they make good decisions. Most farmers have a deep conservation ethic and commitment to their land. Now doing well by doing good may be just what the soil doctor ordered.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the results of a ten year study. The practice of prairie strips began as research plots at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa, and has expanded to 47 commercial farm sites in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and other states.

Iowa Public Radio interviewed Lisa Schulte Moore, the primary researcher and a professor at Iowa State University. She cited the following benefits:

  • reducing soil loss by 95 percent
  • reducing phosphorus runoff by 77 percent
  • reducing overall nitrogen loss by 70 percent
  • attracting pollinators
  • increasing the number and diversity of birds.

By swapping out deep rooted native plants for cool-season monoculture grasses currently in use on field edges and across gently sloping fields, many farmers can significantly improve soil retention while reducing runoff.

According to a study by Helmers and Zhou incorporating prairie strips at the footslope position of annual rowcrop systems provides an effective way to reduce sediment loss in agricultural runoff from under a no-till system.

While not specifically sited in the study, water that stays on the land also improves groundwater recharge at the same time it is capturing phosphorus and nitrogen.

Friday, 03 November 2017

Fill’er Up!

Fall means it’s time to head into the woodlot to make wood for the furnace or fireplace. The cooler temperatures and fallen leaves also make brush cutting much easier.

Most landowners own several pieces of two-cycle equipment. Usually that list includes a chainsaw, though it may also include leaf blower, brush saw and even an old outboard motor or dirt bike. One thing is for sure; they all need fuel to run.

Two-cycle engines are popular because their power to weight ratio is so much better than four-cycle engines. That means a two-cycle engine will be a whole lot lighter its four-cycle cousin. As we all know, the trade-off is that they need to burn a mix of gas and two-cycle oil. Try using straight gas and watch you power equipment destroy itself as the pistons become welded to the cylinder walls.

What you may not know, however, is that most two-cycle engines are not designed to burn gasoline that contains ethanol, which eats away various gaskets and seals. 

While running a tank of ethanol containing gas may not immediately damage you equipment, many of us leave gas in the tank for days, weeks or months. To tell the truth, that half tank might sit unused in you brush saw or chainsaw for several years. Over that kind of time, even a single load of ethanol containing fuel cause significant damage.

Many stations only sell gas that contains ethanol. Others may sell ethanol-free gas but only in premium grades. It really makes sense to take the extra effort to find and use ethanol free gasoline in your power equipment.

Pure-gas.org is a website that lists gas stations that sell ethanol free gasoline. Their About page get into the nuts and bolts of ethanol free fuel. Whether a particular brand or grade contains ethanol can vary from one location to another, so you need to pay attention every time you stop at the pump.

Be safe and have fun in the woods.

October 2017

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Bring in the Hit Squad

Picture of young garlic mustard plants.

Young garlic mustard plants are especially easy to treat in the late fall or early spring when native plants are dormant. [Conservation Media, llc]

Are you struggling with tough invasive like garlic mustard and reed canary grass? This is a great time to put a serious hurt on these super species. It is also among the most economical times to get your revenge.

By now, native plants have gone dormant. The landscape should by and large be brown and tan. For landowners, who are battling any number of exotic weed species, the remaining green is a bitter reminder of their problem.

Fortunately, this green also represents a unique opportunity. Since native plants are safely sleeping beneath the soil, landowners are free to use non-selective herbicides that would otherwise harm beneficial plants. Chief among these is glyphosate, which is cheap and highly effective.

Those living plants that are sprayed now will either be killed outright or severely weakened so that they are unable to survive the stress of winter. By contrast, application made in spring or summer might stress but not kill something like reed canary grass, which could substantially recover before the arrival of winter.

Glyphosate is short lived, breaking down in the soil in just a couple weeks. This means that wildflowers and native grasses that emerge in the spring will be unaffected by fall spraying.

I still avoid broadcast spraying in most situations because it is wasteful. Spot spraying is way easier when your green target weeds stand out so well. This tactic is especially useful in situations where weeds are scattered among more rate native plants I want to protect.

Depending on weather, this window can be short. Snow and hard freezes will force even hearty weeds into dormancy. Herbicides tend to be more readily taken up on warm sunny fall days. 

Herbicide needs to be part of an integrated weed management approach that includes management tools like controlled fire, cover crops and mowing. As always, follow label directions to minimize the amount of chemical used while making sure it will do its job.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

EPA Awards $2.7M for WI Weed Control

Picture of Lake Michigan beach with trees, dune grass and shrubs.

Lake Michigan’s magnificent shoreline faces huge challenges.

The EPA announced that it has awarded 2.7 million dollars to five Wisconsin groups to help control invasive plants in the state. The grants are part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium will receive $600,000 to implement a multi-organization collaboration to control the spread of invasive species along 2,000 miles of roadways and more than 600 acres of woodland habitat. The collaboration will include local government roadway crews, property owners, community-based organizations and school groups.

Picture of someone spraying herbicide on a tree stump.

Volunteer treats freshly cut stump sapwood with Garlon 4 to prevent the tree from re-sprouting.

The Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission is granted $599,997 to control invasive species on approximately 1,000 acres in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. Funding will help protect high quality habitat, as well as increase access to the coastline and nearshore areas.

The Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council will use their $393,750 grant to employ four tribal civilian conservation corps, who will work with eleven tribes to prevent the degradation of subsistence fish and wild rice resources. Funded staff will also manage aquatic, wetland and terrestrial invasive species on more than 500 acres of tribal lands.

Picture of chainsaw and helmet on truck tailgate.

Gearing up for oak savanna restoration.

Two new invasive control employees will be funded for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They will receive $551,669 to pay for two new crew members to control invasive species in 900 acres of the Great Lakes Basin. Lake Winnebago Chain of Lakes and the Fox River above Green Bay will be targeted.

An award of $599,673 will go to the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership to control invasive species on approximately 1,370 acres of wetland and aquatic habitat in northeastern Wisconsin. The funded project will improve the ecosystem services and enhance tourism, property values and navigation.

According to Jim Kettler, Executive Director of the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership. “LNRP efforts to control and limit Phragmites spread will focus on collaboration between stakeholders including federal, state, and county agencies, local townships, private landowners, community non-profits, and natural area and right-of-way managers through the implementation of best management practices, education, and outreach.”

Contact Allison Nowotarski (nowotarski.allison@epa.gov) for more information about these grants.

Friday, 13 October 2017

17 New Whooping Cranes

Whooping Crane jumping.

Whooping Crane jumping at its home in Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Photo credit USGS – PWRC.

Getting ready for the long migration south, this year’s class of 17 whooping crane chicks will soon be joining the flocks across Wisconsin. Seven costume raised chicks were released at the White River Wildlife Area in Green Lake County. The remaining eleven parent raise chicks were released to join flocks in Marathon, Dodge, Winnebago and Marquette counties. The chicks came from the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

The class of 2017 will soon be leaving on their long journey to their wintering grounds in Florida. An 18th chick is recovering from an injured wing and will be released once it injuries are completely healed. The Operation Migration Team is a non-profit that has lead efforts to re-introduce Whooping Cranes to the eastern United States. They recently posted a summary of Whooping Crane news on the Journey North website.

 

 

Tuesday, 03 October 2017

Forest Weed Grant Applications Due Soon

Are you a private landowner in the Mukwonago river watershed. who wants to remove invasive weeds and brush from your woodlands? The Friends of Mukwonago River has funds available now from a WDNR Forest Weed Management Grant. Application deadline to the Friends is October 23, 2017.

Landowners in the Mukwonago River Watershed have a unique opportunity to receive financial assistance as they learn control techniques for these and other invasive species and perform restoration on their own properties under a Forest Weed Grant through the Friends of the Mukwonago River. Invasive species are the current most critical threat to the health of the watershed.

Interested? The landowner application is here: 2016 FWG Land Owner Application & Rubric, and the FWG Land Management Template. Figure out where and what on your property you want to manage. You will need to submit and follow a management plan that is not difficult.

The WMA-PFGP assists eligible weed management groups (WMG) in addressing invasive plants, both by dealing directly with the invasives and by providing education, information and outreach to others. This is a reimbursement program that covers up to 75% of the eligible costs, 25% match is required.

Questions? Contact Friends at mukwonagoriver.org  Send your completed application to this email address, or our PO Box 21, Eagle WI. 53119   www.mukwonagoriver.org.

Sunday, 01 October 2017

The Long Flight Home

Caterpillars are finishing their feast on milkweed plants across Wisconsin and preparing to shed their skin to change into monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies are important pollinators collecting reading plant pollen as they collect nectar. While they feed on a wide variety of plants, monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants.

This super generation of monarchs will spend their entire lives flying to their wintering home in Mexican state of Michoacan. Once there, they will lay their eggs and die.

The offspring of this super generation overwinters in and begins their journey back the following spring. This first generation of the new year only migrates as far as Texas and the Gulf coast where they lay eggs that spend the next month developing into larvae, caterpillars and then butterflies. The second generation continues the migration to the summer home grounds where the third and fourth generations spend the warm months feeding and breeding.

In late summer the fourth generation lays the eggs that will become the next southward bound super generation. Warm weather in September allowed monarchs to continue feeding in southern Wisconsin. This super generation is now making its way south. 

There are two distinct populations of monarch butterflies, those east of the rocky mountains that winter in the mountains of central Mexico and the western monarchs that winter coastal tree groves in California and spread out across to forage and lay their eggs throughout California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington. Urbanization and extensive use of pesticides by farmers have dramatically reduced the amount of milkweed plants that western monarchs need to lay their eggs.

Our eastern monarchs, currently numbering some ten million, have been extensively studied for nearly forty years. Only recently have the western monarch butterflies received careful study. The results of that study, funded by the USFWS, are stunning. According to the study’s author, Washington State University researcher Cheryl Schultz, western monarch populations have plummeted from 10,000,000 forty years ago to approximately 300,000 today. This decline is so steep that the authors predict that western monarch butterflies have a 63% chance of extinction in the next twenty years and an 84% likelihood of extinction within the next 50 years.

Want to be involved in helping monarch butterflies? Journey North is a citizen science project that tracks the movement of monarch butterflies and other species.

Their projects provide scientist with valuable information about their movements.

September 2017

Friday, 01 September 2017

Labor Day Resolution: Work Smarter, Not Harder

As Labor Day weekend approaches, my father’s admonition to “work smarter, not harder” comes back to me. I was talking with a friend last week and he mentioned that they had begun pulling buckthorn on their newly acquired property in Columbia County.

There is no other way to say it; pulling buckthorn is hard work. In the following days, I thought about the many buckthorn projects that dot my past twenty years of conservation work in Wisconsin. Along with the blisters and sore muscles came hard earned experience that changed the way I look at habitat restoration in general and buckthorn clearing in particular. First is to avoid the “activity trap.” We see a problem and want to tackle it head on.

More to the point, we see the most obvious problem and take it on with the first or only tool we know. Years ago I learned that being successful means doing right things right. That means before doing anything, it is important to know that you are doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing can only happen once you have looked at the situation strategically. Why do you own a substantial piece of property? Usually there are several reasons, such as: having access to productive hunting land, getting away from urban life, giving your children an opportunity to learn about nature, or secure long-term income from forest crops.

If one of those reasons is that you want to preserve the natural heritage of your property, then protecting native plants and getting rid of invasive weeds and brush are important goals.

It might not jump out at you right away, but the best way to achieve those goals is to preserve and protect the good stuff first. None of us has enough money to do everything at right now. Once you ensure the best pieces of your land stay in good shape, you can take on the lower quality sections. Using this strategy makes sure the whole property stays at least as good next year as it was last year and hopefully a little better.

With a prioritized list of tasks, you will know you are doing the right things … and in the right order.

Then you are ready to decide whether you are doing things the right way. If there ever was an case of, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” pulling buckthorn is it. There are a range of methods for removing buckthorn, pulling is the most tedious and labor intensive.

Buckthorn produces both male and female trees. Once they are mature, male trees produce pollen while the female trees produce fruit with seeds. So, when it is time to tackle that big stand of buckthorn, the first targets should be the mature female trees.

A wise man told me that, “when you dug yourself a hole up to your neck, for heaven’s sake put down the shovel.” Buckthorn seed is viable for more than seven years; so the sooner you eliminate the seed producer trees, the sooner you will start running out the clock on that seed bank.

Clearly, mature buckthorn trees are too big to pull with anything but a bulldozer, so we are talking chainsaw work. Cut trees as close to the ground. This will prevent tripping hazards and damage to equipment once the grasses and wildflowers grow up. Treat stumps with Triclopry at the cut stump rate on the label. Add dye to the solution so you can see where you spray. Use a small hand sprayer and only apply the herbicide to the outer ring of the stump where the sapwood is found. This will save you a lot of chemical and limit collateral damage.

If you are cutting this fall, haul and stack the trees in the tightest brush piles you can manage. Run your chainsaw through the brush pile to reduce the size because this will make the piles burn much easier. Burn the brush piles once there is snow on the ground. The wood will have had time to dry out and snow will prevent embers from starting a wildfire.

After the first snow is also a good time to spread seed for next spring. Once you open up the soil by removing the buckthorn, you will be amazed at how quickly things pop there next year. Chief among the spouts will be baby buckthorn seeds. If you do not get native seeds started, you will end up with a stand of new buckthorn even more dense than what was there before.

Because there will be buckthorn seedlings sprouting up next year, consider doing a controlled burn of that section of property in the following fall after the summer grasses and wildflowers go dormant. Fire will kill the new buckthorn seedlings which will still be green but will not harm the native plants that will already be sleeping for the winter.

To my friends getting started on their new property; best of luck and enjoy the journey. Hope these insights will help you see more success sooner. Stepping back and getting to know your land and playing out your plans into the future will allow you to make better decisions and achieve your goals.

August 2017

Monday, 21 August 2017

Heads Up: Time to Check Your Oaks

If you have oak trees on your property, this is the time of year to cruise the woodlot and look for signs of oak wilt. Once a tree becomes infected, an entire stand can be affected because the disease moves across root grafts from one tree to the next. Oak wilt has been confirmed in 61 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

The Wisconsin DNR has a quick online Oak Wilt Guide that can help you assess your oak wilt risk. Now is the time to identify oak wilt if it exists on your land and make plans for dealing with it this coming winter.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, oak wilt is transmitted by a beetle that is attracted to sap from open wounds. This beetle carries the oak wilt fungus (Ceratocystis fagacearum). That is why it is very important that landowners only prune oaks during the dormant season; late fall through mid-winter. Trees should not be pruned during April, May, or June or whenever the beetles are active.

There is no cure for infected trees. According to the US Forest Service, the only control action available is to isolate infected trees by cutting any root grafts between infected and uninfected trees. A trencher or vibrating plow set to 2-4 feet deep separates the root systems of adjacent oaks, preventing underground spread.

Infected trees should be cut down before April 1st; burned, chipped or covered with plastic for sixty days to prevent overhead spread of the beetles and fungus. New sprouts from infected roots need to be controlled with herbicide.

UW Extension has an informative Oak Wilt Bulletin that provides useful information about the pest; its diagnosis and control.For more information, contact the Wisconsin DNR Forest Health Staff.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Little Things Mean a Lot

A new Ontario study shows that destruction of small wetlands can increase algae blooms in the Great Lakes basin. The Canadian Press notes that while government agencies tend to focus more of their attention on large wetland remediation projects, smaller wetlands actually punch above their weight when it comes to filtering out nutrients from runoff.

Authors, Nandita Basu and Fred Cheng, writes in Water Resources Research, Biogeochemical hotspots: Role of small water bodies ilandscape nutrient processing, “Results suggest that small wetlands play a disproportionately large role in landscape-scale nutrient processing.”

Their conclusions suggest that what you do as an individual landowner makes a real difference. “Thus, given the same loss in wetland area, the nutrient retention potential lost is greater when smaller wetlands are preferentially lost from the landscape. Our study highlights the need for a stronger focus on small lentic systems as major nutrient sinks in the landscape.”

The Wisconsin Wetlands Association publishes My Healthy Wetland a handbook for landowners. They also host workshops and publish a quarterly e-newsletter.