Friday, 24 May 2019

Farming Better Wetlands

Seventy-five percent of Wisconsin wetlands are privately owned. When private landowners act to conserve those wetlands, we all benefit. Wetlands provide much of the groundwater recharge that we all depend on to make sure our wells have enough water for our homes and families. We all depend on wetlands for flood control during the spring thaw and heavy rains. They also filter out sediments that would otherwise clog our rivers and streams.

Wetlands also provide water, food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife we all enjoy. Likewise, wetlands are critical resting places for migrating birds.

Farmers’ Role

Farmers are the largest group of private wetland owners. They live on the land and make their living from the soil. As stewards of their land, farmers make decide how to best use their property. They can protect wetlands or ignore them. In the past, farmers often drained or degraded wetlands to make way for grazing and cropland.

Today, farmers take a different view of the places they used to see as wasteland. Farmers like Nick and Dianne Somers, potato farmers in Plover, are leading a revolution on the farm. Wetland are starting to get the attention and respect they deserve. Nick shares his love for the wetlands on his property in a Wisconsin Wetlands Association video, Farmers Care for Wetlands.

The Wisconsin Wetlands Association produced it as part of a six part video series, celebrating American Wetlands Month and their 50th Anniversary. They provide information and assistance to farmers and other private landowners in Wisconsin who want to preserve their wetland resources. You can also check out our Resources page.

Wetlands Future

Wisconsin farmers hold the future of our wetlands, the groundwater and biodiversity in their hands. Nick believes, “It’s something everybody should do.” When you choose to protect and improve your wetlands, you are making an investment in your family’s future and the wildlife that call you farm home. As Wisconsin’s most important land stewards, the decisions you make will ensure we all continue to enjoy the this great natural heritage.

 

Thursday, 23 May 2019

What’s in a name?

Picture of Mount Rainier

Photo Credit: United States Geological Service website.

Ever look at a map and see a lake or stream and wonder what its name was? Did you know that there are entire mountains that still have never been named? You may have a lake, pond or stream on your land that is unnamed.

Many natural features were named by explores as they crossed the continent searching for new trade and travel routes. Others bear the names given them by Native Americans prior to European settlement. Years later, as the nation was settled, the new inhabitants gave names to the rivers, lakes, ponds and streams they encountered.

Have you ever wondered what it would take to officially name that stream or pond? There is a way to make that happen, and it is not all that difficult.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is the body that creates and maintains the official listing of all named natural features in the United States. They have a How Do I page that provides instructions and the applicable form you can download and complete.

The process takes about six months. For more information contact the GNIS Manager.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Landowners Care for Wetlands

Landowners Karen and Marty Voss have owned their land near Eau Claire since 1981. They like you, the they take great pride in their land and want to do what they can to conserve it. Over the years, they have spent untold time and energy improving their wetlands. Karen and Marty did it for their own enjoyment, as well as to be good stewards of their little corner of the watershed.

According to the Wisconsin Wetland Association, “Private landowners own 75% of Wisconsin’s remaining wetlands and as much as 85% of potentially restorable wetlands, giving them a vital role in caring for wetlands.”

 

The Wisconsin Wetland Association produced this video as part of their 50th Anniversary celebration. It is part of a six part series of Wisconsin wetland videos. Check out the entire series and get better acquainted with their work.

Conservation Digest and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association are your partners in conservation. We can help no matter what kind of wetland you own or its condition. Check out our resources and events. Find out how you can improve the diversity and functioning of the wetlands you call home.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Celebrate Wisconsin Wetlands

 

picture of blooming sedge

May is American Wetlands Month. Wisconsin Wetlands Association produced six short videos that help tell the story of these incredible resources.

The first is called Wetlands: Vital Solutions. “Wetlands are among the most important parts of our landscape,” says WWA’s Outreach Programs Director, Katie Beilfuss.

Conservation Digest will share these videos with you throughout May as part of American Wetlands Month.

Help WWA celebrate its 50th Anniversary and American Wetlands Month. Discover the many ways that wetlands makes life better for all of us.

April 2019

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Got Purple Loosestrife?

Collect purple loosestrife plants in the spring and introduce beetles in a contained netted environment. Because these beetles feed on the netted plants, they multiply before release throughout the summer.

Plant the loosestrife with their beetles into your wetland, stream or lake that is surrounded by unaffected loosestrife plants. The beetles then spread to surrounding plants reducing their vigor and reproduction. As you establish beetle populations; they can prevent the spread of purple loosestrife across your property and beyond.

You can help with this process in a few ways:

  • Learn to identify Purple Loosestrife and look for PL already affected by beetles
  • Report when you find a population of loosestrife.
  • Attend the Purple Loosestrife Biocontrol Training at Beaver Creek Reserve’s Citizen Science Center on Tuesday, April 16th, from 6-7pm. No sign up necessary!

February 2019

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Rare Chance to Make a Difference

Volunteer finds and examines whirled milkweed blossom. Photo credit: Mark Horn, Conservation Media LLC.

Ever wondered what it would be like to find a truly rare plant in the wild? Are there rare plants on your property? Here is your chance. Knowing what to look for and how to identify plants is the first step. As we all know, the better you know your land, the better you can protect it.

The Wisconsin DNR trains volunteers to monitor the health of rare plant populations around the state. If you have some time to donate and want to improve your botany skills, here is a great opportunity. You will help the DNR with its conservation efforts while gaining skills you can use on your land.

The information volunteers collect is provided to property managers and added to the Natural Heritage Inventory. Wisconsin has roughly 1,900 native plant species, of which 16 percent are endangered, threatened or special concern species, meaning their populations are low or declining.

Volunteers who complete the training will check on some of Wisconsin’s rarest and most beautiful native plants in some of the state’s most pristine places, says Kevin Doyle, who coordinates the Rare Plant Monitoring Program for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Conservation Program.

Picture of volunteers training to find rare plants.

Volunteers for the DNR Rare Plant Monitoring Program look for rare plants in a southern Wisconsin prairie. Photo credit: Kevin Doyle

Training sessions will take place in Cable, Green Bay, Oconomowoc and River Falls in March and April; to see workshop dates and locations and to register, search online for Wisconsin’s Rare Plant Monitoring Program. 

Find some room on your calendar this season and you can make a real difference for rare plants in Wisconsin.

Contact Kevin Doyle, DNR conservation botanist, 608-416-3377.

Friday, 08 February 2019

Learn to Burn

Have you considered prescribed fire but were afraid because you did not know how to do it safely? Dane County Parks is a great place to get the training and experience to do the job right.

Every year, volunteers help Dane County Parks crews conduct prescribed burns on county land. This is a great way to give back to the community while you gain the knowledge and skills needed to safely use fire on your land.

As a volunteer with Dane County Parks, you will learn from natural resource professionals with years of experience planning and conducting controlled burns.

Crew checking backpack pump cans

 

The burns you help with will improve wildlife habitat while knocking down invasive weeds and shrubs. Prescribed fire also increases the number and diversity of native plants, which improves the soil, reduces erosion and improves water quality in adjacent lakes and streams.

The county will hold prescribed fire training for volunteers on March 30, 2019 from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm at the Lussier Family Heritage Center, 3101 Lake Farm Road, Madison. Lunch will be provided. Contact Lars Higdon, Dane County Naturalist, for more information.

Sign up here.

January 2019

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Best Eagle Watching Ever

Looking for something really cool to do on this snowy January Saturday? Get your eagle on at the Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac.

The highlight of the two day event, that began yesterday, takes place at 1:00 PM today, with the release of three eagles that rehabilitated by Marge Gibson at the Raptor Education Group.

Schlitz Wildlife Center will put on two eagle demonstrations, one this morning and the second in the afternoon.

For a full listing of event activities, check out the Bald Eagle Watching Days brochure.

The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council organized the annual event. Get out and enjoy this unique event and see more eagles in one place than you ever thought possible.

2018

December 2018

Monday, 03 December 2018

Natural Forests …

Picture of red cedar trees.

Seldom found growing so tall or close together, this grove of mature red cedars is at the UW Arboretum.

Someone recently asked, “How do the trees in forests grow by themselves?” I was stumped at first, because her question was so very broad. After collecting thoughts for a moment here is (more or less) what I came up with.

Where Forests Come From

Trees, like all plants, need: water, light, soil and shelter. In natural forests, new seedlings sprout from seeds that drop from trees above. Other seeds arrive on the wind dispersed from nearby trees. Still other trees arrive in the forest via animals such as squirrels who carry the seed from neighboring woodlands and bury them in the new forest. Chance determines which species arrive and what happens when they get there.

Managed woodlands grow by choice, not by chance. State nurseries provide seedlings. Woodland managers decide the species mix, the planting plan, thinning and management practices. The result is a healthy woodland that provides habitat for a wide range of wildlife. It also produces high quality forest products like timber, pulp and maple syrup.

Of course, natural regeneration needs to be included in forest management plans. Mature trees will produce seeds that sprout and help ensure the next generation. To the extent that mother nature does her bit, working with nature is a great strategy.

Wise landowners understand that the jeanie is out of the bottle. Climate change, habitat loss and invasive species mean “letting nature take care of things” no longer works. Understanding what makes a natural forest requires knowing where forests come from and why they are where they are. 

Plant Succession

Forests are the final stage in what biologists call natural plant community succession. It all begins with bare soil. The first plants to grow are grasses and forbs (wildflowers). They form plant communities called grasslands and prairies. If there are no serious disturbances (primarily wildfire) shrubs will find their way into the grasslands or prairie. As the percentage of shrub cover increases, tree seedlings follow. Trees use the shade of the shrubs to protected them from weather and soil moisture extremes. Some tree species, such as aspen, boxelder, birch and cottonwood do not need need shrub cover and can can colonized grasslands and prairies directly.

Picture of paper birch with cedar grove in the background.

Birch is an early succession species that grows fast and quickly replaced by more shade tolerant trees.

Pioneering tree species grow fast and need lots of sunlight. Because they cannot grow in shade, these early forest creators eventually are pushed out by more shade tolerant trees like maple and hemlock.

The final stage of plant community succession is the shade tolerant forest. These tree species can germinate and grow with very little light. They do well in the cool damp conditions created by the deep shade of a tightly closed canopy.

Fire Adapted Landscapes

Before pioneer settlement, much of America frequent “natural disturbance events.” The most common of these events was fire. Lightning caused many of these fires burning over the land and pushing back the plant community succession. Native Americans also used fire. By periodically setting fire to grasslands and prairies they kept most shrubs and trees from growing. This was desirable because grasslands and prairies were more productive for game and made travel easier. Fire prevented late succession forests from developing; creating the grasslands, prairies and savannahs that covered southern and western Wisconsin.

Some trees are fire adapted, which means that their bark is thick and can prevented them from being killed during by wildfire. Oak and hickory trees are the iconic fire adapted trees of the midwest. They can withstand prairie fires that kill species like cherry and maple. Several species of pine are also fire adapted. Some like the loblolly grow in the southeast. Others like lodgepole and ponderosa pine are common western forest species.

Because it takes time for the heavy protective bark to form on these fire adapted species, young seedlings would perish in prairie fires. Drought and animal browsing also take a heavy toll on seedlings For these reasons, woodlands created by these fire adapted species were sparse. They had open canopies that let light reach the ground between trees. The grasses and wildflowers that grew around the trees provided light fuels which caused fire to easily carry through the forests. Where fires were more frequent and trees even more widely spaced, the system that evolved was called a savannah.

Where Fire Rarely Visits

Picture of balsam fir branch.

Balsam fir is a classic northern forest tree. It grows as an understory tree in shade where other trees find hard to make a living.

Up north the snow pack is deeper and lasts later in the spring. Because of that soils are wetter and fire  less frequent. Trees that were more shade tolerant and less fire adapted could gain a foothold. Swamps, and shady northern slopes provide the similar conditions for isolated woodland pockets in southern Wisconsin.

What Does It Mean

Picture of oak hickory woodland.

Traditional Wisconsin oak hickory woodland. This would have been familiar to your parents of grandparents; before they got choked out by invasive shrubs and shade tolerant trees.

Today, with humans surpassing wildfire, much of the former oak and hickory savannah is moving toward late succession forests.  Wisconsin has lost more than 95% of its historic oak savannah. Oak and hickory are dying out of their historic woodlands replaced by more shade tolerant species. The closed canopy allows shade tolerant shrubs like buckthorn and honeysuckle to steel the remaining sunlight. The result is a serious decline of savannah and woodland wildflowers in Wisconsin. Likewise, western forests are becoming denser creating high fuel loads. This sets up conditions for the devastating wildfires that are plaguing the American west.

Private landowners and public land managers who put in place forest management plans are making a difference. They use selective thinning, forestry mowing and prescribed fire to reduce fire loading and let more sunlight reach the forest floor. Wise stewardship is restoring healthy forests, woodlands and savannas. This is how we take protect our natural heritage.

Forests, therefore, really do not grow by themselves. We steer its future; either by conscious management or benign neglect. It took 150 years of exploitation and total fire suppression to put our forests in their present condition. Wise stewardship and effective management can restore healthy forests over the next century. The choice is simple — it is, however, neither cheap nor easy.

November 2018

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Why Are Invasives So Bad?

photo of Phragmites also called common reed grass.

Phragmites creates stands so dense that wildlife cannot move though it.

For the past year, I have been fielding questions about conservation, biology and invasive species on the forum Quora. It gives me a chance to hear the questions and concerns that people have and give back to the community. Questions I think Conservation Digest readers might be interested in have found their way into the FAQ section of this website.

This question appeared last week. Below is my response. After reading it, I hope you see what motivated me to create the website and write this blog.

Invasive garlic mustard, honeysuckle and buckthorn have all but wiped out spring wildflowers from the woodlands of southern Wisconsin. Japanese knotweed crowds out everything along stream banks where it becomes established. Wild parsnip causes serious chemical burns when the sap gets onto the skin. Cattails take over wetlands reducing open water for waterfowl and displacing the native sedge, reeds and wetland wildflowers. Phragmites (common reed) creates such dense stands that waterfowl cannot use the wetland.

Those four sentences capture a small portion of the problems caused by invasive plants that plague natural areas in Wisconsin. They only begin to scratch the surface of the issues created by invasive species.

Check out our new webpage About Invasive Species to learn more about the problem and how to prevent new invaders from getting a foothold in Wisconsin.