Sunday, 02 August 2020

Wisconsin’s World of Cranes

image of sandhill cranes flying in formation

Sandhill cranes gather into flocks for the spring and fall migration. [Photo courtesy of ICF.]

Nearly every Wisconsin landowner is familiar with Sandhill Cranes. Even if your property sits on a hilltop like mine, there is no mistaking their incredibly beautiful trumpeting, as well as the way their massive wings seem to blot out the sun as they fly low over the treetops. Those who are lucky enough to have wetlands may well host these magnificent birds. Likewise, properties without nesting pairs can host spring and fall migrants. A new webinar series from the International Crane Foundation (ICF) aims to peak your interest in cranes, those we know and those that might be less familiar.

Most of us have at least heard the stories of how wildlife managers are working to re-introduce the lovely white whooping cranes back to Wisconsin. While still rare, whooping cranes are making a comeback in several locations across the center of the state. Unlike their sandhill cousins, whoopers completely disappeared from Wisconsin in the middle of the last century. Most whooping cranes are nesting in the USFWS reservers with established whooping crane management programs. Some, however, are nesting in sites of their own choosing.

Giving Cranes Helping Hand

You may not know that the recent success of crane is no accident. Wisconsin has invested heavily in wetland restoration especially in the middle of the state. Our secret weapon, however, is a small non-profit organization outside Baraboo called the International Crane Foundation.

picture of early ICF crew.

[Photo courtesy of ICF.]

Two Cornell University students, George Archebald and Ron Sauey set up the first of its kind crane facility on the horse farm George’s parents owned. The International Crane Foundation was created from its beginnings with the ambitious mission to conduct research, breeding, reintroduction, management and education for the world’s fifteen crane species.

Today 74 researchers, land managers and ecologists from the International Crane Foundation can be found in 50 countries across five continents. They work with host governments and local non-profits to save and protect all fifteen crane species. This international effort makes ICF the leading protector of crane worldwide.

The ICF headquarters facility is now 300 acres, housing approximately 100 cranes which represent all fifteen crane species. Until the COVIT-19 pandemic stopped public access, their facility annually hosted 25,000 visitors. Even more unfortunate is that the facility just completed a major renovation that promises to greatly improve your experience.

image of the "From the Field Series" of ICF webinars.

From the Field webinar series logo. [Photo courtesy of ICF.]

Becoming a Better Crane Neighbor

You can join this series of webinars every Thursday beginning at 11:00 AM central time. Each seminar is recorded and available to stream from their site, as well. This library of presentations spans different crane species, a variety of research topics, as well as Q&A sessions with international crane experts. While you are at the ICF site, check out their other educational offerings and events.

The International Crane Foundation is yet another reason why Wisconsin leads the nation in land stewardship. ICF is a blessing to those of us who are lucky enough to own a piece of Wisconsin’s natural heritage. They teach and inspire us to improve crane habitat on our land. Find out how you can make cranes more welcome on your property.

For more information contact: 

International Crane Foundation
E11376 Shady Lane Road
P.O. Box 447
Baraboo, WI 53913 USA



June 2020

Monday, 08 June 2020

Private Landowner Assistance Available

Image of private landowners with consultant

We all benefit from another set of eyes. All the better when those eyes when the help is highly skilled. Better yet when it’s free.

Eighty-two percent of Wisconsin is privately owned. Therefore, private landowners are the most important group of land stewards. Because of that, the Prairie Enthusiasts just hired a full time private landowner consultant. Dan Carter is the Landowner Services Coordinator, working on a three year grant. He is available to answer questions and give advice to private landowners trying to create or update management plans for their property.

The Prairie Enthusiasts have the experience and skills to help private land owners. They directly manage several thousand of acres of prairie and savannah across Wisconsin. In addition, TPE holds dozens of conservation easements with private landowners across Wisconsin. Finally, TPE’s chapters provide an excellent local, peer-based network of landowners. They are willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Dan is available for phone calls, email or on-site visits. He recommends land management contractors for those big jobs. Additionally, Dan can source native seeds and plants for your land. He knows the native nurseries and seed growers, what they sell and which growers carry stock suited for your management plan.


For additional sources of help, check out the Conservation Digest Resources page. We provide links to private landowner help with a wide range of land stewardship issues. Find information about  landowner assistance programs and product reviews.


You can reach Dan at or 319-321-6513 to ask questions, discuss your property’s potential  or set up a site visit. As a landowner, you can make a difference!


May 2019

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.


November 2018

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Order Trees Now!

Now is the time to place your order for trees from the DNR for next year. Certain species sell out fast, so you need to decide early which tree and shrub species you plan to put in the ground once spring arrives.


If you do not already have a forest management plan for your woodland, the Wisconsin DNR offers technical assistance for landowners through their Cooperating Foresters. DIY woodland owners will want to check out the Wisconsin Forest Management Guidelines. Regardless of whether you use a forester or do-it-yourself, this publication will make you a better woodland owner. For individual woodlands greater than 20 acres, the Forest Forest Landowner Grant Program offers cost sharing, in addition to technical assistance.

Getting Started

The Wisconsin DNR Tree Planting page is the place to start. There you will find links to help you plan your planting. It also contains instructions for properly plant the trees and shrubs so that they have the best chance of succeeding in their new home. Your trees and shrubs come as bare root seedlings. Planting and care instructions tell you how to protect stock prior to planting.

The DNR nursery sells both conifer and hardwood trees. Among the more popular conifers are Balsam fir, various pine and spruce species. Hardwood seedlings include various maple, oak, hickory and birch species.

Those interested in bringing back ruffed grouse should consider aspen seedlings. Young aspen stands create prime habitat to attract and hold these highly sought upland birds.

Hunters and others who want to improve wildlife habitat should consider adding some beneficial shrubs. Among the most popular with birds and nut loving animals are American hazelnut, high bush cranberry and American plum. Several shrub species can be rather aggressive given the right growing conditions. Red osier dogwood, silky dogwood and nine bark provide good wildlife food but spread quickly and should be watched to make sure they do not get out of control.

Placing Your Order

The website walks you through the ordering process to buy from the state nurseries. Use trees and shrubs for conservation purposes such as that is erosion control, wildlife habitat or wood fiber production only. Make sure you do not resell DNR nursery stock. Also, do not use seedlings for ornamental landscaping or Christmas tree production.

The minimum order is (a) a packet*, (b) 500 shrubs or (c) 1000 trees. Tree and shrub seedlings must be ordered in increments of 100 of each species. Contact the Wisconsin DNR nursery or call 715-424-3700 with any questions.

* – A packet consists of 300 seedlings of the landowners own choice of any combination of conifers, hardwoods or wildlife shrubs, in increments of 100 of each species.


March 2018

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Fire! Prescribed Burn Season Begins

Image of three person prescribed burn crew.

Line crew lights flanking fire in tight fire break.

The spring melt means that the very best time to control invasive brush and weeds starts this week across much of Wisconsin. Whether you manage an acre or several thousand, nothing beats controlled fire for land conservation.

Public land managers know this very well. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources start their annual burn season any day.

Controlled fire can knock down invasive trees, shrubs and weeds like nothing else. The Wisconsin landscape is adapted to fire. Many native plants tolerate low intensity fire and some even require it. Because controlled burns are used in the late fall or early spring, while native plants are dormant, most are completely unaffected.

Effective use of prescribed burns can get more done in a day than months of hand pulling or weeks of spot herbicide treatments. It is cheaper than broadcast herbicide treatments; without harming native plants.

Learn To Burn Safely

Crew checking backpack pump cans

Crew checking backpack pump cans

The Prairie Enthusiasts will hold a prescribed fire training class this Saturday. The one day class is designed for people without previous burn experience or those who want a refresher.

Here is a great place for those hesitant about using controlled fire to start learning the skills needed to confidently use fire on their land.

This training follows the guidelines of the Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council. Successful participation in this training, plus working on two TPE burns as an apprentice, provides qualifications to be a new crew member on TPE burns. Check out our event announcement for more details.

Line crews and UTVs set to start prescribed fire.

Two crews prepare for prescribed burn of prairie.

Build Skills While Giving Back

Volunteering with groups like the Prairie Enthusiasts of Nature Conservancy will give you the experience and confidence to put controlled burn to work for you on your property.


October 2017

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.



August 2017

Thursday, 03 August 2017

Whoop It Up in Baraboo

Two Sandhill cranes standing on a sidewalk.

Two wild Sandhill cranes wander outside the Wisconsin DATCP labs in Madison, WI. [Photo courtesy of Anette Phibbs]

Want to learn more about Wisconsin’s Sandhill and Whooping cranes, as well as cranes from around the world? Come to the Cranes of the World Festival on Saturday, August 5, 2017 from 9:00AM to 5:00PM at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

In 1975 there were only a few hundred Sandhill cranes left in Wisconsin. Overhunting in the early 20th century and the pesticide DDT completely eliminated Whooping cranes and nearly wiped out Sandhills from the state. Today, thanks to the work of the International Crane Foundation, these incredible birds have made a successful comeback.

The folks at the International Crane Foundation began work in 1973 on cranes when little was known about them and their numbers were crashing around the world. From their humble start in Baraboo, the ICF has become the world’s leading international crane conservation group. Their projects in Africa, India, China and Southeast Asia have helped to stabilize crane populations globally. This one-day event is their way of sharing what they have learned with their neighbors.

Many landowners want to know more about cranes so that they can better manage them. The Cranes of the World Festival offers property owners an opportunity to talk to the experts about crane conservation and best management practices for their land.

The International Crane Foundation is located at E11376 Shady Lane Road, Baraboo, WI. For more information email:


October 2016

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Why We Burn

Crew prepares for burnThe Illinois Prescribed Fire Council recently released a comprehensive report on the controlled burning state of that state. In its Illinois Fire Needs Assessment, the group details the reasons for prescribed burning, the number or acres currently being managed with fire, as well as the acreage that would benefit.

According to the report, only 1/8th of the needed acres are currently actively being managed with prescribed fire. Because of this, much of the habit acreage in Illinois is ecologically degrading. Approximately 20% of the current habitat acreage is so degraded that it will not currently support prescribed fire.

Rather than giving up the report makes specific recommendations that are relevant for private landowners and public land managers across the midwest. Among these are increasing public support for private landowners, in the form of training and mentorship so that they have the knowledge and skills needed to manage their property.

For more information on prescribed burning check out the Illinois Nature Conservancy prescribed fire FAQ page.

September 2016

Monday, 19 September 2016

Lend a Hand; Gain Great Memories

Saturday, September 24, 2016 celebrates the 23rd National Public Lands Day. Hundreds of thousands of your neighbors will be volunteering at public lands across America, cleaning up parks, removing invasive weeds, repairing and building the trails that we all enjoy.

You value nature and conservation. You work hard to make your land a better place for the wildlife and plant communities that call it home. Share that enthusiasm by giving a few hours on Saturday to help out a conservancy, park, wildlife area or forest in your area.

Click here to find an National Public Lands Day event year.



February 2016

Monday, 08 February 2016

Super Sunday

Here in Wisconsin, it is a rare year indeed when Super Bowl Sunday features bright sun calm winds and temperatures in the mid 40s. We knew as early as September that a strong El Nino weather pattern was developing in the southern Pacific. The local TV weather meteorologists predicted above normal temperatures and below average precipitation.

Today, those predictions kept intruding as I parked atop Dunlap Hollow Road and headed for the trailhead at Phil’s Woods County Park in Roxbury. Nestled in the northwest corner of Dane County it is so small that Dane County Parks neglected to include it on the county parks map. It barely has a parking lot, which is plowed shut for the winter. What Phil’s woods has in spades is a spectacular view of the Wisconsin River Valley and Baraboo Hills.

A gift to the county by the Lafollette family, this park was part of the farm owned by the former governor. Its steep terrain declares this place has refused to succumb to snow and ice that covered most of Wisconsin and ground its rough features clean. Its slopes are a crazy mix of oak, hickory, birch and cedar, intermixed with cherry and black walnut that are obvious newcomers to this place.

As I cross an open field at its top, newly restored from cropland to prairie, I am following in the tracks of a man and his dog. The dog rarely moves from his master’s side despite having the fifteen acres to romp. At the ridge, an old fence line marks the southern boundary of the park.

Along the edge of honeysuckle separates parkland from the adjoining farmer’s field sits a well worn Leopold bench. One end is soggy but the left side is dry and inviting. Before me looking back across the slumbering prairie opens a magical vista; eons of natural history woven together to create a scene so beautiful it invites skepticism. How is it that this setting is real and not the contrivance of a Hollywood cinematographer? How is it that I am here at noon on Sunday feasting on it alone?

The air is mostly still with only an occasional murmur in the treetops. The only sound is the rhythmic boom of shotguns coming from the gun club off County Road Y. While some of my lefty friends might find the rumbling disturbing, I find it reassuring. These are the guys I have worked with for forty years. They are out sharpening their skills for next fall’s pheasant and quail season. But those “environmentalists” who mistake them for blood thirsty thrill seekers could not be more wrong. Hunters are outdoor enthusiasts first.

Hunters are overwhelmingly ethical with a deep understanding of the outdoors; spending far more days and nights in the woods during the off-season than they do hunting. Not only do they pay license fees to support wildlife management, but most belong to groups like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Quails Forever and Trout Unlimited. Their volunteer efforts are responsible for restoring and protecting the world-class waterfowl resource know as Horicon Marsh, as well as the renown trout fishery in the driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin.

My musings are suddenly disturbed. But rather than breaking the mood, this interruption is more like the timely stage direction meant to complete the scene. Moving low above the treetops coming from Praire du Sac, a bald eagle climbs higher circling the Wisconsin River in broad sweeps from northeast to southwest than back. Each time climbing a bit higher into my view. Being noon, the Sunday brunch at the dam is finished and it is time to check out the hunting downstream. This time of year, eagles concentrate around those small patches of open water that afford a chance for an easy meal. And my day is all the more blessed for their presence.

On the walk back, I notice that portions of the park seem well cared for, while others are choked by prickly ash and buck throne. Along with the honeysuckle that bordered the prairie, these invasive shrubs remind me that the price of maintaining natural areas is high. Park volunteers, naturalists and contractors battle to protect our beautiful woodlands. Most parks have “Friends” groups that provide much of the labor needed.

Back at the car, I head home but stop to visit Dwight at his ice shanty on Lake Monona. The ice is slushy but he assures me there is still 8 inches; plenty of ice for walking on. The perch were biting earlier, but are apparently tailgating this afternoon, ahead of the Super Bowl. Dwight tells me the cold weather forecast for the coming week will likely improve the fishing. A tip-up flag jumps and Dwight is scrambling the twenty yards that separates him from his next victory. I take that as my cue to head home and prepare for the big game.