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.

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.

Planning

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.

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October 2018

Monday, 22 October 2018

Lighten Your Brush Cutting Burden

Conservation Digest kicks off a new product review section of our website. People ask about the best choices for equipment, tools, planting materials and even herbicides. We listened and will showcase innovative products and best picks to help you manage your land.

First up had to be the revolutionary Husqvarna 14″ Battery Chainsaw 536 LiXP. Husqvarna wants you to rethink what you think you know about chainsaws. See how well a battery powered chainsaw can pull its weight in the woods.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Patagonia to Hustisford

If you are looking for that special winter getaway, Chile might be just the ticket. The Route of Parks trail spans across 1,740 miles from Puerto Montt all the way to Cape Horn.

Sparked by the recent donation of 408,000 hectares of private conservation land by Tompkins Conservation, the Chilean government announced that it will convert 2 million hectares of conservation reserve land into national park land. Combined with the Tomkins donation and existing national park property, the new Patagonian Route of Parks trail stitches together a network of national parks that occupy around 11.5 million hectares.

Douglas and Kristine Tompkins made their fortune in outdoor apparel, founding both North Face and Esprit. They created Tomkins Conservation and began buying up land for conservation in the 1990s. Tomkins Conservation made the donation last year, following the accidental death of Douglas Tomkins kayaking the Patagonia in 2015. 

While I do not usually post about outdoor recreation, this story is different. The Patagonian Route of Parks not only created a trail for hikers and backpackers, but a vital corridor for wildlife.

Meanwhile back in Wisconsin

Fragmentation is second only to habitat loss as threats to rare plants and animals. In Wisconsin, this plays out as small prairie remnants nestled along old town road right-of-ways, railroad corridors and the forgotten corners of early graveyards. Minute micro habitats where a tiny number of native plants, as well as the insects and animals that depend on them, hang onto a tenuous existence.

An increasing number of private landowners are deciding to manage part of all of their land for conservation. Small restored prairies are showing up in areas where once they dominated the landscape. Woodland owners are investing great effort to thin over-mature woodlands and clear invasive shrubs that a generation ago chocked out grasses and wildflowers.

 

Staying connected

While the work and money these landowners are plowing back into their land is vital to conserve and protect Wisconsin, those efforts cannot by themselves same many of the species that are heading for a quite death. These islands of habitat need to be connected.

Take for example the whirled milkweed. This tiny member of the milkweeds, grows barely a foot tall. It spreads through rhizomes into patches thirty feet or more across. However, whirled milkweed does not self-pollinate. That means that pollen from stems in the same clone must be transported to flowers on a different clone in order to pollinate those flowers and produce seed.

As farms and the equipment got bigger, fences were removed. Less productive land was also worked up for cultivation. This reduced that places where the Whirled milkweed could grow.It also isolated the few remaining populations that had been hanging on. These plants can live for thirty years of more. However, without cross pollination, the few remaining plants will eventually die without producing seed for new generations.

The solution to the problem is obvious, we need to connect fragmented islands of habitat. These do not need government to set aside vast expanses of public land to make that happen. As private landowners, we can work together to protect our natural heritage. Working together, neighbor to neighbor, we can make a difference.

Maintaining our outdoor traditions means ensuring we have a strong habitat where wildlife can survive long-term. This is called resilience, which comes from keeping as many pieces of the puzzle as we can.

Better together

So what can you do? None of us are billionaires who can purchase hundreds of thousands of acres. We can, however, walk next door and talk to with the folks who live around us. That marsh stretching a half mile south across the next two properties is more valuable for waterfowl if you work with your neighbors.

Together, we cans share equipment, labor and knowledge to increase the impact our conservation work has. This is especially important when taking on tough invasive species like buckthorn, garlic mustard or phragmites. Increasing waterfowl production will  be much easier if you can get those two neighbors upstream to work with you.

Restoring and maintaining the natural heritage of our state is too big for individual landowners to fix. Government cannot maintain the land it owns, so they can only be very limited partners. Neighbor-to-neighbor, is the only way we get back the quail and ruffed grouse. Working with neighbors is the only way to ensure our woodland remain clear of buckthorn and garlic mustard. A shared vision is the best way to return waterfowl production to that marsh seemingly lost to cattail and phragmites.

It takes time to make these things happen, but there is no time like right now to go for a walk with your neighbor.

September 2018

Friday, 14 September 2018

Birdsfoot Treefoil Best Managed in October

 

Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is a low-growing, perennial broadleaf plant native to Eurasia and North Africa. It was introduced into the United States for erosion control and livestock forage and is still sold commercially. Birdsfoot trefoil is invasive in Wisconsin. Birdsfoot trefoil is found along roadsides, and in waste areas, fields, prairies, wildlife openings, and open disturbed areas. It tolerates a variety of soil types including dry, moist, hardpan or droughty soils.

Picture of Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).

Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) starts growing early in the spring and stays green after native plants have gone dormant.

Identification

A recent edition of the TechLine Invasive Plant News provides the following description of Birdsfoot trefoil. [It] “is in the legume family and produces stems up to two feet in length. Leaves are alternate and compound with five oval to linear leaflets. The plant flowers from May to August, when clusters of yellow, pea-like flowers develop. Fruits are pods that occur in head-like clusters with each pod containing up to 49 seeds.” It has a taproot that can reach three feet deep. There are also secondary roots, rhizomes, and modified stems (stolons) near the soil surface.

Concern

Birdsfoot trefoil outcompetes native prairie and savannah plants because of its dense root system, long growing season and multiple ways of spreading. It reproduces by seeds, and spreads laterally by stolons and rhizomes. Because it is a legume, birdsfoot trefoil increases soil nitrogen unfavorable for native plants. It is especially invasive in new restoration sites.

Management

Birdsfoot trefoil can be effectively controlled with Milestone® specialty herbicide at 5 to 7 fluid ounces per acre (fl oz/A). Field trials conducted by Dr. Mark Renz, University of Wisconsin found that Milestone at 7 fl oz/A provided good to excellent control in either June or October. It was significantly better than Transline® specialty herbicide at 1 pint per acre applied in June (Figure 1). Milestone applied at 5 fl oz/A was more effective when applied in October compared to June with similar level of control.

Manually digging plants to remove all root fragments can control small infestations of birdsfoot trefoil. Frequent mowing at a height of two inches for several years may reduce seed production and spread, but will impact desirable vegetation. A predatory insect called trefoil seed chalcid (Bruchophagus kolobovae Fed.) is available but is not good enough to provide significant control. Burning increases seed germination allowing the plant to establish and spread rapidly in areas managed for native prairie.

UW Extension has a fact sheet that contains more information about chemical, as well as other management practices for birdsfoot trefoil.