Last week, The Nature Conservancy took the first step in restoring 55 acres at the Newell and Ann Meyer Nature Preserve along Highway 67 southwest of Eagle to native prairie grasses and wildflowers.
“Before settlers came to this area decades ago, this property was a vibrant native grassland that was home to many beautiful wildflowers, birds and other wildlife,” said Pat Morton, director of the Conservancy’s work in the Mukwonago River watershed. “In just a few short years, we hope to restore that beautiful native grassland for people to enjoy and birds, butterflies and other wildlife to use.”
“The first phase won’t be pretty,” said Jerry Ziegler, Conservancy land steward. “We need to kill the weeds so they don’t overtake the prairie grasses and flowers we will eventually plant. So for awhile, people driving by will see a lot of dead grass.”
In the spring, the Conservancy has contracted with a local farmer who will plant the land to soybeans. Soybeans help keep the weeds from coming back, and they add much-needed nitrogen to the soil that will aid in prairie plant growth.
The soybeans will be harvested in October 2012, and then native prairie seeds will be sowed into the soybean stubble in December. The Conservancy will purchase local seed to ensure that it is as genetically similar as possible to the prairie that originally existed on the site.
“We want to make sure that the seeds we plant next year will flourish in our restoration planting,” said Ziegler, “and a good way to do that is to use seed from plants that are adapted to the same environmental conditions that exist at the site.”
This particular planting on Hwy 67 is part of the Conservancy’s plan to restore about 215 acres of prairie at the Meyer Nature Preserve.
“Newell and Ann Meyer wanted to create a sanctuary for wildlife where people could also come and enjoy the beauty of nature,” said Morton. “When they passed away, they entrusted the Conservancy with their estate, and this prairie restoration is part of our ongoing effort to carry on their legacy.”
Funding from the Meyers’ estate will match funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, a federal program that provides matching grants for the conservation and restoration of habitats and birds associated with wetlands systems.
The grasslands in the Mukwonago River watershed, including at the Meyer Preserve, provide important habitat for meadowlarks, bobolinks, dickcissels and other grassland birds whose populations are declining worldwide.
In the coming years, when the prairie becomes more mature, the Conservancy will add a trail that connects the restored prairie to the rest of the preserve.
“We already have three miles of trail at the Meyer Preserve,” said Ziegler, “and we hope that people will come visit the preserve to enjoy the existing prairies and oak savannas and to watch our new prairie grow!”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.