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Wisconsin

Restoring Sand Prairie at Spring Green

Over the winter months, The Nature Conservancy has been restoring sand prairie at Spring Green Preserve. We caught up with Steve Richter, The Nature Conservancy’s director of conservation in agricultural landscapes, to talk about the preserve and the restoration effort.


nature.org:

The Conservancy has been protecting land at Spring Green Preserve since 1971. Why is this a special place?

Steve Richter:

The sand prairies at the base of the bluffs and the dry prairies on the bluffs here at Spring Green Preserve once covered thousands of acres across the state. Today they have almost completely disappeared. But they are home to prickly pear cactus, rare prairie plants including silky prairie-clover and yellow evening primrose, and many rare and uncommon birds, snakes, lizards and other animals that need this sandy prairie habitat to survive.

nature.org:

What is the Conservancy doing to restore prairie habitat at Spring Green Preserve?

Steve Richter:

For more than 40 years, volunteers have been helping the Conservancy burn the prairie, remove invasive species, plant native prairie grasses and wildflowers, and control red cedars that are invading the prairie and shading out native plants.

nature.org:

This winter, the Conservancy removed black locust and black oak trees at the preserve. Is this part of the prairie restoration effort?

Steve Richter:

Yes, we have been slowly working to remove black locust trees, which pose a serious threat to native vegetation in dry and sand prairies in this area. Once introduced, black locust expands readily into areas where it shades out other sun-loving plants. We removed a large stand of black locust at the west end of the bluff.

Near the parking area, we removed a large stand of black oak trees. We have strong evidence based on early survey records and historical photographs that the prairies and barrens at this preserve would have been far more open than they are now, particularly in the area where we harvested the black oaks. This area would have been sand prairie with a few scattered mature oaks and some shorter oaks and other shrubs. The oak trees we harvested ranged in age from 40 to 100 years old, and they began to move into the area due to the absence of fire or insufficient fire to control them. Our goal is to manage the preserve, particularly the flat and south-facing areas, for the unique sand prairie with pockets of scattered oak barrens habitat that exists there and the many species that need these habitats.

nature.org:

Are there oak woods elsewhere at Spring Green Preserve or in the area that can provide habitat for animals that may have been displaced by the harvest?

Steve Richter:

There is still an abundance of young oaks on the site that will not only provide for future scattered mature trees to develop, but will also provide adequate cover for birds, snakes and other wildlife at the preserve. Oak woods are also well represented at Spring Green Preserve and throughout the Lower Wisconsin River Valley in general.


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