It’s happened to all of us in a doctor’s office. We pass the time browsing a well-worn magazine. For most people, this is not a life-changing experience, but then, Bill Bogenhagen is not “most people.” What he found in The Nature Conservancy magazine eventually led him to volunteer his time and energy to the organization.
It was the late eighties when Bill first got involved and, except for a brief hiatus to Missouri, he has been one of the Conservancy’s most ardent and dependable Wisconsin volunteers. He has helped in a variety of ways, collecting prairie seeds, clearing brush, and eradicating invasive species. His favorite activity however, is his work on a prescribed burn team. Prescribed burns are used for prairie and savanna restoration as well as forest management. Bill’s first experience took place on hallowed ground. He trained at the Aldo Leopold homestead near Baraboo in 1987. He fondly recalls touring “the shack” and then participating in his first controlled burn.
In the ensuing years, Bill has participated in countless burns, working with the DNR and other entities to assure safe, properly controlled fires. Bill has also begun more advanced training, gaining leadership experience that will allow him to assume the role of "line boss". A line boss directs the work of part of a burn crew, and is responsible for the work and safety of the burn crew members under their direction. In addition to helping with the actual burns, Bill has started helping TNC staff to develop prescribed burn plans - the detailed documents that guide the work of the burn crew on each fire.
When asked why he volunteers for work that is certain to be dirty and difficult, he didn’t hesitate: “I want to have a positive influence on the environment and leave behind tangible evidence of what I’ve done.” He laughingly added that the specter of a blackened forest floor is a thing of beauty to him.
Bill credits many people he’s worked with at the Conservancy for broadening his awareness and interest in the environment. He admits to having little knowledge when he began and is quick to credit those responsible for developing his expanded perspective on nature. In particular, he is thankful to Kristin Westad, the former coordinator of the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, who he calls a “walking guidebook.”
When asked to assess the environment today, Bill says, “If I didn’t have hope, it would be hard to see the value in what we’re doing.” He is quick to point out that volunteerism is a win/win situation for the Conservancy and the volunteer. The Conservancy certainly benefits from the work performed by the volunteer and in exchange, “the volunteer gains a definite connection to the land and a personal feeling of stewardship for its protection.”
As to the future, Bill sees his work continuing. He also sees the need for “more folks, and especially younger folks, to get involved.” “We need to get younger people volunteering because they are the future stewards of the land!”
While we wait for these “new and young folks” to get on board, there is comfort in knowing that part of the task of protecting our planet is in the willing and capable hands of Bill Bogenhagen and others like him. These special people provide the footprints we might all follow by volunteering in our own right. The phone lines are open!