MADISON – Prairies, oak barrens and oak savannas and other imperiled natural communities on Wisconsin State Natural Areas got a big boost in 2017 and stand to get more of the same in 2018.
Thanks to warm and dry fall weather in 2017, success in securing grant money, strong partnerships, donors and volunteers, State Natural Areas containing these rare natural communities received a record level of management.
SNA crews, field ecologists and partners enhanced 12,500 acres by cutting brush, pulling and spraying invasive plants, seeding areas with native plants, and conducting many other management activities. Their greatest gains came from applying prescribed fire to the land to control invasive plant species and jumpstart growth of native wildflowers and other desirable plants.
“We had another very productive year in 2017 and that’s good news for all Wisconsin wildlife,” says Jim Woodford, field operations supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Conservation program. “While this habitat management work may benefit non-game species like Karner blue butterflies or eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes, it benefits game species as well. Our work controls invasive species, perpetuates oak on the landscape, a key resource for many game and nongame species, and maintains and restores some of Wisconsin’s best remaining habitats.”
State Natural Areas – Prescribed Fire 2017
State Natural Areas feature outstanding examples of Wisconsin’s native natural communities, significant geological formations and archeological sites and are often the last refuge of many rare plants and animals. Prairies and oak savanna are among the natural areas getting the most attention. They once covered each more than 5 million acres in Wisconsin and now less than one-tenth of 1 percent remain.
“These are our most imperiled natural communities and they simply take more work to sustain,” says Matt Zine, a field supervisor for State Natural Area crews in southern Wisconsin, where most of these communities exist. “We are very pleased with our hard-working crews – through good partnerships with other DNR programs, we got a lot of work done in 2017.”
DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program employs 20 limited term staff stationed in seven geographically based work crews to manage State Natural Areas and work cooperatively with other DNR programs to manage natural areas within state parks, forests and wildlife areas.
In 2017, State Natural Areas also benefitted from work done by 36 volunteer groups organized under the SNA Volunteer Program, and from work done under new and formalized partnerships.
For example, a new memorandum of agreement with four partners in the Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain, a 4,000-acre complex of wetlands and prairies straddling the Wisconsin and Illinois border, now enables partners to coordinate and conduct restoration, management and outreach work across borders. This agreement allowed an Illinois partner to lead a 286-acre burn in fall 2017 on land including Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area in Wisconsin.
A new partnership, the Wisconsin Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Exchange, brought federal field staff to Wisconsin to get more experience conducting prescribed burns on conservation lands including State Natural Areas. The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin also helped to secure funds to manage several areas.
“We continue to expand our burning window and our work with partners to get as much work done as possible,” Woodford says. “Our goal this year will be to do the same or even more restoration work to benefit these last remaining really, really good habitats.”
Find state natural areas by county by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for “SNA.” Donate to the Endangered Resources Fund online or through filling in an amount on your Wisconsin income tax form to help get more work done on State Natural Areas.