The Wisconsin Chapter SWCS Summer Tour was held on Friday, August 9th. The group of approximately 20 met for this year’s focus, Southwestern Wisconsin Prairie, Savanna, and Cold Water Stream Habitat Restoration.
Our first stop was at Borah Creek State Natural Area. The site is a former pasture on mostly shallow to bedrock soils. It is in various stages of restoration by the local Prairie Enthusiasts and boasts the 3rd largest population of the Federally Endangered Prairie Bush Clover (Lespedeza leptostachya) in the state. Armund Bartz, DNR Ecologist, led the tour. Many native legumes, such as Round-headed Bush Clover, Purple and White Prairie Clover, Tick Trefoils, and Lead Plant were providing host to Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies in flight. Other notable species we saw were blazing stars, showy goldenrod, gray-leaved goldenrod, grass-leaved goldenrod, marble seed, prairie violets, and cream indigo. We also saw areas that were degraded and in the process of restoration.
The next stop was at the scenic John Kussmaul property near Woodman. John’s property was along the Wisconsin River and offered examples of sand prairies and upland mesic prairies, oak savanna, and oak woodlands. There was so much in bloom that it could be hard to focus on one plant. Some notable species we saw were Dolls Eye, Sand Milkweed, Germander, and Prickly Pear cactus. Through Burning, interseeding, brush management, and forest thinning John has transformed his property back into a real ecological gem that could take days to fully explore. From a soil aspect, the property was unique in having heavier soil under the aeolian sands was perching the water table so wet-mesic species were found high up on the dunes, looking peculiarly out of place.
The afternoon focused on cold water stream restoration on Big Spring Creek near Highland. Joe Schmelz from the NRCS, Bradd Simms from DNR Fisheries, and Jeff Hastings from Trout Unlimited showed us the in-stream habitat that’s been implemented over the past 5 and more years. The stream went through a historic flash flood this spring, so the group was able to see large rocks tossed around by the powerful river. It reminded us that nothing we install is permanent, and engineering specs are used for a reason. Bradd and his crew shocked A LOT of trout and non-game feeder fish and did some invertebrate identification with us. We saw engineered lunker structures, root wads, rock weirs, backwater refuges, and learned the importance of using local on-site materials, such as tree logs, for cheap and effective habitat. The day ended at the Big Spring that gives the stream it’s name. After a hot day, the cold water was a pleasant ending.
-Ryan Gerlich, WI SWCS President