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The Beauty and Benefits of Savannas

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

 

photo of savanna before burning
A savanna before management activities.

Why Manage for Savannas:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge has three goals that guide our management decisions. These goals are:

 

1) To protect and provide habitat for migratory birds - Savannas provide habitat for over 100 species of birds. Brown thrashers, blue-winged teal, yellow warblers, and bluebirds make colorful additions to the savanna landscape.

 

2) To protect and provide habitat for threatened and endangered species - Wisconsin used to have over 4.1 million acres of savannas. Now, there are less than 10,000 acres in good condition. As a result, many savanna species are becoming increasingly rare. The prairie fame flower, Blanding's turtle, and the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly are all examples of rare species that require savanna habitat.

 

3) To support a natural diversity of plants and animals on refuge lands - Savannas support a wonderful variety of living things. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, wild lupine, mourning cloak butterflies, and the eastern hognosed snake all make their homes on Necedah's savanna habitats.

 

The Lupine Trail and Pair Ponds Trail, listed in the Wildlife Viewing Hotspots brochure, are two places where you can see savannas that have already been restored. Come walk these trails and learn about savanna habitat and the unique plants and animals that live there. You'll be glad you came!

 

Necedah's Natural Heritage

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is located in an area known as the Great Central Wisconsin Swamp. Most of the refuge is relatively flat. Glacial meltwaters left ridges of well-drained sand rising gently out of the surrounding wetlands. Tamarack, wet meadows, oak, and jack pine formed a patchwork of open vistas, forest, and barrens/savanna habitat

 

For many of us, the word savanna brings to mind wind-swept grasslands punctuated by stately trees that have weathered many storms. But savannas are shaped by many different forces. Soil type, lightning fires, fires set by aboriginal peoples for game and berry production, grazing by bison and elk, and disease all affect the way different savannas look and the types of plants and animals that live there. These forces kept the land open and allowed the plants and animals that rely on savanna habitat to survive. The poorest soils experienced the most frequent fires and the trees were the most susceptible to drought and disease. These areas supported some scattered oak and pine, but the most common plants were actually graceful grasses, brilliant wildflowers dominated by milkweeds and goldenrods, and low shrubs such as blueberry and sweet fern.

 

A Changing Landscape

European Settlement - Several large, intense fires in the early 1900s led to a program of strict fire suppression in the Necedah area. This change in philosophy was also taking place across the rest of the country. Smoky the Bear quickly became a familiar household figure.

 

As fires became less common, oak and jack pine slowly began to shade out the barrens. Many wildflowers, birds, and butterflies such as the Karner blue found it difficult to survive.

 

The Restoration Process - In the 1960's, Necedah Refuge began clearing wooded areas on sandy soil and using fire to promote grass growth and improve waterfowl nesting habitat. Thirty years later, these areas not only provide nesting habitat for mallards and blue-winged teal, but are some of our best examples of savannas. The refuge plans to restore 17 sites totaling 2,500 acres. Upon completion, over 3,000 acres of the 44,000-acre refuge will be managed as savannas.

 

photo of savanna after burning

 

An Oak Barren/Savanna after management activities. Open areas have been created so that wild lupine can grow. This also provides nesting habitat for other wildlife.

 

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Last updated: April 1, 2014