|Ring-necked pheasant. Photo: Dave Menke.|
An innovative program to restore native prairie and slow the spread of non-native plant species that may thrive in Wisconsin’s warming climate is living up to the state’s motto “Forward” – taking bold steps to sustain natural resources into the future.
According to a comprehensive state report, Wisconsin's Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation, climate change models predict a shift to increased moisture and temperature in the decades ahead. By the middle of the century, statewide annual average temperatures are likely to warm by 6-7 degrees Fahrenheit. These changing conditions favor invasive plant and tree species over native prairie.
Tom Kerr, Manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s St. Croix Wetland Management District (District), says many invasive plants have already established themselves, mainly trees that outcompete native grasses. The District manages 7,800 acres in eight counties, providing habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds, threatened and endangered native species and resident wildlife.
Removing the scattered non-native trees – mostly non-native and invasive Russian olive, Siberian elm and buckthorn, as well as trees native to North America like green ash, box elder, pine and cottonwood – also benefits wildlife habitat for grassland species. The non-native trees combine with other trees to provide cover for predators such as skunks, raccoons and fox that threaten nesting waterfowl, pheasants and numerous non-game bird species that depend on large, open grasslands to thrive.