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Connections
Midwest Region, December 6, 2018
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Mark Pfost, PFW biologist (left), Tim Bodeen (project leader Necedah NWR), and landowner Chris Barlow (right) hand-broadcasting native a diverse mix of native prairie seed.
Mark Pfost, PFW biologist (left), Tim Bodeen (project leader Necedah NWR), and landowner Chris Barlow (right) hand-broadcasting native a diverse mix of native prairie seed. - Photo Credit: Chelsea Gunther, Wisconsin DNR
Landowner Chris Barlow hikes back up hill again. Once at the top he'll wind his way back downhill, sowing seeds as he goes.
Landowner Chris Barlow hikes back up hill again. Once at the top he'll wind his way back downhill, sowing seeds as he goes. - Photo Credit: Mark Pfost, USFWS

Thoughtful landowners are connected to their land. Their connection may involve an intimate knowledge of what they own, the land’s history, or the effort put forth to restore the land. Such connections are at the heart of Aldo Leopold’s views on the relationships between people and land.


Chris and Joyce Barlow are thoughtful landowners whose property abuts Ft. McCoy, a U.S. Army training facility in Monroe County. At one time their property belonged to the Fort, until it was divested by the army after WWII. Even afterward, army officers and prominent Wisconsin politicians continued to socialize and hunt with the property’s new owners.


The Barlows, interested in restoring this area to prairie, contacted the Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program last year and was connected to me, Mark Pfost, a private lands biologist. After learning more about the project, this was a good good fit for the Partnerws Progam, as the property matches criteria for our strategic conservation plan and opportunity to utilize funding from the Wisconsin Forest Landowners Grant Program, the Barlows had already hand-cut and stump-treated several acres of trees—primarily invasive autumn olives—from a western slope on his property.

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Fort McCoy lies within the High Potential Range for the endangered Karner blue butterflies. The Range model predicts whether, or not, a site has greater than 50% probability of being within five miles of a site where the butterflies have been documented. Fort McCoy began incorporating Karner Blue’s habitat management in 1990, and the base now supports a robust population, but if a butterfly were to “jump the fence” onto the Barlows’ property, it would cross an imaginary line out of the Range—a distinction that would probably mean nothing to the butterfly.


Now mostly free of trees, the roughly eight-acre project site stretches down a long westerly slope that overlooks a portion of Ft. McCoy’s eastern boundary. Chris Barlow earned from his friend, Ft. McCoy Wildlife b\Biologist Tim Wilder, that the Fort plans to establish fire breaks along its eastern boundary—some of which will border the prairie envisioned by the Barlows. In addition to their obvious purpose, fire breaks provide corridors that critters frequently use to move from one area to another. Karner Blue’s are not strong fliers, so such corridors greatly aid their dispersal into unpopulated areas. Pfost saw that, in addition to the historic interpersonal connections, Barlows’ property also had a potential ecological connection with the Fort. That in turn, led Pfost to reconnect with Wisconsin Karner Blue Butterfly Biologist Chelsea Gunther to propose that they work together to plant a very high diversity prairie that would benefit a plethora of pollinator species and grassland birds. Such a project, in time, might help expand the Range eastward. Gunther agreed. The two agencies cooperated to purchase the prairie seed and Chris committed to ensuring autumn olive wouldn’t regain its foothold, and to arrange for a future prescribed fire after the prairie is established.


Pfost and Gunther selected 61 species native to Monroe County—54 forbs, five grasses and two upland sedges. They selected forbs that would attract as many pollinator species as possible by maximizing diversity of family, genus, color and bloom time. Two hard-to-obtain milkweed species, clasping milkweed and short green milkweed, were also included in the mix for the Barlows’ prairie. A landowner with whom Pfost had previously worked donated the clasping, and a tiny bit of short green became commercially available—a rarity. With luck, both of these species will prosper and potentially provide a seed source that connects the Barlows’ prairie to a future restoration.Sedges, June grass and prairie brome were chosen to compete with scattered non-native cool season grasses, while prairie dropseed and side oats grama were in keeping with the site’s dry mesic character, sandy soils, and existing stands of little bluestem.


On a cold December day, Chris Barlow, Pfost, Gunther, and Tim Bodeen (project leader of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge) rode a pair of UTVs loaded with buckets and boxes of seed through snow-covered, wooded hills until to the western slope overlooking Ft. McCoy.

After relentless trudging back and forth, up and down the snowy slope, each carrying a bucket containing sawdust mixed with forb seeds. As they trudged, each would let the sawdust-seed mixture trickle from their fingers to be carried by the wind, or tossed handfuls into the air to fall as they might. Pfost followed, hand-broadcasting in a similar manner, but from a bucket containing a slurry of water, numerous legume species and inoculum—a bacterium that helps legumes convert atmospheric nitrogen to a more useable form. Graminoids were next—again, up and down, and up and down the slope. Next, a bit of seed from selected species that had been held aside was sowed heavily in small areas to create patches—a patch of prairie dropseed here, a patch of dwarf blazing star there. . . Finally, the “special” milkweeds were scattered and flagged so they can be checked up on more easily next year.

 

Connections have long been a part this land—previous landowners and soldiers, and then Chris Barlow and Wilder, and now Barlow and agency biologists. Soon habitat for Kirklands blue butterfly and other creatures will be connected across property lines. The Barlows’ efforts have strengthened their ties to their land and likewise, their relationships with friends. Connections.


Contact Info: Mark Pfost, (608) 565-4418, mark_pfost@fws.gov
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