Home
Field Notes
 
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Targets Prairie Restoration for Monarchs
Midwest Region, December 8, 2014
Print Friendly Version
This high quality remnant is being expanded through the cooperative agreement.  Note the diversity of flowers in late July. These prairies contain blooming flowers continuously throughout the growing season and thus provide critical nectaring habitat for Monarchs and a multitude of other invertebrates.
This high quality remnant is being expanded through the cooperative agreement. Note the diversity of flowers in late July. These prairies contain blooming flowers continuously throughout the growing season and thus provide critical nectaring habitat for Monarchs and a multitude of other invertebrates. - Photo Credit: William Kiser, USFWS
At least 4 species of native milkweeds are prevalent on these bluff prairies.  Also note contractor in background removing brush as well as the girdled birch trees.
At least 4 species of native milkweeds are prevalent on these bluff prairies. Also note contractor in background removing brush as well as the girdled birch trees. - Photo Credit: Erik Thomsen, ‘Ku-le Region Forestry, Inc.
Even sites with smaller patch size are used by Monarchs for reproduction and nectaring. This particular patch is currently less than 1 acre, but through our restoration efforts is being expanded and reconnected to other nearby patches and integrated with a larger savanna restoration.
Even sites with smaller patch size are used by Monarchs for reproduction and nectaring. This particular patch is currently less than 1 acre, but through our restoration efforts is being expanded and reconnected to other nearby patches and integrated with a larger savanna restoration. - Photo Credit: William Kiser, USFWS
Despite the heavy brush and cedar infestation of this site, the diverse native plant assemblage remains intact.  Though sites like this have high restoration potential, time is running out before the prairie component is lost to brush and ultimately forest conversion.
Despite the heavy brush and cedar infestation of this site, the diverse native plant assemblage remains intact. Though sites like this have high restoration potential, time is running out before the prairie component is lost to brush and ultimately forest conversion. - Photo Credit: William Kiser, USFWS
Bluff prairie site during brush removal.  Cold weather provides frozen ground, which protects soil and plants from disturbance and compaction as well as conditions favorable for burning resultant slash.
Bluff prairie site during brush removal. Cold weather provides frozen ground, which protects soil and plants from disturbance and compaction as well as conditions favorable for burning resultant slash. - Photo Credit: Erik Thomsen, ‘Ku-le Region Forestry, Inc.
Rush Creek State Natural Area is a reference site that offers a glimpse of what SW Wisconsin was like at the time of European Settlement.  The forested bluff in the background, in contrast, shows what happens after a century of fire suppression.
Rush Creek State Natural Area is a reference site that offers a glimpse of what SW Wisconsin was like at the time of European Settlement. The forested bluff in the background, in contrast, shows what happens after a century of fire suppression. - Photo Credit: William Kiser, USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program has formed a cooperative agreement with The Prairie Enthusiasts to benefit monarch butterflies on private lands. Together with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation and Mississippi Valley Conservancy, the partnership looks to benefit monarchs and other pollinators by restoring native prairie in Southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. The Prairie Enthusiasts is a private non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring prairies and savannas in the Upper Midwest. Through its volunteers and network of 11 chapters in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, the organization works to foster conservation of prairies and savannas through protection, management and education.

 

The Driftless Area is a rugged hilly landscape carved by deep river valleys in Southwest Wisconsin, Southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa and Northwest Illinois. The area is referred to “Driftless” because glaciers did not cover it in the last ice age. Locals refer to the hills as bluffs and the valleys that divide them as coulees. Approximately 85% of the Driftless Area’s 16,203 square miles lie within Wisconsin. Now a patchwork of agricultural and forested lands, the Driftless Area was once dominated by a complex of oak savanna and prairie. Still dotted over the landscape are remnants of these prairies and savannas.

Driftless Area remnant dry prairies are known as bluff, hill or “goat” prairies. Sites are usually incredibly diverse and often have over 50 species of grasses and wildflowers. In addition to having at least four species of native milkweeds prevalent, sites have a diverse assemblage of nectaring plants that bloom throughout the growing season. Remnants are typically on south to west facing slopes and are the first and last areas of plant activity through the seasons. Spring is signified by the blooming of early flowers such as hoary puccoon, prairie violet and pasque flower. Summer bloomers include sunflowers, compass plant and blazing stars. The final show of the year is in spectacular fashion with many species of goldenrod and aster.

Of the high quality dry prairies tracked in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Inventory, 61% occur in the Driftless Area. Due to their steep nature, these sites were never developed or converted to agricultural lands. Here, the major threat is not the plow, but rather natural plant succession due to fire suppression. Trees and shrubs are slower to colonize dry prairies due to their harsh dry conditions, thus the effects of restoration can be long-lasting. However, while many restorable sites remain the window of opportunity is steadily closing before these precious sites are lost.

By implementing monarch butterfly recovery actions on these remnants, we are able to utilize the surrogate species approach to benefit many other rare and declining species. Bluff prairies support many rare butterflies and moths such as the ottoe skipper and the regal fritillary that are endemic to dry prairie. The northern flicker, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surrogate species, use bluff prairies for foraging due to their proximity to oak communities. Field, grasshopper and vesper sparrows, identified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as Species of Greatest Conservation Need, are the primary grassland birds benefitting from these restoration projects. Additionally, these sites support many rare herptiles such as the timber rattlesnake, six-Lined racerunner and gopher snake.

Early in the planning process, The Prairie Enthusiasts and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife biologist identified brush and cedar removal as the most difficult restoration obstacle for landowners. Brush and cedar removal is also the highest priority practice for restoring and maintaining bluff prairies. Many landowners already do as much as they can, but in most cases the need far exceeds landowner resources. Therefore, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds are specifically targeted to hiring contractors for brush and cedar removal.

Another important landowner need is implementing prescribed fire over the decade following brush removal to complete the restoration process. The Prairie Enthusiasts has dedicated their experience, equipment and vast volunteer network to implementing this tool in the coming years. Additionally, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Mississippi Valley Conservancy and The Prairie Enthusiasts volunteers are providing outreach, as well as helping to identify restorable sites. Ideal sites are larger and have the potential to connect and/or are in close proximity to other existing high quality sites.

Though patch size of bluff prairie remnants tends to be relatively small at five acres or less, there are restoration strategies that maximize utility of these sites. In addition to removing the undesirable brush and cedars within, brush and cedar is also removed beyond the edges of remnants to expand their current size and create a savanna-like transition from grassland to forest. Prairies can be reconnected to other remnants or existing prairie plantings and fallow grasslands to maximize patch size. Additionally, bluff prairies are associated with adjacent oak communities. Thus prairie restoration projects can be integrated with adjacent savanna restorations or oak timber stand improvement projects and managed as a prairie – savanna – woodland complex to maximize benefits for numerous species.

This cooperative agreement aims to benefit monarchs, pollinators and other federal trust resources by restoring remnant prairies and savannas. The Driftless Area provides one of the few opportunities in the Upper Midwest to restore prairies and savannas with intact native vegetation. Minnesota currently has a strong partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resulting in impressive prairie restoration projects on private lands. Driven in part by their timber rattlesnake recovery plan, these projects are both numerous and of larger patch size (e.g. 5 or more acres). We look to build upon these successes with The Prairie Enthusiasts, Mississippi Valley Conservancy and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources through this cooperative agreement in Wisconsin.

Winter affords an opportunity to complete brush and cedar removal on these prairie remnants. The frozen ground protects the fragile soil and plant structure and snow cover provides suitable conditions for burning resultant slash. The first projects under this cooperative agreement are underway and nearing completion as outreach continues to create more landowner interest. In cooperation with The Prairie Enthusiasts, Mississippi Valley Conservancy and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program looks to continue the bluff prairie restoration initiative in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area as more funding becomes available in subsequent years.

For more information on the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, see the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge PFW or contact Bill Kiser at (608) 779-2388 or William_Kiser@fws.gov.


Contact Info: William Kiser, 608-779-2388, William_Kiser@fws.gov
Find a Field Notes Entry

Search by keyword

Search by State




Search by Region


US Fish and Wildlife Service footer