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Midwest Region
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Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program biologist Greg Hamilton fanning milkweed seed. Photo by Mike Engel/USFWS.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program biologist Greg Hamilton fanning milkweed seed. Photo by Mike Engel/USFWS.

Mallards and Monarchs - A Day Afield

October in South-central Wisconsin is a glorious time to be afield. An idea was born when Regional Director Tom Melius, requested that we all do our part in the Midwest Region for Monarch conservation. Over the years, the Leopold Wetland Management District and Wisconsin Private Lands Office would get together in the fall for a seed harvest and cleaning day. This year, we added a twist; a competition of sort, to see what office could collect the most milkweed seed.

We invited our colleagues at the Ecological Services National Wetland Inventory office in Madison, Wisconsin to participate. The challenge was accepted and round one began! Over the month of September, butterfly weed, marsh milkweed and common milkweed were collected along with other forb species by the three offices, as time and opportunity presented itself.

We coordinated October 9, 2014 as the official cleaning and weigh-off day where we would come together at the Leopold District office and clean our bounty of seed and crown the Monarch champion. Knowing the limitations of our cleaning equipment, we split into teams, one team cleaning seed and the other collecting additional forb seed at the Schoenberg Waterfowl Production Area.

Visiting Schoenberg WPA is always a sort of homecoming for me. Back in 1998, I worked with the Leopold District biologist Jim Lutes, to design a diverse mix of locally collected prairie seed that we would nurture as a seed source for future Service plantings. More than 100 species of forbs and grasses were planted.

Schoenberg continues to this day to be a wetland and grassland gem, providing a needed seed source for grassland restoration for the District and other conservation partners. Fast forward to 2014, and were back collecting prairie seed as the haunting call of south-bound Canada geese pass over head. Sandhill Cranes echo in the distance over the rumble of local combines harvesting soy beans. Spend some time on [in] a grassland and you can lose the day to day stress of “cranking the machine.”

I reach down to pull some rose hips off of a prairie rose plant and think about John Weaver’s root diagram of the prairie rose – an amazing 17-foot tap root! This plant will see many cycles of mallards nesting, of drought and hopefully providing nectar for generations of monarch butterflies. It is good to be afield.

The time flies by and we all converge at the District’s Headquarters for a break in cleaning milkweed seed, unloading the forb seed we collected and gathering around the table for a grilled lunch of burgers and brats. We share in laughs, meet new faces and talk about the upcoming fall season. This day is more than work and harvesting seed for conservation, it is about bringing together our Service family. It is about reconnecting with our friends, cross-pollination of our programs and reinvigorating our professional relationships that have stood the test of time.

As a side note – one of our family members is leaving us. After 23 years of working in Wisconsin, Jim Lutes announced he is moving on from his career as District biologist for the Forest Service on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Jim will always be one of our Service family.

The conversation eventually returns to milkweed seed and which office will be crowed the Monarch Champion? For those of you that have ever cleaned milkweed seed in bulk, hammer and fanning mill work can be a dirty, itchy and downright nasty job. It is quickly agreed that the true winner of our event in which we harvested more than 50 pounds of seed, is the resource; the monarchs that will utilize this host plant, the mallards nesting in the grasslands we plant and all of the other grassland dependent wildlife species we are privileged to conserve and protect.

A day afield is a good day.

By Kurt Waterstradt
Wisconsin Private Lands Offiice

Last updated: November 4, 2014