The Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District is a four–year–old organization with fewer than two dozen regularly active members. Yet the group harnessed the energy of 468 volunteers over a one–year period in 2011–12 and chalked up a long list of accomplishments.

How is such a small group of Friends so successful?

“They’re having a good time, and they are doing something good for natural resources,” says Tom Kerr, who is the manager at the wetland management district in west–central Wisconsin. “They have an incredible network of people they know. That’s how we hear about problems but also get the support we need in the community.”

Friends president Brian Headlee believes open communication with the district’s staff is critical to the partnership’s success: “The WMD wants our buy–in. We know the land acquisition plans, we understand prescribed burns, and we relate to the community.”

“Letting Us Use the Tools”

Greg Scheder is a particularly active member who wanted his Cub Scout pack to work on a conservation service project two years ago. District biologist Chris Trosen needed help removing invasive species. “Who better than a bunch of eight– to 10–year–old boys to help with that?” says Scheder. A result was that 50 people came to the first Conservation Day of Service in 2010.

The following year, Scheder persuaded the Boy Scouts to support a Conservation Day on the WPA (waterfowl production area), and more than 400 Scouts and family members turned out to help clear an oak savanna.

The best part for 11–year–old Will Scheder? “Letting us use the tools to cut down the trees and bushes.”

Students Plug Away

Sixty–five people showed up at an annual Friends and Neighbors Night Out, asking about tree removal, controlled burning and prairie restoration at the Prairie Flats South Waterfowl Production Area. District staff learned that one landowner wanted to restore native prairie on his property.

At the same event, high school principal Jeff Moberg expressed interest in a partnership. Over the past two years, his students have produced thousands of plugs from local seeds germinated in the school’s greenhouse. With assistance from WMD staff and half a dozen Friends, students plant the plugs to help restore prairie. This year, students are growing lupine, which is crucial for the endangered Karner blue butterfly and other butterflies.

“Caring for the plants in the greenhouse is a great lesson in responsibility and problem–solving,” says agriculture teacher Rachel Sauvola.

Auto Tour Birding Guide

With a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant and support from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Friends also worked with Trosen to produce an auto tour birding guide.

“It’s a great example of local partners pulling together to promote the importance of these public lands for many species of non–game birds,” says Trosen.

The guide identifies common bird species, explains the conservation goal of restoring prairies, wetlands and oak savanna, and encourages visitors to volunteer, join the Friends or buy a Duck Stamp.

For its efforts, the Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District won a 2012 Department of the Interior Take Pride in America Award in the nonprofit group category.

“We’re greatly blessed with a dynamic group of fairly intense and caring people,” says Headlee. “Everyone has unique talents, and everyone is a resource.”

Karen Leggett is a writer–editor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.