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Category Archive for ‘remnant ecosystems’ at Prairie Works, Inc.

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Prairie Works is the source for ecological restoration, land stewardship consultation services in Northwest Illinois and Southwest Wisconsin. Prairie Works can assist on projects large and small ranging from prairie, woodland and savanna restoration, invasive species control, controlled burning, landscape design, forestry, Native American burial mound restoration and bio-engineered erosion control. Prairie Works strives to connect people to the natural history of the area.

The Prairie Works Blog: A cyber bulletin posting articles since 2007. Please browse the archives at your leisure.

Archive for the 'remnant ecosystems' Category

2012 Spring Burn Season

After experiencing the warmest March on record in the area we had many handicaps to deal with this past burn season. Left in the heats’ wake was the inability to do many woodland burns and small windows of opportunity for prairies, especially those in the early restoration phases.  Overall, burns were less intense and more smokey than usual. However, it was a great year if your plans were to stress cool season grasses such as Brome. Above is a picture from our burn on March 29th as published in the Freeport Journal-Standard.

H.S. Pepoon

When researching the flora of Northwest Illinois there is one man’s name that repeatedly shows up: H.S. Pepoon. More well known in Chicagoland, Pepoon was a native of Northwest Illinois, was the first professional botanist to study the area’s flora and is responsible for the creation of Apple River Canyon State Park.

His father, George Pepoon, was a Lieutenant in the Civil War, a member of  the famed 96th Infantry from Galena, IL. He was the Superintendent of Schools for Jo Daviess County as well as the Warren Township Assessor. Pepoon School on Twin Bridges Road is named after him. Herman Silas Pepoon was born to George and Mary Pepoon in Warren, Illinois on January 21, 1860.

Herman grew up south of Warren, IL and attended Warren High School (1877).  He left for Champaign to attend the The University of Illinois, graduating with a degree in Natural History (1881). After graduating from Hahnemann Medical College in 1883 he became a doctor and practiced medicine from 1883 until 1892 in Nebraska and Lewistown, IL. In 1892 he left Lewistown and the medical profession to become a botany instructor at Lake View High School in Chicago. He held that position for 38 years until he retired in 1930, when he reached the limit age of 70 years old.

Pepoon was highly influential among his peers and the community. He inspired thousands of students at Lake View High School in Ravenswood, taking them on field trips and hosting Saturday classes on a wide variety of subjects.  Joel Greenberg wrote in his book Of Prairie, Woods, & Water: Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writings, “[Pepoon] always struck me as an unusual person if for no other reason rather than he abandoned medicine to teach science at a Chicago public school. No doubt this gave him greater freedom to botanize, but he apparently truly valued his role as a teacher to be a “molder of character.”

One student he “molded” was Alfred Caldwell, who became one of the country’s great landscape architects, blending natural materials and native plants into his work, which includes Eagle Point Park in Dubuque, IA. Another was Frank Caleb Gates, who became the Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and had other accomplishments in botany.

Over the course of his tenure at Lake View he had over ten thousand students. Each of these, according to V.O. Graham (a peer at Lake View), was touched by his distinguished pedagogue: “His buoyant spirit changed work from drudgery to joyous effort.” Upon his retirement from teaching the Lake View Alumni Association said of him, “He has made botany a beautiful and popular subject.”  The gardens Pepoon kept at his Chicago home attracted thousands of visitors annually.

Doctor Pepoon died December 26, 1941. Today his work is often cited during deep research. However, there are no memorials to him, no parks in his name, no awards given in his honor.

Today, Pepoon is best known for his work out of the classroom. His books, Representative plants; a manual for the use of students of botany in secondary schools and colleges (1900) and Representative Plants (1912) are still being used as student references today. An Annotated Flora of the Chicago Region (1927) is widely referenced by ecologists in Chicagoland and served as the predecessor to the popular Plants of the Chicago Region (Swink & Wilhelm), first published in 1969. Beginning in his days as a medical doctor and continuing throughout his life, he published numerous papers in varying capacities.

Several of these papers dealt with the flora and ecology of Northwest Illinois, including Cliff Flora of Jo Daviess County (1909), The Forest Associations of Northwest Illinois (1910), Peculiar Plant Distributions (1916), The Primrose Rocks of Illinois (1917), The Flora of the Driftless Area (1918), A Proposed State Park (1919), The Forest Lands of Jo Daviess County (1920) and The Flora of the Rights of Way of the Illinois Central Railway: Waddams to East Dubuque (1927).


Pepoon's Sketch of NW Illinois (1918)

Pepoon’s observations are very important to us because of the time period and his amazing attention to detail. During the height of his documented trips back home to Northwest Illinois (1900-1920) the un-farmed portions of the county were in relatively good condition and his observations showed intact ecosystems before they degraded and before non-native and invasive species became so dominant. He was able to recount images from his past and those from a previous generation to offer a timeline of land use change. For instance he writes, “The writer is informed by old settlers that in those days there was very little underbrush except in moist places, and that one could ride in any direction through the timber without difficulty.”

Pepoon used a camera for the first time to capture images of the landscape. His pictures of Apple River Canyon and the bluffs above Savanna, IL are important to have today as they offer a glimpse of what the landscape looked like a century ago.

In 1918 at Jacksonville, IL Pepoon made a pitch to the Illinois Academy of Sciences to have a state park formed in the Apple River Canyon down the road from his boyhood home, the first step in turning his vision into a reality. In 1932 the state purchased that land. Pepoon was intimately familiar with the area from his boyhood days and he discovered the Bird’s-Eyed Primrose (Primula mistassinica) there on April 5, 1905. This was a groundbreaking discovery that met much skepticism from the scientific community, although many botanists traveled to see this plant in person, a pilgrimage that continues today.

In his 1919 paper, A Proposed New State Park, Pepoon closes by describing the possibilities for Northwest Illinois: “It is earnestly urged that all who can visit this region, and learn firsthand what it has to offer of beauty and wildness, recreation and rehabilitation for all the care-worn, business fagged, mentally benumbed citizens of our great commonwealth, who here may come to renew themselves with might in the inner and outer man.”

Some fifty-plus years before the area began to serve as a get away for recreation, tourism and relaxation Pepoon was already envisioning that process. A true visionary and leader, indeed.

Project Quercus

Quercus macrocarpaAn exciting new program is underway in McHenry County. We hope that it can spread through county and state lines. Project Quercus,  was started in 2006 and its mission is to explore options to protect, preserve and regenerate the oak woods.

Oak woods and Oak trees have been in steady decline for some time now. Due to the lack of fire in our woodlands, the over shading of woodlands, invasive species and a tendancy to not plant Oaks in landscaping, we have now become aware of the huge loss and lack of re-production that is occurring. Our oak-hickory woodlands have diminished by more than 88.5% since the time of European-American settlement (c. 1837). Oak woods once covered nearly 40% of the landscape, but today are found on barely 4% of the landscape. 

With their strong wood, sprawling branches, gnarly trunks and majestic heights. The Oak has long served as a symbol of Americana and the Midwest. But with little or no reproduction occurring it could be a piece for the history books, like an an old car relic rotting away in the countryside. “If nothing is done, the oak in McHenry County could disappear as aself-sustaining ecosystem during the next 20 years,” said Ed Collins, the McHenry County Conservation District’s natural resource manager. “Oaks give us a sense of place, of who we are. We are not the desert Southwest or the pine forests of the north,” Collins said. “We’re the upper Midwest marked by beautiful prairies and oak groves.”

A wide variety of plants, animals, insects and organisms depend on the oak ecosystem for survival. “Even more than their historical significance, that is the main reason the trees are so important,” said Lisa Haderlein, a member of the Land Conservancy of McHenry County. “They are much more valuable for wildlife for habitat and food because they have a nut,” she said. “If something doesn’t change in the next few years, we’ll start to see them fall and we won’t be able to replace them.”

Lets all try to do our part to promote the growth of the king tree of the Midwest. “Releasing” Oak trees is some of the most important and rewarding work that Prairie Works does.

Watch YouTube Video about Project Quercus


The Cover to Swell and Swale


What a title to a post on this website. The word almost seems generic and overused here. However, it is June and PrairieWorks is very busy communicating with the public about this word, Prairie. To no surprise or fault, the word Prairie means many things to many people. In a world of loose talk and buzzword promotion it is easy to know why. To answer this, let me refer to Torkel Korlings fantastic book from 1972 The Prairie: Swell and Swale (ASIN: B000OFLY1U). The book, produced in Dundee, IL and published in the Netherlands, was sold at camera stores, nature centers, and by word of mouth throughout the 1970’s. If you happen to own this fantastic book you may be surprised by it’s value today. Nature photographer and publisher, Torkel Korling (1903-1998) provided the 64 prairie plant photos and the late great Dr. Robert Betz (1923-2007) was chosen to write it’s introduction.

The following are just a few excerpts from that introduction and the best explanation that I have found to the question:

What is a Prairie?

The prairie flowers have strangely enough dissapeared from open grounds, under the croppings of cattle and the clippings of the scythe. Only a half a dozen of sorts were seen in a ride of 30 miles, and these straggling at great distances.  Illinois 1847

It is surprising how quickly the Midwestern prairies dissapeared after the coming of the settlers, and even more surprising that any prairie flowers still survive after a century and a half of plowing and over grazing. The destruction has been so complete that most of the farmers in this vast region have never seen a virgin prairie. Most prairie plants are so rare or uncommon today that field guides published to aid naturalists in identifying plants do not evenn mention them.

Almost 300 years after french explorers described them, these prairies are only a memory. But still, the word lingers on in the English language to describe any open treeless area, even though it may have no native plants, and be covered with non-prairie grasses and weeds introduced from Europe and Asia. To some, “Prairie” means a vacant lot between houses; to others it is the open land of our Western states.

While most botanists and ecologists know fairly well what a prairie is and can easily recognize one, there is no agreement on a definition. One ecologist defines it as “an extensive tract of level or rolling land, destitute of trees, covered with coarse grass and usually charachterized by deep fertile soil.” Another calls it “the grassland dominated by tall prairie grass, and distinguished from the short grass plains.” Although it is difficult to find a defenition satisfactory to all ecologists, it is possible to describe a prairie in a general sense as a natural North American grassland, composed of native perrenial grasses and other herbaceous plants, in which grasses contributed much of the vegetative cover.

In fact, some relic prairies are very small in size – a fraction of an acre in an old cemetery, a short stretch along a railroad right-of-way or in a tiny patch in the corner of a farmers field. The term “prairie” then is still valid when it applies to those very rare relic grasslands, no matter how small, which have never been plowed or overgrazed. In short, these are remnants of grasslands on which the Illinois, Kickapoo and Miami Indians roamed and hunted the bison. Prairies of this nature, untouched by plowing or overgrazing and in thier pristine state, are called virgin prairies. Prairies which have been modified in some way by man or domesticated animals and which contain both prairie plants and introduced weedy plants are known as degraded prairies.

Outside of North America and on every other continent there are grasslands similar to our North American prairies. Each has a different name. In Eurasia they are known as steppes, while in South America they are collectively called pampa. South Africa has it’s veld, Austrialia it’s basalt plains, and New Zealand it’s Tussock grasslands.

Why, then were prairies fpund in the Middle West? The reason, presumably, was the presence of fire. The relatively flat ground, occasional drought, accumulation of dry litter and high winds and certain times of the year all combine to foster fires. Indians set many of these fires, but some probably had a natural orgin. With fire as an ally, coupled with winds blowing towards the east, the prairie vegetation was able to maintain itself in lands that otherwise would have been forested. In managing and caring for relic prairies, it has been found that fire does not injure the true prairie plants. In contrast, the few tree seedlings that might establish themselves in the dense prairie sod are killed by prairie fires.  

Prairie Grass, it has been frequently repeated, was originally found growing “taller than a man on horseback.” Or, “the settlers cattle were lost amid the prairie grasses.” These reports do not agree with the more reliable historical accounts, or with the observation of our best prairie remnants. While native grasses on low prairies with their great available moisture do reach heights of six feet or more, most of the late-season grasses are only half that tall.

While the Indians did little damage, the coming of the early settlers to the Middle West during the nineteenth century presaged the end of the prairies. The primeval vegetation that had occupied the land for thousands of years was to be destroyed and the land planted with man’s cultivated crops. 

Since so little prairie remains in the Midwest, efforts are being made to reestablish prairie on abandoned farmland. Seeds are collected from nearby prairie relics and planted. The results of projects by the University of Wisconsin at Madison and The Morton Arboretum, Lisle Illinois, show that hard work and luck fairly good prairies can be established within a few years on suitable land.

Even if there were no scientific value in prairies, it’s aesthetic appeal alone should warrant it’s preservation. It is one of our links with the past – a tie with the natural world. It seems immoral to destroy an integral part of the biological world from which mankind arose.

In our modern world with it’s artificiality, complexity and instability, wild prairies can provide us with places to go for peace and solitude. For this alone, prairies should be preserved and cherished.

     Robert F. Betz 


Ephemeral Ponds

Ephemeral – Existing only briefly

Ephemeral Pond in MarchSpring is a great (and the only) time of year to view epehemeral ponds that lay scattered in our woodlands. Ephemeral ponds, sometimes called vernal pools, are a small but important ecosystem as they harbor many different amphibians, birds and plants. They increase the local biodiversity greatly when present and are a dynamic part of woodland ecosystems.

These ponds are depressions with obstructed drainage that hold water for a short period of time following snowmelt and spring rains but typically dry out by mid-summer. Common plants of these habitats include: Yellow water crowfoot (Ranunculus flabellaris), bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), fowl manna grass (Glyceria striata), spotted cowbane (Cicuta maculata), smartweeds (Polygonum spp.), orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), and sedges (Carex spp.). During their existence these plants provide critical breeding habitat for many amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.

Ephemeral ponds also provide feeding, resting and breeding habitat for songbirds and a source of food and water for many mammals. They contribute to the biodiversity of a woodland in many ways. Ephemeral ponds fit into an eco-community context by the following attributes: their placement in woodlands, isolation, small size, hydrology and length of time they hold water. Trees adjacent to ephemeral ponds provide a variety of benefits such as maintaining cool water temperatures, preventing premature drying, and adding organic matter each fall. The annual input of leaves from trees around the pool support a detritus-based food web and a support a variety of invertebrates that are part of the food web.

Here, in the Driftless Area, ephemeral ponds are not as common as they are in flatter regions and are usually found in floodplains where the land is not sloped. I have noticed that old mining holes can behave similar to an ephemeral pond, but cannot hold water for very long. These little depressions are fun to watch over the year and should be enjoyed by any birder, animal lover or plant observer. 

http://watermonitoring.uwex.edu/level3/WIephemeral.htm SE Wisconsin’s Ephemeral Pond Project

http://www.vernalpool.org/ Great Learning Resource (get a t-shirt)

http://www.epa.gov/r5water/ephemeralwetlands/ The E.P.A.’s information

History of Fire in America

With the 2008 spring burn season now on the horizon this is a good time to get our arms around the monster that is prescribed fire. Prescribed fire (RxFire) or controlled burning is a process that comes up often on this website but has never had a post devoted entirely to it. It is the restoration ecologist’s number one tool for natural areas restoration. But, it can be easy to forget why natural areas require it.

‘Fire Fight Fire’Fire was a common sight in America for millions of years before european settlement. From the eastern seaboard to the forests of the west, our country was frequently “on fire.” It was just as much as part of nature’s cycle as the dropping of leaves in fall. Some areas burned every 50 to 100 years and some areas burned twice annually, but nowhere burned as frequently as the Midwest (with the exception of Florida). Due to the high flammability of oak leaves and prairie grasses, our Midwest ecosytems burned quickly and often. Naturally, lightning strikes caused ignition, but the Native Americans utilized fire for many purposes for thousands of years and are responsible for retaining the prairie, a man-sustained ecosystem.

Indians burned prairies for many reasons, including hunting, to ease travel, stimulate flowering, communication, keep lookout points open, celebration and warfare. It is safe for me to assume that Indians wouldn’t hesitate to burn for the stunning beauty of a vast nighttime burn too. These fires raced across the landscape and could travel hundreds of miles in a day, traversing through woodlands, wetlands, ridges and ravines. The fire was not choosey on what it was going to burn; only large rivers would stop them. One report from the 1840s claims that a fire which started in Peoria, IL, reached Rockford (Rocky Ford) in just two hours!

Prairie Fire by Currier & IvesAfter the Blackhawk war and the exiting of the Indians, fire intervals were reduced but were not entirely eliminated. Fires from camps often escaped, lightning generated fires continued and locomotives began starting fires as they pushed through the prairies. Soon, agriculture would dominate and wildfires became isolated. The wildfires that were feared by pioneers and homesteaders were still fresh in peoples’ minds and were feared. Our ecosytems began to change at this time as fire retardant agricultural crops were preferred. Throughout the 20th century railroad rights of way were maintained with fire by railroad companies to reduce brush. This is why so many ‘railroad prairies’ exist today.  

The first people to duplicate wildfire as a tool for restoring natural areas is debated, but it was most likely Aldo Leopold or some of the University of Wisconsin professors working on Curtis Prairie in the 1940s. This was a good start, but soon after Smokey the Bear was born…

“Weakens America but Stregthens Ecosystems”Smokey the Bear is the longest running public service campaign in the United States. A highly successful campaign, it reached out to all Americans and taught them that fire was bad. This public relations stint cancelled all headway to utilize RxFire as a land management tool until the 1970s, although Smokey remains a barrier today.

As our remnant ecosystems became fire intolerant and those remaining were succombing to invasive species, the 1970s and ’80s saw increased use and research of RxFire. In the Midwest prairie preservationists were becoming arsonists, and some of the leading scientists were screaming for reform on the current federal wildfire procedures. The blessing in disguise came in 1988, with the wildfires at Yellowstone National Park. Initially, these fires were reported as destructive and Time called it an “American Tragedy.” In the years following the fire the ecological response was very positive and soon the reputation of wildfires changed to the positive.

Cory Managing RxFireSince the early 1990s RxFire started becoming widely accepted among conservationists, especially in the Midwest. Since the upswing began, the study of fire effects on specific ecosystems and its harboring species has been a very interesting discipline. We are still learning a lot about fire effects on plants, insects and animals. However, the results have been conclusive. Because this is an ecosystem where fire occured frequently, the concensus has become: We need more of it if we want our native species to persist and thrive.

After millions of years living with fire, our native species became tolerant and sometimes dependant on fire. We are now hearing many interesting theories and research findings. For instance: Some say our mammals and amphibians gained claws in order to dig holes quickly to create shelter from fires. A study published last year showed that certain prairie seeds require smoke contact in order to germinate. Oak trees will germinate at higher rates when woodlands are burned. We are also learning about using fire to control health issues such as Lyme Disease.

With all of that said, I must note that ecologists are also realizing that too much fire can be detrimental and that different burning techniques and varied timing can offer greater results. For that reason a burn prescription should be conducted by an experienced ecologist that can quantify all of the factors and is aware of the goals for a site. Of course, the safety issues surrounding a prescribed fire are ones that should never be taken lightly either.  

As my longest blog to date, it still cannot provide all of the information that surrounds this huge topic. I hope to provide smaller, more detailed posts in the future. In the meantime, when you see controlled burns being conducted this spring, remember that you are seeing the world’s oldest and most effective form of land management.

Historic Aerial Photography

Example: Guilford & Ford Roads, JoDaiviess Co Before the execution of any ecological restoration project the first step is to learn about the history of the land. It’s similar to how someone restoring a historic building will first seek out old photographs. The early surveyors’ notes from the 1800s offer a great overview, but they are most useful for large tracts of land and often lack the detail needed for smaller projects. The first aerial photographs of an area are the next most valuable tool. The Illinois Historical Aerial Photography Project (ILHAP) began around a decade ago and Northwest Illinois is its newest addition.

Photographs of all counties in Illinois were taken between 1937 and 1947, under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. These photos were used mainly for tax purposes and for post-depression land analysis. Today, the photos are used by the goverment, historians, ecologists, and many others for several purposes including: determining past land uses, restoration of natural areas, assessing historical changes in stream dynamics, declaring brownfields and many other applications. Aerial photography is widely used today and is a very important tool for land managers.

Due to the chemical makeup of the old film negatives they are now detiorating at an alarming rate and it is necessary to transfer the images into a digital format, or digitize, to save the first aerial photos. This motivated the project to be done sooner rather than later. In total around 250,000 individual negatives are archived in Springfield. At the time of writing, 58 of Illinois’ 102 counties have been digitized. The Chicago metro area was first to be done in 2003 as the declaration of wetlands is an important issue in that area.

Although the images are rather rough by today’s standards, the overall experience of viewing these photos is fascinating. Viewing them is not something to do if you’re in a hurry – it is easy to consume many hours doing so. Looking back in time and realizing the transformation that has occurred since the 1940s can be mind boggling and the comparison to recent aerial images is astounding.

Our landscape has changed a lot since small farms, country schoolhouses and railroads dotted the landscape. The comment heard most often from people is how “open” the landscape was. This solidifies what ecologists have known – the woodlands in the Driftless Area were not as dense as they are today. The Midwest has changed from open Oak-Hickory savannas and woodlands to the dense Maple-Softwood forests that we find today. Fire shadows, a remnant from pre-settlement times, were much more evident in 1940 then they are today. Also, we see natural meandering courses of small streams and not the channelized irrigation canals that have become so familiar. Looking at our cities and villages is also very interesting.

Consider the following by Dr. Dov Gavish of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, from the book Historical Aerial Photography Collection of Israel: “Through the aerial photograph, the landscape revealed to the camera lens is translated into visual language. The aerial photograph captures scenes and events that have vanished with time, and the testimony it embodies is unassailable. The scene that appears in a single aerial photo is a link in the chain of the landscape’s ever-changing and ever evolving history; there is a story that preceded it, and another one that followed it.”

The photographs can be viewed here: http://www.isgs.uiuc.edu/nsdihome/webdocs/ilhap/ and you must download the Mr. Sid software http://www.lizardtech.com/download/  in order to view the .sid files. The Mr. Sid compression software is 4.39kb.

When viewing the images you will notice a series of numbers on the images. Those numbers are the exposure numbers and were in the corner of each frame. When the images were fused together they look out of place and are sometimes in the way of the desired imagery. You also will notice the wing of the plane or what could be part of the camera equipment at some points – all part of the character of these historic images.

Iowa and Wisconsin have there own forms of historic aerials as well:

http://ortho.gis.iastate.edu/PhotosMetadata.htm Iowa

http://www.geography.wisc.edu/maplib/aerial.html  Wisconsin

Hardscrabble Prairie

Just Southeast of Hazel Green, WI is the diverse Hardscrabble Prairie. Named after the original name of the village to be Hazel Green, it is a 140 acre tract. Composed of woodlands, intermittent streams and some oak openings it is the dry prairies that are in the greatest condition and are most notable.

At this natural area you can view the habitat that harbors the globally rare Ottoe Skipper Butterfly along with several rare birds and plants. The fact that one of the dry prairies is located on a North facing slope makes this natural area most interesting. Dry prairie plant communities are usually found on South and West facing slopes as the soil can dry faster and soil tempetures tend to remain at higher degrees.

This prairie is Wisconsin State Natural Area #322 and was officially dedicated in 1997. It is a great representation of dry prairies in the driftless area and makes for a great wildlife watching opportunity.

http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/sna/sna322.htm Detailed info and directions

Nachusa Grasslands

NachusaEvery prairie lover or bird watcher in Northern Illinois has at least heard of Nachusa Grasslands. Nachusa is a true ecological gem for Illinois. It serves as the flagship project in the Midwest for The Nature Conservancy and has set the benchmark for a volunteer network that now stewards its thousands of acres.

The story goes that it started in the early 80’s when famous prairie preservers Doug and Dot Wade were birding down the country roads of Lee County and heard a bird song that sounded like the Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda). When they got out they discovered acres of undisturbed prairie. Immediately, preservation efforts began and The Nature Conservancy bought its first parcels in 1985.

Since then, land ownership has increased to over 2,500 acres that contain several different ecosytems including sand boils and woodlands as well as numerous rare plants, birds and insects. In fact, the first insect reintroductions have taken place here. The Checkerspot Butterfly was transplanted from habitats that were being lost to development and brought to Nachusa where they can monitor its survivability. The Nature Conservancy has been very creative with its donations. They have started corporate sponsorship of new purchases. Today, we have The Tellabs Savanna, named after the large telecommunications conglomerate which donated the dollars for the new tract. An onsite seed harvesting operation was completed a few years ago which helps restore the new acres which are continually being added. In the future a herd of Bison may be brought back to the Illinois prairie here.

Nachusa Grasslands is located Northeast of Dixon and South of Oregon, IL. An information kiosk is located off of Lowden Rd. You can also visit the restored grist mill at the Franklin Creek Natural Area just south of Nachusa. Volunteer stewards lead nature walks through the preserve monthly and many events happen there throughout the year.

http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/illinois/preserves/art1116.html Nature Conservancy Site

http://www.bwcvb.com/component/option,com_magazine/func,show_article/id,6/Itemid,36/ Detailed Directions and Description 

http://www.nature.org/magazine/autumn2007/features/ Article on Volunteer Steward – Jay Stacy

Thomson-Fulton Prairie

Thompson-Fulton Prairie - AugustJust a few miles South of Thomson, IL, and a few miles North of Fulton, IL, is the appropriately named Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie Nature Preserve. Thomson-Fulton is a 212-acre sand prairie that is a great representation of typical Illinois sand prairies. It also serves as a great alternative to those who cannot gain access to The Savanna Army Depot.

Thomson-Fulton has great plant diversity and looks different each time I visit. Being the vegetation is sparce and short, it makes for an easy walk. Reptile lovers may find this prairie particularly interesting as snakes and lizards are found in great numbers. The six-lined-racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus) are in very healthy numbers here. The state record Bullsnake, Plains Hognose Snake and Eastern Garter Snake were all recorded here in 1997. This prairie serves as a great area for ecological study by scientists from both Illinois and Iowa.

Thomson-Fulton is highly reccomended prairie to visit. It is located west of route 84, 1.25 miles North of Lock Rd.


2008 Prairie Conference

It has been announced that the 21st North American Prairie Conference will be held in Winona, MN on August 4-8, 2008. The NAPC is held every other year and its locations have varied from Ontario, Canada to Texas but is usually held somewhere in the Midwest. Next year will be the first time that it will be held in the Driftless Area. The NAPC is a great resource for everyone from the hobbyist to the professional. There are a wide variety of topics to learn about and some great field trips to attend.

The first NAPC was originally called The Symposium on Prairies and Prairie Restoration and was held on September 14 and 15, 1968 at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, organized by prairie pioneer Peter Schramm. This symposium morphed into the Midwest Prairie Conference and became the North American Prairie Conference in 1978. A lot has changed since its humble begginings in 1968.

I attended the 2004 NAPC in Madison, WI and found it very rewarding. Mark your calenders to head to Winona State University next August. 

Spring Green Prairie

Spring Green Sand PrairieOne of the great benefits to living in Northwest Illinois is its access to great natural areas. Some very fine remnant ecosystems are within a leisurely drive. I would like to introduce Spring Green Prairie Preserve. Located just North of Spring Green Wisconsin, this 260 acre tract offers many unusual sights for the plant, bird, reptile, and insect lover.

Known locally for generations as “The Wisconsin Desert” this is a dry and sandy prairie with an upland savanna. The area is owned together by the Wisconsin DNR and The Nature Conservancy with management being performed by the latter. It was designated as a state natural area in 1972. Restoration efforts have been ongoing since and from observations made on my visit, they will continue for a while. At the prairie one can view dozens of rare plants, birds, insects and maybe see a lizard.

A trip to Spring Green Prairie can be done in conjunction with viewing Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. Taliesin is located just South of Spring Green. Viewing Taliesin and Spring Green Prairie together is a wonderful way to view prairie style architecture and prairies themselves. You cannot help but notice how the surrounding landscapes were integrated into Wright’s design. 

http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/sna/sna102.htm Spring Green Prairie Preserve http://www.taliesinpreservation.org/ Taliesin