Tom's Blog

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

New book for Download: Restoring a Fragile Landscape (Pleasant Valley Conservancy)

We are announcing the availability for free download of a new book which should be of interest to restoration ecologists. It was written by Thomas D. Brock and Katherine M. Brock and is based on their extensive restoration work at Pleasant Valley Conservancy. 

This book is the first volume of what is intended to be a two- or three-volume presentation of the 20-year restoration history of Pleasant Valley Conservancy, a 140-acre dedicated State Natural Area. Pleasant Valley Conservancy is a natural area in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area with diverse habitats: tallgrass prairies, oak savannas, oak woodlands, and wetlands. It was once fairly degraded but has a large number of venerable oaks that have survived from presettlement days.

Although this book covers all aspects of the restoration process of a natural area, special emphasis is placed on oak savanna restoration…. The oak savanna landscape is globally endangered. It was once widespread in Midwestern North America and has mostly disappeared due to human settlement. Pleasant Valley Conservancy is one of the rare examples of this landscape. The book is extensively illustrated with photos taken throughout the restoration process.

The field of restoration ecology is relatively new. Fortunately, southern Wisconsin is restoration ecology’s historic center, and the restoration work at Pleasant Valley Conservancy has greatly benefited from association with both university and non-university restorationists. The restoration community here is large and vibrant. The spirit of John Muir and Aldo Leopold lives!

Most of the habitats at Pleasant Valley Conservancy are fire-dependent, and controlled burns have been a vital part of our restoration work. At one time or another, fire has been used in almost every part of Pleasant Valley Conservancy. Many of the habitats are burned annually.

Feel free to share the link

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Prairie burns: how complete should they be?

The completeness of a prairie burn is often determined by the continuity of the fuel. If the fuel is patchy, the burn may also end up being patchy. Some people think burn patchiness is a good thing.

I have never agreed with this. Perhaps it was because we were trying to restore sites that had become heavily wooded (due to years without fire). If good prairie was to be brought back to these sites, as soon as the woody vegetation was removed it was essential to get prairie established again. In order to do a proper prairie burn, the fuel had to be continuous. If it wasn’t, then the patches that did not burn had probably been wooded and without fire would quickly become wooded again.

In fact, it is so difficult to get conditions “right” to do a burn, that when you have the weather and the crew, you should work hard to do a complete burn. Don’t say “heterogeneity is OK” and go home. The secret, of course, is “interior lighting” (stripping). In the early years of a restoration, it may be necessary to “force” the burn. (See photo)

I’ve seen a burn crew leave a site which had unburned patches because they ran out of drip torch fuel. Always have lots more drip torch fuel than you think you will need.

Perhaps it’s the microbiologist in me, but if I see small patches of sumac, or brambles, or scattered honeysuckles, I get really nervous. The burn did not pass through these areas for a reason (no fuel). Next year they would likely be worse.

Heterogeneity of a burn is not a good thing if it is due to woody vegetation. It is also not good if it is due to smooth brome or quack grass or Kentucky bluegrass.

Note that heterogeneity and diversity are two different things!

The above refers to real prairie habitats. If the site has areas of wet meadow or shaded ravine, obviously those were not “meant” to be prairie. Heterogeneity then means something different.

Forcing a recently cleared prairie area to burn.
After frequent seeding and lots of burns, it turned into a tallgrass prairie (see below).

The green patches are smooth brome, an exotic grass that develops in the shade.

The same area as in the above photo, some years (and many burns) later

Friday, January 4, 2019

Last day to comment on the American Transmission Company project in southwestern Wisconsin

The American Transmission Company project has potential for great harm to southwestern Wisconsin ecologies and natural areas. Lots of opposition, but who knows what the Public Service Commission will do?

I had a post back in 2016 when this proposal first came  up. They have moved the right-of-way a few miles, but the main focus has not changed.

This is an important issue for the Driftless Area, and lots of groups have become aroused.

Photo courtesy of Driftless Area Land Conservancy
Comments should be made on-line at the following website: