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Volunteers help keep Wisconsin's State Natural Areas pristine

Published by Central Office April 10, 2018

Contact(s): Jared Urban, DNR State Natural Areas volunteer coordinator, 608-228-4349

50,000 bundles of invasive Phragmites removed at one site

MADISON - Volunteers helped control invasive plants and assisted with priority land acquisitions to enlarge Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area in Kenosha County, while Madison area volunteers wrapped up six years of cutting and treating more than 50,000 bundles of invasive Phragmites at Cherokee Marsh State Natural Area.

These are just two examples of how volunteers help care for State Natural Areas, which represent some of Wisconsin's best remaining prairies, oak savannas, wetlands and lakes and are home to 75 percent of the animal species and 90 percent of the plants listed as threatened or endangered in the state.

Efforts by 35 volunteer groups in 2017 directly impacted 3,464 acres at 43 sites and represented $121,147 in value, according to the recently released State Natural Areas Volunteers 2017 Annual Report [PDF].

35 volunteer groups directly impacted 3,464 acres at 43 State Natural Areas in 2017, including helping cut and burn invasive brush like this volunteer does here.  - Photo credit: DNR
35 volunteer groups directly impacted 3,464 acres at 43 State Natural Areas in 2017, including helping cut and burn invasive brush like this volunteer does here. Photo credit: DNR

"Once again volunteers helped us make a lot of positive changes on our valuable State Natural Areas," says Jared Urban, the DNR conservation biologist who coordinates the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program. "In 2017, we saw several groups expand with new leaders emerging and new volunteers getting connected, and we saw groups accomplish some important long-term goals. We are grateful for all of our volunteers and their hard work to care for these special places."

Urban started the State Natural Area Volunteer program in 2011, and new groups have formed since then to help supplement work done by department SNA work crews. Volunteers' accomplishments include addressing threats to natural areas by controlling invasive species, which ranges from pulling or spraying garlic mustard, to cutting down and burning buckthorn and honeysuckle, to spraying Phragmites. As well, volunteers help establish new plants in prairies and oak openings by collecting and planting local native seeds.

The 2017 annual report highlights examples of work being done at the different sites, features photographs and testimonials from volunteers on what they do and why. It salutes members of the Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund, the volunteer group that received the 2017 SNA Steward of the Year award. That volunteer group has played an integral role in preserving the largest remaining prairie and wetland complex in southeastern Wisconsin, from helping buy the first 15 acres of Chiwaukee Prairie in the 1960s to controlling garlic mustard and 24 other invasive plants there today.

These Whitewater High School students were among the many volunteers helping care for State Natural Areas in 2017. Learn more about their efforts in the 2017 State Natural Areas Volunteer Annual Report.   - Photo credit: Ginny Coburn
These Whitewater High School students were among the many volunteers helping care for State Natural Areas in 2017. Learn more about their efforts in the 2017 State Natural Areas Volunteer Annual Report. Photo credit: Ginny Coburn

The report also highlights volunteers at Cherokee Marsh State Natural Area in Dane County for removing Phragmites from more than 4 acres of original native wetlands. To do this, volunteers gathered stalks of the invasive plant into bundles tied waist high with biodegradable twine. Then using garden shears, they cut the bundles above the twine and applied herbicide to the exposed tops of the stalks.

Sign up to get notices of volunteer workdays at State Natural Areas

Volunteer work days occur year-round at many sites. Volunteers need no training beforehand but are provided equipment and training on site to do the work. Typical workdays run three hours long and allow for breaks and snacks are often provided, Urban says.

Find a list of workdays and flyers on each event by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "SNA Volunteers." From that web page, people can also sign up to receive email notices for workdays at state natural areas.

Last Revised: Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Contact information

For more information about news and media, contact:
James Dick
Director of Communications
608-267-2773