Contact(s): Jared Urban, 608-228-4349
MADISON - The number of volunteers groups helping care for state's natural areas has doubled in the past year and the groups have benefitted seven times as many acres as the previous year, according to a recently released report from the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program.
Thirty-six groups devoted 5,820 hours in 2016 at 43 state natural areas, sites that represent some of Wisconsin's best remaining prairies, oak savannas, wetlands and lakes. Their efforts directly impacted 3,514 acres and represented $139,736 in value.
Those totals are up significantly since 2015 when 18 volunteer groups devoted 3,181 hours at 26 sites and impacted 467 acres.
"The volunteers we have are amazing and we are excited to see their growing impact," says Jared Urban, who coordinates the volunteer program. "They are doing physical labor that is challenging and very important to keeping natural areas healthy. They are making a difference on the landscape, one acre at a time and having fun doing it.
"Thank you to all the volunteers who donate to our program, we are grateful for what you do!"
Urban started the State Natural Area Volunteer program in 2011, and new groups have been forming to help supplement work done by state SNA work crews. Volunteers' work ranges from 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 seeds.
The 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 the 2016 "Steward of the Year," Zach Kastern of Whitewater, whose efforts have benefitted state natural areas in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest.
The report also introduces new efforts underway at several state natural areas including Hardscrabble Prairie in Lafayette County, Observatory Hill in Marquette County, and Sugar River Wetlands and Waubesa Wetlands in Dane County. The February 2017 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine highlighted one such new effort in "Preserving pine relicts a prescription for good health."
State natural areas protect the very best remnants of both the familiar, like northern hardwood forests and open bogs, to the unusual, like bedrock glades and Great Lakes dunes. They are hotbeds of diversity, home to 75 percent of the animals and 90 percent of the plants listed as threatened or endangered species.
Since Parfrey's Glen was designated the first state natural area in 1952, the system has since grown to 683 sites, two-thirds owned by the state and the rest by more than 50 partners ranging from the U.S. Forest Service to The Nature Conservancy and other land trusts. As often as not, they are part of larger properties such as state wildlife areas, state parks and national forests. Nearly all state natural areas are open to the public for hiking, hunting, bird-watching, nature study and photography, but most of them are largely undeveloped.