Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of State Natural Area Photo: Thomas Meyer

A twilight prescribed fire rejuvenates Morgan Coulee Prairie State Natural Area
Thomas Meyer

April 2013

Wisconsin, naturally

Morgan Coulee Prairie State Natural Area

Notable: Fire, whether naturallyoccurring or intentionally set by Native Americans, acted with other forces to shape and sustain Wisconsinís original landscapes. Prairie, oak savanna, barrens, and other grass-dominated plant communities – and the species that live in them – evolved with and rely on periodic fire to remain ecologically healthy. With settlement of the state came fire suppression, resulting in the loss of these communities and their component plants and animals as they succeeded to dense forest. Today, natural area managers reintroduce prescribed fire into fire-dependent landscapes to restore and maintain Wisconsinís biological diversity. Such is the case at Morgan Coulee Prairie State Natural Area, situated on a steep, southfacing bluff overlooking a narrow coulee opening into the Rush River Valley. The expanse of dry prairie is interrupted by small islands of opengrown oaks and limestone outcrops encrusted with lichens. Big and little bluestem, side-oats grama, needle grass and prairie drop-seed dominate the grassland. Prairie flowers and animals such as eastern bluebird, prairie smoke, blazing-star, plains larkspur, Reakertís blue butterfly and the state-threatened prairie thistle bring color to the 54-acre natural area throughout the growing season. Fire is applied every few years in the early spring to keep unwanted woody vegetation at bay and to encourage plant flowering and seed set.

How to get there: From the intersection of Highway 35 and 385th Street (East River Road) on the west end of Maiden Rock (Pierce Co.), go north on 385th St. 3.4 miles, then east on 200th Avenue (Morgan Road) 0.2 miles to the southwest corner of the site. Park along the road and walk north up the slope. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search ďMorgan Coulee PrairieĒ for a map and more information.