BARNEVELD, Wis.—For 30 years, a group called the Prairie Enthusiasts has worked to preserve and restore habitat in Wisconsin that was nearly lost.
Richard Henderson, who is a volunteer and site steward at Mounds View Grasslands, said he knows all the bird calls on the property.
Mounds View Grassland is the largest Prairie Enthusiasts reserve.
“He’s a dickhead. There are a lot of bird watchers who come here,” Henderson said. “There are a lot of butterfly watchers because there are rare butterflies here. There are many people who are interested in bumblebees.
The group tends to a reservation, about 30 miles outside of Madison; it is home to many rare and endangered species.
Henderson pointed to wild quinine.
“It’s kind of like cauliflower,” he said. “It was on our endangered species list for the state, but they removed it because we found we could plant it quite easily in these restorations.”
The name Prairie Enthusiasts is appropriate. The group is working to turn grassy areas into active meadows.
As the country grew, farmers in the Midwest were drawn to the prairies for their fertile soil.
“The grassland soil here has developed over thousands of years, and it has become a deep black soil that a horizon has built up. It’s very productive,” Henderson said. “It’s the breadbasket of the United States.”
Henderson became interested in the prairies while in high school.
“When I grew up, I thought all this open landscape was the result of settlers clearing the forest. No, there were no trees to begin with. Most of the trees have since grown,” Henderson said.
He said that at one point, a third of the state was covered in fire-fed grassland ecosystems.
“A tenth of one percent of the truly intact examples is all that was left. Little bits here and there. There were a lot of degraded areas that you can bring back, and we’re starting to do that,” Henderson said.
Henderson said grassland birds have been in steep decline for 50 years due to habitat loss.
This is what leads Jackie Fertel, intern and bird enthusiast, to eliminate invasive species.
“I found that many of my favorite birds live in grasslands that need protection. I got involved this way because I wanted to save the places for the birds I love,” Fertel said.
The group recently announced the acquisition of over 260 additional acres from a nearby farm, adding to the existing 570-acre reserve, Mounds View Grassland. The Prairie Enthusiasts worked alongside the family for years on a small parcel of land that contained a remnant of prairie.
“It’s great habitat for grassland birds,” Henderson said.
The new addition is home to over two dozen rare and endangered species of plants, animals, insects, reptiles and birds. The group raised nearly $3 million through private and public funding for the purchase.
“It’s a dream come true to add so much to the reserve,” Henderson said.
With this purchase, Prairie Enthusiasts will continue to connect nature lovers to an ecosystem that has been nearly wiped out.
The reserve is open to the public. The next peak of bloom should be around the 4th of July and new flowers will appear approximately every two weeks until September.