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Fighting to save Greene Prairie

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arboretum is famous for its restored prairies. The most famous is the Curtis Prairie, established in the 1930s and 40s. Less well known is the 50-acre Greene Prairie, which was restored almost single-handed by Henry Greene in the 1940s and 50s.

Greene Prairie is currently under threat from Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) a perennial grass native to Eurasia. In North America it is invasive in wet sites; the Wisconsin DNR estimates that it dominates 10% of the state’s wetlands. The Greene Prairie initially lacked permanently flooded areas, but runoff from suburban have altered the site. Reed Canary Grass currently dominates 10 acres of the 50-acre site. (Reed Canary Grass at Greene Prairie from: Zedler, J.B. and J. Wilcox. 2005. Interconnected Restoration Challenges: Controlling invasives and reestablishing natives, Arboretum Leaflet 1).

So far, restoration efforts have had limited success. University of Wisconsin-Madison News reports on new efforts to incorporate students in the restoration project.

In the new plan, Arboretum staff will burn the experimental site and apply sethoxydim in the spring. Then, each fall, the ecology students will sow native seeds, survey plant diversity and abundance, and otherwise monitor the project’s progress. In keeping with its experimental nature, researchers will review the data carefully each year and make adjustments to the approach as needed.

The team hopes not only to keep reed canary grass from spreading further, but also to push it back eventually toward the south. No matter what the final outcome, however, Herrick has no doubts about the benefits.

“At a time when resources are stretched, we could never, as Arboretum staff, pull off this experiment on our own. So, incorporating the students is a perfect way to do this,” he says. “It’s an education for them – first and foremost. But we also get to advance restoration ecology research and answer land care questions. It’s a win, win, win, all the way around.”

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