Small seeds, big future
UW-Green Bay and the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust collaborate to restore 76 acres of oak savanna
By John McCracken
UW-Green Bay Biology Professor Karen Stahlheber hopes to see “good-sized, small oak trees” on the edge of the campus sometime in the next two decades.
To make this happen, members of the public, UW-Green Bay students and professors sowed a mixture of prairie seeds at the Wequiock Creek Natural Area to restore an oak savanna.
The Wequiock Creek Natural Area is situated on the edge of the UW-Green Bay campus and adjoins the Point au Sable Natural Area. This area combines to make a roughly 250-acre greenspace. The Wequiock Creek Natural Area is owned by the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust and the Town of Scott.
UW-Green Bay Cofrin Center for Biodiversity Director and Biology Professor Robert Hower said the goal of the restoration project is to restore the 76 acres to a natural community that is oak savanna with a riparian forest running through the middle of it.
The restoration project is funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program, The Fox River Trustee Council (Natural Resource Damage Assessment), Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Knowles Nelson Stewardship program and other private foundations.
Stahlheber said restoring the land to an oak savanna will help stabilize the surrounding animal habitat as well as educate people about the natural history of the region.
“To have examples of a habitat that we know was here historically (is) really important for animals, (is) really important for cultural reasons for people to learn about the heritage of this region,” Stahlheber said.
Stahlheber said indigenous settlements in Northeast Wisconsin would have used oak savannas as places to settle and create community.
“Oak savannas also are in places where people have maintained them with fire or clearing,” Stahlheber said. “Indigenous settlement in this region would have facilitated oak savannas as a really important habitat.”
Stahlheber said throughout the Midwest, oaks savannas were eventually cleared and the land was used for agriculture.
“The trees were cleared and the grasslands and the prairies were plowed,” Stahlheber said.
Stahlheber said when indigenous populations declined in regions with oak savannas, the maintenance of the oak savannas was not kept up and savannas became forests.
According to UW-Green Bay’s land acknowledgment, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Menominee Nation have ancient historical and spiritual connections to the land that the university resides on.
The acres of land are currently free from oak trees, but Stahlheber said she hopes to see more greenery in the next few years.
“Within about three years I would expect to see a really well-established grassland component,” Stahlheber said. “The trees will take longer. We’re in the process, collecting acorns. We’re going to put up a small tree nursery here on-site to really raise those trees to a decent size, small saplings, then we’ll plant them out.”
Roxi Decleene said she loves getting out in nature and planting.
Decleene, a volunteer and member of the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust, was among the handfuls of community members who helped spread seeds throughout the soon-to-be prairie. Members of the public were joined by UW-Green Bay Biology students in the planting efforts.
“I love to hope everybody would know what the past was,” Decleene said, “to preserve this for the future for other generations.”
The region surrounding the Wequiock Creek Natural Area is made up of bayside homes and other growing developments, something Decleene said she is glad the savanna won’t become.
“Just think if this was all houses,” Decleene said, “we’d lose this forever. This would be great for birds and wildlife.”
John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @jmcjmc451