Donation helps preserve rare Mississippi River bluff prairies

Discussion in 'Outdoor News' started by Wisconsin DNR News, Mar 3, 2016.

  1. By Central Office March 3, 2016

    Contact(s): Armund Bartz, Conservation Biologist (608) 785-9019 [email protected]

    Natural Resources Board accepts $15,000 donation from Paul E. Stry Foundation

    LA CROSSE, Wis. -- For nearly a quarter century, Bob Swartz and other directors of the Paul E. Stry Foundation have helped save bluff prairies along the Mississippi River near here by donating money to maintain them.

    "To buy a prairie and just own it doesn't preserve it. DNR has the staff, the equipment and the mission to do it," says Swartz.

    Restoration work funded by the Paul E. Stry Foundation has resulted in the state endangered regal fritillary butterfly using this habitat for the first time in likely 20 years.
    Photo Credit: Armund Bartz

    They have again provided $15,000 in 2016 to be used for state natural areas to conduct prescribed burns, control invasive species, and pursue other management activities on Department of Natural Resources-owned natural areas in western Wisconsin. Natural Resource Board members accepted the donation on Feb. 24 at their meeting in Madison.

    "This generous gift again will provide critical funding for restoration of State Natural Areas in west-central Wisconsin and will benefit numerous rare species that depend on these sites," says Dean Edlin, district ecologist stationed in Alma.

    The Stry Foundation has a long history of providing funding for restoration of state natural areas located along the Mississippi River near La Crosse, including providing seed money to establish DNR's first state natural areas crew in La Crosse in about 1992. Since then, crews have received this gift funding almost every year, Edlin says.

    Rush Creek and Hogback Prairie state natural areas, both in Crawford County; Battle Bluff state natural area in Vernon County, Brady's Bluff State Natural Area in Perot State Park in Trempealeau County, and Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area in Pepin County are among properties recently receiving management attention as a result of the foundation's funding.

    A partnership to protect and maintain vanishing prairies

    The foundation was created by the will of Paul Stry, a La Crosse area resident who died in 1987 and directed that most of the income from his estate go toward maintenance of his 5-acre property in the Town of Shelby, on the outskirts of La Crosse, which was to be a nature preserve open to the public.

    Because the income from the estate was greater than could prudently be spent to maintain and improve that property, the courts allowed the foundation to donate money to "like-minded" organizations, Swartz says. This allowed the Stry Foundation to work with the DNR and other organizations to help preserve bluff prairies through acquisition.

    "There were cases where the DNR did not have the financial resources to make an acquisition and the Stry Foundation would not have embarked on acquisition without the DNR's participation and the prospect of long-term ownership and management," Swartz says. "This partnership has been a case-study in exactly what the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program was intended to do. Sometimes, third parties (City of La Crosse, Farmland Preservation Trust) have also been a part of the formula for preservation of natural areas."

    A DNR work crew conducts a prescribed burn at Battle Bluff State Natural Area in Vernon County.
    Photo Credit: Armund Bartz

    The Stry Foundation's commitment to the land didn't end there, however. The foundation has made donations to DNR, to The Nature Conservancy and to the Mississippi Valley Conservancy to help manage natural areas and preserves.

    "We understand you can't just buy land, especially some of the properties like the bluff prairies that for the past 150 years have been getting smaller and smaller through woody encroachment. You have to manage it," Swartz says.

    Less than 1 percent of the prairies, oak savannas and barrens present in the 1800s survive and state natural areas protect a big chunk of what remains. Because these natural communities evolved with fire, they need frequent fire to survive and they need help controlling invasive species, says Armund Bartz, district ecologist stationed in La Crosse.

    Wisconsin state natural areas protect more than 380,000 acres of unique archeological sites, geological formations, and pristine prairies, oak savannas, forests and wetlands. Often as not, these natural areas are pristine parts of larger properties such as wildlife management areas, state parks and federal forests. Two-thirds are 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.

    "These sites are part of our history, part of our culture, a link to the past, and a potential resource for the future, and now they need help if they are to survive," Bartz says. "Generous gifts like that received from the Paul E. Stry Foundation help ensure that these precious sites will survive for generations to come."

    Last Revised: Thursday, March 03, 2016