Apuleius, the Roman philosopher, rhetorician, & satirist said: “Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.”, and paradoxically, that has been my experience with the few of Wisconsin’s 673 SNAs that I have visited. You might be thinking: ‘Hang on there Buckthorn Man; contempt is a strong word, how can you apply it the State Natural Areas?’ The answer is deeply philosophical, so, please, remember what Aristotle said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
I will cut to the chase: I am an anarchist seeking a voluntary society. I don’t think the powers assumed by the “State” are legitimately based, especially the use of coercion to tax us. Under Natural Law, 1, 2, 10, 1,000 or 1,000,000 people do not have the right to delegate powers — that none of them possess individually — to an association they call government. Do I have the right to demand that you give me 20% of your earnings?
That is the perspective I bring when I become intimately familiar with any of our State owned lands; focusing here on the SNAs. What I find “contemptible” is the idea that “we the people” rely on government to take care of our most precious natural resources rather than voluntarily assuming that responsibility for ourselves. Here is the DNR’s SNA management philosophy:
Land stewardship is guided by principles of ecosystem management. For some SNAs, the best management prescription is to “let nature take its course” and allow natural processes and their subsequent effects, to proceed without constraint. However, some processes, such as the encroachment of woody vegetation and the spread of invasive and exotic plant species, threaten the biological integrity of many SNAs. These sites require hands-on management and, in some cases, the reintroduction of natural functions — such as prairie fire — that are essentially absent from the landscape.
Wisconsin has desginated 673 SNA’s, encompassing over 373,000 acres. Please don’t assume the DNR has a comprehensive management plan for these sites including: goals, objectives, budget, staffing, timelines etc… they do not have the funds to accomplish this, and don’t assume that it is OK to “let nature take its course”. Since I don’t accept the legitimacy of government authority, it would be contradictory for me to advocate that we divert even a tiny percent of the money our federal government spends on wars of aggression and the security, industrial, military complex, to nurture and care for our treasured state lands. Nope, I’m suggesting that each one of us volunteer our time and attention to care for the land. Visit an SNA near you and become intimately familiar with it; let the rarity of these beautiful places win your admiration (and active involvement!)
I mentioned in the video how excited I was to return for the SNA workday in December and I was not disappointed (visit the Southern Kettle Moraine SNA Volunteers on Facebook). We gathered yesterday morning on the ice covered parking lot at the Lone Tree Bluff trailhead on Esterly Road.
Zach Kastern introduced us to the day’s project.
At the trailhead, you take the left-hand, unmarked path towards the springs rather than follow the steps straight up to Lone Tree Bluff. This is not an official trail, but it will definitely become more obvious as we continue working there. When we got to the work site, Zach gave more specific instructions and we all introduced ourselves. It was a great crew to be with!
I was in heaven and thoroughly enjoyed the day. I grabbed these images while taking a break to gas up the saw.
Jared Urban coordinates volunteers at the SNA’s in the southern part of the state. The next 5 action shots are courtesy of Jared.
Ginny rips it up.
Kyungmann in the thick of it.
Scott, Tom and Zach.
Tom stoking the fire.
Group shot minus Dale and Gary. (Back row left to right: The Buckthorn Man, Jared B., Tom, Scott and Kyungmann and Ginny and Zach in the front row)
The official workday ended at noon but a few of us hung out to talk and share lunch by the fire. I cut buckthorn all afternoon and Zach and Scott fed the brush piles. Here is how it looked at the end of the day.
Here are a couple views of the site before we got started.
Looking north from the channel of the spring that flows into the fen.
Looking down the trail towards where we left off last time. The buckthorn on the left is doomed.
Below looking right and left from where Chris Mann left off the previous Monday.
I was soon joined by Chris, Austin and, much to my delight, Andy Buchta and we got after it.
We had an excellent day and finished the fen-side of the trail all the way north to the tamarack grove; and even got a few licks in on the south side of the spring channel that flows into the fen, working along the trail that leads to the Ottawa Lake campground.
When we finished I took a walk from the point where we stopped, shown above, heading back across the channel to where Chris and Austin were still piling brush.
I had a mellow day last Thursday brush cutting and poisoning the scrub red oak, cherry and buckthorn on the sand prairie. I think it’s time to start burning brush piles.
The Bluff Creek State Natural Area is a jewel in the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit. The rolling moraines, deep kettles, massive oaks and bubbling springs that source Bluff Creek, make this one of the most beautiful areas in southeastern Wisconsin.
The DNR’s SNA team has been prepping the east side of the Bluff Creek property for months creating clean, wide firebreaks all around the burn unit, which is no easy task on the steep moraines. This would be the second time they burned the area and everyone was anxious to get it done. Last Saturday I spent the day there with Zach, Ginny, Don, Jerry and Brandon raking the areas around dead snags and taking down some really punky ones that might have fallen across the firebreak. We worked along the eastern perimeter of the 454 acre burn unit between A and K on the map below.
Zach and Brandon reviewing the situation.
A monster dead oak that we cleared around.
I stopped at Bald Bluff on the way home hoping I would get an invite to come back the next day for the burn.
I forgot my phone and, sure enough, when I got home, there was a message from Jared inviting me to join their crew to Burn Bluff Creek East. Cool!
The team from the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation included: Burn Boss Matt Zine, Nate Fayram and Jared Urban the north and south line bosses respectively and Jessica Renley, Alex Wenthe, Adam Stone and Bridget Rathman. Paul Sandgren, Matt Wilhelm, Don Dane, and Dennis Mclain represented the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit. Greg Kidd and Erin Holmes, volunteering their time, represented the NRCS (Erin also works with Pheasants Forever). And, last but not least, Bill Walz, an SNA volunteer who also works with The Prairie Enthusiasts was there.
Greg gearing up.
Alex, Greg and Matt.
Matt Zine explains the burn plan.
It was a pleasure to hang out with the “pros” and be one of the team. Matt Zine attributes much of their success developing the SNA’s in the Kettle Moraine State Forest–Southern Unit to Paul Sandgren’s leadership and commitment. A lot of thought and effort went into planning this day — bringing the people and equipment together — and the conditions were perfect for a woodland burn!
Per the plan, we began anchoring the unit on the line between points B and A.
Then the south line team began lighting a backing fire from A to L while the north line team did the same moving west from B to D.
The steep moraines were not for the fainthearted to drive an ATV up and down on, and the wetlands on the northern perimeter had some deep, water filled trenches to negotiate. I was really impressed with the fortitude and level of effort and cooperation amongst everyone involved. They carried out the plan without a hitch!
This classic kettle required a bit of extra effort to carry fire through it.
David Bart, Assistant Professor Landscape Architecture and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies UW-Madison, contributed the next 5 pics showing the north line team in action.
Bill and I got “released” around 6:30pm and I quickly changed clothes and headed back to the burn unit to get some more pics.
A happy Matt and Erin.
I was eager to see the blackened kettles and moraines along the line from A to L.
Then I headed west from point A and decided to try to walk the perimeter of the burn unit.
I was blown away when I saw how difficult it must have been to lay down the backing fire on the north line. Here are a couple views of the wetlands Nate, Jess and Adam lit up.
You could see lines of fire still creeping through the center of the unit.
I threaded my way through the black and brush until I came to the big open water where all the springs collect forming Bluff Creek.
There are dozens of springs flowing into the headwaters.
It’s a good thing I had walked this area once before on an SNA workday at Lone Tree Bluff and knew where I was. I had no problem picking my way through these creeping fires on the trail leading back to the parking lot on Easterly Road.
I found my way in the dark back along the firebreak at point J and came all the way around the south end of the burn unit back to point A. And reminiscent of last year’s Scuppernong Burn, I ran into Don Dane, just beginning his all-night vigil at the burn unit.
The new Statewide Prescribed Burning Guidelines require that all burning and smoking wood on “the entire burn” be extinguished before the burn can be declared “controlled”. Don watched the fires throughout the night and the SNA team returned today to complete the mop up. It is hoped that the guidelines can be amended to acknowledge the low level of risk that smoldering logs pose in the middle of a huge burn unit. It is hard and complicated enough as it is for the DNR to effectively use fire to help manage the forests.