Hugh Iltis Prairie and Savanna
Endangered Species - Bog - Prairie - Oak Openings
In 1988 we bought 40 rural acres of Wisconsin bog and sandy uplands. Within those acres was a patch the size of a tennis court carpeted with native lupines (Lupinus perennis). We’d read an article about a federally-endangered butterfly, the Karner blue, whose host plant is native lupines. Were there any Karners in our patch? We went looking. With help from the DNR Bureau of Endangered Species, we found twenty-two of them on this tiny oasis of a rare, vanishing habitat.
We became land stewards. We joined a local environmental group, The Prairie Enthusiasts, and partnered with US Fish & Wildlife Service to develop a comprehensive prairie management plan. In 1999 we retired and added 80 adjacent ‘old field’ grassland acres, complete with log cabin. Moving onsite accelerated our mission – to increase the butterfly’s specific habitat requirements with more lupine, fewer invasives, more oak openings, more nectaring species. Thirty-three years later, it’s become a lush and diverse combination of oak savanna and short grass prairie with record numbers of Karner blue butterflies – as many as 4302 in 2016. A wild success!
But we didn’t want that success to end when we no longer own this place, so our first important step toward permanence was to put a perpetual Grassland Conservation Easement on 80 acres to prevent development of any kind forever – no 1-acre lots, no roads, no missile silos. However, that Grassland Conservation Easement does not prevent invasive plants from invading, or trees from encroaching, or degradation from over-grazing that benign neglect allows. The only 'protection' offered in the easement is a single annual walk-around by a real person but these days more likely by a satellite fly-over. Satellites don't see garlic mustard and leafy spurge and wild parsnip and . . . the invasive list is endless. Our options for 'real' perpetual stewardship are limited – no family heirs, no large monetary stewardship endowment, no like-minded soulmate knocking on the door to say, ‘If you’re ever going to sell, call me first.’
And there are others in similar situations. That’s where the concept of a ‘Conservation Buyer’ comes in: someone who believes in hands-on stewardship to the core; has deep experience in habitat restoration; is passionate about biodiversity; cares mightily about the land and has an enduring commitment to continue the hard work that’s come before: a like-minded soulmate.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Find a zealous Conservation Buyer.
Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)