An important part of ICF’s mission is to conserve the ecosystems, or landscapes, on which cranes depend. In 1980 we began restoring native prairie, savanna, wetland, and woodland communities on our newly acquired 160 acre property north of Baraboo, Wisconsin. Our purpose was to learn about the new field of ecosystem restoration, share this knowledge with others, and create a natural landscape for our visitors to enjoy. Once a working farm, our site now serves as an outdoor laboratory with over 100 acres of restored landscapes, where we can explore the process of restoration and apply the lessons learned worldwide.
For example, in Vietnam our understanding of wetland restoration and the impacts of fire on landscapes has aided in the management of Tram Chim National Park, home to the Sarus Crane. Our staff have also traveled to Far Eastern Russia, to train local park staff and fire fighters in prescribed burning at Muraviovka Park, a private nature reserve and home to breeding Red-crowned and White-naped Cranes. Read more about our restoration work in Wisconsin and abroad in Field Notes: Using Fire to Manage Crane Landscapes
Most of our restoration at ICF has focused on the process of plant community development through time. We began with a variety of experiments between 1980-1984 to test the importance of seeding density, grass to forb ratios, site preparation, planting techniques and planting phenology to prairie establishment over time.
We learned that the results of these early experiments often had more to do with the size of the planting or to chance events like a dry spring than it did to the actual experiment at hand. From these lessons we designed a new experiment to compare plantings where we did exactly the same thing but sowed the plantings among several years. If you do everything the same you should get exactly the same prairie, right? Five plantings—1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, and 1996—were established on 1 acre sites featuring similar soils, topography, and slope/aspect. We used identical land preparation techniques, seed preparation techniques and seed mixes for each planting. Following the planting we did the same type of prairie management, such as invasive species control and burning. Each planting was sampled intensively (percent cover and rooted frequency) each year for a minimum of 15 years.
In one planting dominance of individual species can vary substantially from one year to another. This planting was established in 1990, with the top photo taken mid-summer 2008 and the second photo mid-summer 2009. A prescribed burn was conducted in spring 2008, while no burn preceded the growing season of 2009. Photos by ICF staff
Other restoration areas of note include a wet-mesic prairie planting (1989), describing changes in vegetation in relation to water within wetlands, and a savanna planting (1993) tested the establishment of species along a sun-shade gradient.
To manage our plantings and control the introduction and spread of exotic or invasive species (e.g., Kentucky blue grass or mullein), we conduct prescribed burns of each unit on a rotating basis. This works out to conducting a burn in each management unit on average once every three years. Our management units now are composed of areas of land that range from closed oak forest on the shady end of a light gradient to open prairie on the sunny end of the spectrum. This allows our management actions like controlled burning to cross the ecological gradients (like shade) that are important to a wide variety of plants and animals that depend upon those ecological gradients.