Grasslands will be preserved and restored
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 01:25 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
A new initiative announced today will demonstrate how diverse native prairies in southwest Wisconsin have the potential to provide income to farmers, better habitat for wildlife and homegrown and renewable energy to businesses.
The Alliant Energy Foundation is providing $100,000 per year over the next three years to The Nature Conservancy to establish demonstration projects that harvest biomass from native and restored prairies in the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area in southwest Wisconsin.
"This is the first project of its kind in the region and one that will explore how we can create new economic opportunities for area farmers," said Barbara Swan, Alliant Energy Foundation President. "It's a great way to preserve some of our best grasslands for future generations."
Mary Jean Huston, director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, said new strategies are needed to protect the state's grasslands, which are at risk even though they provide excellent wildlife habitat and help preserve water quality.
Military Ridge is one of the state's best opportunities for grassland conservation because it includes more than 60 native prairie remnants and pasture land within a 50,000-acre grassland landscape located in Dane and Iowa counties.
"The best way to keep Military Ridge's lands and waters in good natural condition is to demonstrate good conservation practices," Huston said. "This generous gift from the Alliant Energy Foundation will help us protect this incredible landscape for nature and people alike."
The Conservancy's goals for this new initiative within the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area include:
Identifying key areas where biomass demonstration projects would have the greatest potential to improve water quality and wildlife habitat
Building landowner awareness of proposed federal and state incentive programs and the benefits of using diverse native vegetation for biomass production
Establishing biomass demonstration projects that result in the preservation, restoration and harvest of native trees and prairie plants for renewable energy
Developing benchmarks to evaluate the economic and ecological impact of biomass projects
Organizing an advisory committee to help determine how this project can become a model for similar efforts
Steve Richter, who directs the Conservancy's conservation work in southwest Wisconsin, said that the initiative will focus on how to create new economic opportunities for area landowners to protect and restore prairies.
"Our goal is to help establish a local, sustainable market that relies on diverse native plants to provide clean, renewable energy," Richter said.
Prairies are among the most endangered habitat types in Wisconsin. Because of its high concentration of grassland, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has identified Military Ridge as its highest priority for landscape-scale grassland protection. The area also includes the headwaters of the Pecatonica River and its tributaries, which flow into the Mississippi River.
The Conservancy has been working at Military Ridge since 1964 and has helped protect about 2,000 acres including its Barneveld Prairie preserve in Iowa County and Thomson Memorial Prairie in Dane County.
The Conservancy's partners in Military Ridge include: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever, Blue Mounds Area Project, The Prairie Enthusiasts, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, and Southwest Badger Resource, Conservation and Development Council.
The Alliant Energy Foundation has partnered with The Nature Conservancy for many years and has most recently focused its contributions on floodplain, prairie and grassland restoration. In 2009, the Foundation donated $100,000 for the Conservancy&'s efforts to restore floodplain land within the Lower Cedar Valley in southeast Iowa.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.
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