The Prairie Enthusiasts

volunteer-run group nurtures fire-dependent ecosystems

Carrie Weiss

A controlled burn in Dunn County.

Less than 250 years ago, elk and bison roamed the Chippewa Valley where, according to Bill Hogseth, they had more than 7 million acres of prairie and oak savanna to call home. Since settlement, those original ecosystems have dwindled to less than 10,000 acres, and when was the last time you saw an elk along the Chippewa River State Trail? A group called the Prairie Enthusiasts activated in the 70s to reverse the trend, and subsequent chapters sprang up throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. In June 2009, the Chippewa Savannas Chapter united to improve remaining “prairies, savannas, barrens, and other fire-dependent ecosystems.” According to Hogseth, chair of the Savannas, their target environments once thrived from naturally occurring fires, “to prevent the spread of invasive species, to promote the growth of native grasses, and to regulate soil moisture.” The volunteer-run group conducts year-round improvement projects. For example, in April they conducted a prairie burn workshop as part of a private land restoration project along a section of the Red Cedar Trail in Dunn County. Hogseth explained that restoration of an area is a lengthy process that could require a variety of actions, like “prescribed burning, species monitoring, invasive species control, tree removal, seed harvesting, and seed planting.” The Savannas also focus on the threatened species that inhabit these ecosystems, and this May they launched a grassland bird-monitoring project in the Lower Chippewa River area in southern Dunn County. Hogseth emphasized the need for passionate volunteers to continue the Savannas work. “Ecological restoration involves so many different jobs that there is a place to fit in for anyone who is interested.” Contact or visit the website to become involved.

    The Prairie Enthusiasts – Chippewa Savannas Chapter • Aug. 14 hike and meetings on Aug. 29 and Sept. 12 • locations and times vary  • 

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