Saving Habitat Means Saving Wildlife
Animals, plants and people—we’re all part of the same ecosystem. And the key to sustaining this system is by preserving the wide variety of species in it. One of Groundswell’s top priorities is to preserve native wildlife species by protecting the habitat they need to survive.
Every species requires a minimum amount of space to feed, reproduce, form social and family groups, and travel during seasonal migrations. Crowding wildlife into smaller areas can result in population decline, aggressive interactions with each other and humans, and potentially extinction. Of the original 64,000-acre Empire Prairie that covered much of Dane and Columbia Counties, there are only 202 acres left that are protected. This huge loss of prairie habitat has led to dwindling populations of grassland birds, like the bobolink.
Westport Prairie, another Groundswell conservation success, is part of the Empire Prairie State Natural Area that preserves approximately 100 native plant species—some endangered—and many types of grassland birds. Click the Story tab to learn more about this special prairie.
A Special Place You Don’t Want to See Disappear
On a mild and sunny February day, Groundswell volunteers walked slowly through the snow and stubble of a Town of Westport corn field. They sprinkled something precious onto the frozen ground.
Tiny seeds from goldenrod, coneflowers and other native prairie plants slipped from the fingers of the volunteers and drifted toward the earth.
“This is exciting,” said Mark Thomas, one of the volunteers. “We have this little time capsule here and we’re working on expanding it.”
Westport Prairie is something of a last stand. It contains 227 protected acres that were in the heart of the Empire Prairie, a vast tallgrass prairie estimated to have once stretched for 150,000 acres across Columbia and Dane Counties. The Empire Prairie has largely disappeared, but in this place the land still buzzes with insects and bristles with wildflowers. It flourishes in defiance of nearby development.
Groundswell Conservancy protects and manages this important place. We conserve and expand wildlife habitat with the help of conservation partners, conservation-minded landowners, and dedicated volunteers.
Conservation work began here in 1984 when the state Department of Natural Resources created a state natural area on a 14-acre drumlin. A sliver of the Empire Prairie had survived on the drumlin, thanks in part to terrain created by the Wisconsin glacier. The land was simply too steep and rocky to cultivate. With the help of landowners who sold or donated land to the preserve, Groundswell extended the area of protected land to fields around the drumlin. Groundswell now restores more of the property to prairie. The restored buffer helps protect the original prairie remnant.
Groundswell’s staff works through the seasons to care for the land. We also hire young Operation Fresh Start participants and Prairie Partners interns to work on the prairie. We engage community volunteers and hold monthly work parties on the property.
A lot is at stake. The land holds more than 100 species of native plants, including the federally-threatened prairie bush clover. Grassland birds like the bobolink are dwindling in population and have little of this habitat left. The DNR estimates there’s less than 100 acres of remnant tallgrass prairie left in Wisconsin. The property also includes two oak savannas, a type of vegetation that’s more imperiled than tropical rainforest.
Groundswell is committed to protecting this habitat and preserving public access to the land. Our conservation efforts at Westport Prairie continue.
In the summer, staff and volunteers remove invasive plants like buckthorn and honeysuckle. In the fall, they carefully hand-gather prairie seeds. In winter, they return to plant the seeds on adjacent fields.
Thomas has volunteered numerous times on the Westport property and he intends to continue.