Updated: Jun 11, 2021
The two goats were nervous, aware of being slowly hemmed in by the tall sea of green marching assiduously in from all sides. Named Zoerb and Lookout, the goats had formerly roamed free, groomed and kept healthy by friendly fire, wandering ungulates, and a few passing shepherds. But of late, they were alone and vulnerable. Fire and hooves were absent, and shepherds had gone missing — giving the sea of brush the opportunity to methodically squeeze the goats from all directions. And so it went until one day when the goats had the good fortune of being adopted by a new shepherd called Friends of the Blufflands. With some nurturing care, assisted by The Prairie Enthusiasts, the goats have begun to recover and thrive!
Goat prairies, that is. Yes, goat or bluff prairies are disappearing fast in the Driftless Area as an army of trees and brush invades. And as the prairie goes, so go the plants that are restricted to its habitat and the invertebrates that call it home.
Friends of the Blufflands is a nonprofit in the La Crosse area that is trying to save two of those prairies. In 2019, management plans were formulated for the “goats” and work began. And a lot of work it has been!
The first objective was to deal with two clonal species, sumac and aspen, using the double-cut method to avoid the use of herbicide as much as possible. We did this on July 1 and August 1 for the last two years on Zoerb, and this year on Lookout. It has shown great success. Next, we had to deal with black locust surrounding the prairies. Trees up to a foot in diameter that rimmed the prairie were girdled twice with chainsaws, then an herbicide mix of triclopyr and aminopyralid was used in the lower cut with excellent results. But, as anticipated, the clone sent up multiple new sprouts. We’re cutting and treating these as they appear.
Crown vetch was also present in small amounts, mostly on the edges of the prairies, and has been dealt with by pulling any flowering plants and judiciously using clopyralid.
The next task was to form a buffer around the prairie to keep the trees and brush, especially buckthorn, at bay and away from the pristine central prairie. Thanks to local volunteer groups, a first buffer has been accomplished and a second buffer is being formed with good success. Eventually, we hope that the first buffer will increase in diversity from the seed bank as well as from seeds that blow in and seeds we collect on the mature prairie and disperse into the buffer.
The central intact prairie is treated with great care. We stay off of it as much as possible during the growing season to avoid trampling. We carefully select experienced groups to cut and treat trees and brush that have taken root. This work takes place mostly in the late fall and winter months. There is still lots of work to do, but we’re making good progress. A controlled burn was done on Zoerb in the spring of 2021 as part of the management plan.
Slowly and with considerable effort, the goats are regaining health. Like any adoption, the work will never truly be done and ongoing management will be necessary far into the future. But the joy of watching the prairies mature and grow will be well worth the effort.
Those interested in participating in their transformation can contact email@example.com. And the next time you’re driving up Bliss Road on Grandad Bluff, look to your left and give the two goats a salute by bellowing out a loud baaaaa!