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Progress on the Bluffs 2022- Mike O'Brien

It has been another busy year for Friends of the Blufflands and its restoration efforts in the bluffs around La Crosse. Volunteers have put in around 1000 hours cutting buckthorn, oriental bittersweet, honeysuckle and multiple other invasive species. We continue to remove invading brush from our rare remnant prairies. We have also made significant progress towards the restoration of the savanna below Lookout Prairie. We spent more time this year working on the Mathy Bluff Prairie, especially with the help of WisCorps crews and summer intern Blake Olson. We cleared enough invasive brush to increase the size of the hill prairie by about a third. With the volunteer help of The Prairie Enthusiasts, and staff from the Mississippi Valley Conservancy and the DNR, Friends of the Blufflands was also able to complete several burns of the hill prairies, including the Mathy Bluff prairie, Lookout prairie, and just this month, Zoerb prairie. So here are some of the comparisons to last year.

Zoerb Prairie


Zoerb Prairie in Nov/2021. You can see brush piles to the right. The dark grey areas on the hillside indicate recently clearing.


Zoerb prairie Nov/2022. Those grey areas in the picture above have filled in nicely. The prairie is re-expanding to the east (right) and connecting to a remnant patch on the far right side. Note that the white aspens on the left in the first photo have been removed.

December 2022

Above: Zoerb prairie after a recent burn this December. A small area was left unburned. This allows a refuge for insects which can then quickly repopulate the prairie.

Lookout Prairie


This is a picture of the late winter burn of Lookout Prairie in progress. This was a perfect time of the year for this burn. Some of the benefits of burning off the dead grass includes returning nutrients to the soil, exposing the growing point of the plants to sunlight, and having the black residue heat up the soil to jump start the next growing season.

This late fall picture only gives you a small indication of the lush growing season this prairie had as a result of the burn.

More work is being done to re-establish the prairie on its western and eastern flanks. There has been a lot of progress on the savanna below Lookout as well.

Dobson Blufflands


Work continues on restoration and reseeding of prairie species in the once degraded field next to the Dobson Parking lot. It may start looking like a prairie in the next few years.

The woodlands south of the parking area are slowly being cleared of invasive species. The small remnant hill prairies in the park received a boost this fall with a weeks work from contractors.

A south facing hill prairie remnant.


This is a picture taken after clearing of buckthorn and other invasive brush on the lower slope. The red cedar will gradually be thinned. Re-establishing the prairie and its flowering plants is important because this particular area is known to have a consistent population of the endangered Rusty Patched Bumblebee.



Mathy Bluff Prairie


Much work was done on organizing the brush on the bottom of the slope into brush piles for burning. Invasives were cleared on the edges of the prairie – in this picture in the upper center.


In the above photo, brush and some smaller trees are now replaced with brush piles. In the coming years we hope to connect the remnant patches of prairie together – the lighter brown patches in the picture.


Significant work was also done and will continue in restoring Juniper Prairie on the south side of La Crosse. Next summer more work is planned for the Stry Prairie on Miller Bluff and others.

Stayed tuned for more updates. A big THANKS! to all the volunteers! We’ve made great progress. Hopefully we will see many of you out there in the coming year. It’s worthwhile and rewarding work.


Mike O’Brien



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