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Review of 2023 at Friends of the Blufflands by Mike O'Brien

  Another busy year has come to close for the Friends of the Blufflands. We have consolidated the gains we have made on our 2 largest prairies – Lookout and Zoerb, and we have started further work restoring Stry Prairie atop Miller Bluff and Vista Bluff Prairie. An entire week of daily work was devoted in June to clearing trees and invasive brush on Lookout Savanna with the help of 2 WisCorps teams, the ORA work crew, and several volunteers and workers of Friends of the Blufflands. The area was then seeded this fall. More work is needed but the transformation is impressive. The upper Dobson prairie reconstruction continues to progress as well. A clone of black locust trees that was trying to invade the prairie was finally removed. Contractors performed a huge amount of clearing this last winter of one of the lower south facing slopes in Dobson that still had a small native prairie remnant. This was financed with the help of a grant from Fish and Wildlife and a match from the City of La Crosse. Overseeding was done this winter and hopefully enough new natives will fill in to be able to burn in 2024.


  So what does this look like? Here are some pictures. Starting with some comparison pictures of Zoerb in 2020:

 

And here’s what it looks like now: 


 The grey patches on the 2021 Zoerb photo are mostly bare soil, but now in 2023 that has filled in with prairie. It is an easy hike out to Zoerb prairie, and especially rewarding in the spring and summer when the prairie flowers are in full bloom.

 

Lookout Prairie was burned this year:

The burn will recycle nutrients and give the prairie a jump start in the spring. In addition to the blackened burn area, the photo shows the eastern edge (right side) of Lookout Prairie has been cleared of brush and the prairie is re-expanding into its former territory. Also, in the lower left of the above picture the opening of Lookout Savanna is starting to become evident from afar.

 

Mathy Bluff Prairie was also burned earlier this fall:

We are gradually restoring and connecting remnants of prairie to the east on this long promontory.


As I mentioned above, Stry Prairie on Miller Bluff has been getting more attention this past year. The large prairie area towards the west (left) cliff has been cleared of brush, (although brush piles remain to be burned), and a smaller prairie remnant on the eastern (right) edge has been cleared. With a lot more work and some time, the two remnants can be connected.


 Vista Prairie is next. Here’s a before and after of Vista Prairie that was worked on this year:

 

Before:


After:

 

It will be fascinating to see how Vista’s prairie responds to the removal of the invasive brush next year. You can also see the severe erosion caused by rogue trails up and down this heavily used bluff. ORA and FBL have put in extensive effort to repair this erosion and keep people on the proper trails to prevent this erosion from re-occurring. Please heed the signs and stay on the paths!


 The prairie in the Juniper tract on La Crosse’s south side got some attention this year. It is now much more evident from afar:

 

More work is needed on Juniper though so stay tuned in 2024 for notices of work outings, then you too can enjoy the majestic view of south La Crosse and the Mississippi River valley!


   The prairie reconstruction next to the Dobson parking lot is progressing year by year. From a field dominated by highly invasive crown vetch a few years ago:

It is now looking more like a real prairie dominated by native plants with multiple species of prairie grasses and a variety of native flowering plants. It looks ready for the next step which is controlled burning. So Dobson may have 2 areas to burn in 2024.

 

A Few of the Plants in Dobson are shown below:

The prairie in fall


bright orange Butterfly Milkweed


Roundheaded Bushclover


Illinois Tick Trefoil.

  

Friends of the Blufflands would like to give thanks to a host of people and organizations who have made this work possible. These include the City of La Crosse, The Prairie Enthusiasts, the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, ORA, FWS, the Paul Stry Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation and especially all of our volunteers and donors who made this year a very successful one. We look forward to another great year in 2024.

Mike O’Brien

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