Land Care Report: Continued Improvements at Faville Prairie

Sawtooth sunflower blooming at Faville Prairie (Photo: Chris Kregel)

Sawtooth sunflower blooming at Faville Prairie (Photo: Chris Kregel)

In September 2018 I wrote about the Arboretum’s historical connection to the preservation of Faville Prairie near Lake Mills, Wisconsin. I also described a brush-clearing project initiated earlier that year in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) with support from a C.D. Besadny Conservation Grant from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Using the grant funds we hired Tallgrass Restoration LLC to forestry mow approximately eight acres in a high-quality area of the prairie where invasive shrubs were abundant, which shades out sun-loving prairie plants and causes plant diversity to decline.

That brush clearing was a good start to a larger long-term project. Using the forestry mower allowed us to remove invasive shrubs at a more meaningful scale than we could do by hand cutting. However, a lot of follow-up maintenance was needed after the initial mowing, and there were other areas that needed forestry mowing of shrubs and in some cases tree removal.

In spring 2019 we purchased our own forestry mower, so we could undertake clearing projects that we previously needed grants and contractors to accomplish. That has been a game-changer for our land management operation, giving us freedom and flexibility to determine when and where we mow, and thus we have been able to forestry mow a lot more acreage than before. Sometimes we need to re-mow an area and being able to do that ourselves has also been a big advantage, allowing us to better maintain projects once we start them.

Forestry mowing invasive shrubs at Faville Prairie

This newfound flexibility has helped us expand our work at Faville Prairie. Although we don’t yet own a trailer to haul the forestry mower, our friends at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station have helped us get it out to Faville. In January 2021 we re-mowed approximately 3.25 acres of new and resprouting shrubs in the same area mowed in 2018 and mowed an additional 4 acres of dense brush and small trees on the west end of the prairie. In January of 2022 we returned and mowed an additional 2.5 acres. The results of the forestry mowing have been transformative.

Prescribed fire at Faville Prairie, April 2021 (Photo: Chris Kregel)

As mentioned above, forestry mowing requires intensive follow-up work to maintain the benefits of the initial mowing. Since 2018 we have treated stumps with herbicide to prevent resprouting in the mowed areas and also treated new growth with herbicide to reduce overall abundance. A lot of native prairie plants have returned on their own following the mowing, but we have also collected roughly 10 pounds of seed from 12 different plant species such as yellow coneflower, purple prairie clover, and rattlesnake master and we’ve planted the seed in the mowed areas to aid the prairie’s recovery. We conducted prescribed fires in April 2021 and 2022 that burned off debris from mowing, top-killed many remaining shrubs, and stimulated growth of prairie plants. We receive ongoing assistance from our neighbors at the Madison Audubon Society’s Faville Grove with follow-up work and invasive species management in general. We are grateful for the partnership and help.

Blue flag iris growing at Faville Prairie

Future work will include more forestry mowing, re-mowing, tree girdling and removal, herbicide treatments, seed collection and planting, and prescribed fire. Eventually we hope to expand this work to the area east of where we worked in 2018, although the prairie quality in that direction has degraded due to flooding of the Crawfish River, which has brought reed canary grass and an extensive invasion of aspen and other trees into the southeast corner of the property. But where the high-quality prairie is located we have created momentum the last few years and expect to continue with more improvements at this unique and special site.

—Michael Hansen, land care manager