A Rare Degree of Commitment for a Rare Plant
Gary and Penny Shackelford and John Van Altena and Constance Brouillette are neighbors living in northern Rock County. Their combined properties provide critical habitat for the federally threatened and state-endangered eastern prairie white fringed orchid.
Perhaps more rare and significant than the orchid, is the degree of commitment these couples have for saving the species. Since 1997, they have marked and monitored individual plants to learn more about the plant’s life history. Together, they have conducted research to learn the best land management practices to enhance the conditions that benefit this plant. They followed up with intensive management work that included focusing on reducing impacts of white-tail deer and invasive species on the orchids.
Because of these efforts there have been increased habitat and numbers of rare orchids at other sites. The direct results of all of their on-the-ground work and research has shown that eastern prairie white fringed orchid numbers could be increased with a multi-pronged management approach that includes removing invasive species, conducting prescribed burns, protecting individual orchids from deer by using cages, and reducing local deer numbers.
John Van Altena also developed the idea of moving individual plants to suitable habitat to establish new populations, and he has found this practice to be successful. The US Fish and Wildlife Service Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid Recovery Team has used this information to help other private landowners with orchid habitat increase their orchid numbers.
In 2004, Penny and Gary donated their conservation easement to the Wisconsin DNR. This land is now designated as the Fair Meadows State Natural Area, a privately held preserve of almost 300 acres, greatly enhancing its conservation significance in perpetuity. This natural area consists of a diverse mixture of restored and planted prairies, oak woodlands, oak savannas, lowland hardwood swamp, marsh, spring-fed ponds and streams, sedge meadow, shrub-carr, and large wetlands complex.
In 2013, 62 acres of John and Connie’s property was designated a privately owned state natural area with the Wisconsin DNR as Koshkonong Corners State Natural Area. Koshkonong Corners also supports a diversity of natural communities including oak savanna, southern sedge meadow, wet-mesic prairie, and southern hardwood swamp, all contiguous with the nearby lake floodplain.
Because of these varied habitats, the area contains a large variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants. In addition to the eastern prairie white fringed orchid, other notable species include the state-threatened purple milkweed and cerulean warbler, as well as successful nesting populations of the state-threatened osprey; a total of 176 bird species have been identified there.
These couples credit partners and collaborators for the success of their restoration, including advice, grants and funding from the Wisconsin DNR, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Madison Audubon Society, Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Prairie Enthusiasts, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Lake Koshkonong Wetland Association, and the Rock Koshkonong Lake District.
They also cite the important assistance and support they received from Craig Annen, Research Director with Integrated Restorations and Sandy Peterson, retired Endangered Species Habitat Program Manager of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.