The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently opened draft management plans for 10 State Natural Areas to public comment, including Trenton Bluff Prairie and Morgan Coulee Prairie in Pierce County and Maiden Rock Bluff in Pepin County.
According to a DNR press release, draft management plans (for rare natural communities including bluff prairies and oak savannas) are required for DNR properties to help guide management and development.
The 10 properties are considered “Tier 3” sites due to their smaller size and lack of infrastructure. Most only contain walking trails and a parking area. The DNR website describes Tier 3 properties as “small, more single focus properties, like natural areas, wildlife and fishery remnant areas, scattered boat access sites or administrative facilities.”
“These plans help guide the department to ensure consistent management over time,” said Matt Zine, DNR conservation biologist. “They are particularly important for prairie and oak savannas, since they require active hands-on management. Prescribed burns, invasive species control, and in many instances timber harvests are necessary to restore and maintain these unique communities over time.”
The 10 State Natural Area properties’ draft management plans that were open for public comment total 2,380 acres located in Crawford, Grant, Lafayette, Pepin, Pierce and Vernon counties. They were grouped together by their predominant community type of bluff prairie/oak savanna. The plans include information on current conditions, recreational opportunities, property and acquisition boundaries, habitat and natural community types, habitat management prescriptions and motorized road inventories.
The purpose of the SNAs is to protect areas of native Wisconsin landscape, geological formations and archaeological sites.
“Natural areas are valuable for research and educational use, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity and for providing ecological benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands. They also provide habitat for rare, nongame and game species,” says a description on the DNR website.
Trenton Bluff Prairie
Trenton Bluff Prairie is described as two separate dry prairies on steep Mississippi River sandstone bluffs topped by limestone cliffs.
The DNR website describes them as “some of the best prairie remaining in the region.”
The western portion has two prairie openings separated by a wooded draw while the eastern part “is much steeper and contains open cliff grading quickly into shrubby oak woods.”
The bluff summit is about 300 feet above the flat, sandy river terrace below with vertical cliffs exposing the bedrock layers showing dolomite limestone atop the basal sandstone.
Dominant grasses include Indian grass, little bluestem, big blue-stem, side-oats grama, and needle grass.
No facilities or amenities exist on the site; none are planned for the future. Primary public uses for Trenton Bluff Prairie are hiking, fishing, skiing, hunting, trapping, scientific research, wild edibles collection and wildlife viewing.
The goal for this property, which has no changes currently proposed, is to manage the site as a reserve for dry prairie, dry cliff and oak opening, and as an ecological reference area. The parcel totals 114 fee acres.
Morgan Coulee Prairie
Morgan Coulee Prairie (totalling 58 fee acres) is the second largest dry prairie in the west central region, extending for over a half-mile along a steep, south-facing bluff in a coulee opening onto the Rush River valley.
The plan description reads:
“The relatively undisturbed dry prairie is dotted with scattered areas of bur oak savanna dominated by open grown, gnarly oaks and shallow wooded draws. Limestone outcrops are scattered about the area and support a community of lichens and ferns. Dominant grasses include big and little blue-stem, side-oats and hairy grama, Indian grass, needle grass, prairie drop-seed, and several muhly grasses. The forbs are equally diverse, highlighted by showy species such as asters, milkweeds, white and purple prairie-clover, blazing-star, Great Plains lady’s-tresses, and prairie larkspur. Wild bergamot, bastard-toadflax, and western sunflower are found under the oaks. The prairie also harbors two rare plant species: yellow evening primrose and prairie thistle. Much of the prairie is remarkably free of shrubs; those present include hazelnut, bittersweet, smooth sumac, and dogwoods. At the bluff is a southern dry oak forest. Animal species of concern include eastern bluebird, field sparrow, and Reakert’s blue butterfly.”
Morgan Coulee Prairie was designated a State Natural Area in 1986.
There are no facilities or amenities nor are any planned for this area. The goals and public uses listed above for Trenton are the same for Morgan Coulee.
Maiden Rock Bluff
The management plan description of Maiden Rock Bluff reads:
“…protects one of Wisconsin’s most notable limestone cliff faces on a bluff high above the Mississippi River overlooking Lake Pepin. Extending for nearly a mile, the 400-foot high bluff is especially noteworthy for the presence of nesting peregrine falcons, a state-endangered species. The cliff is one of only six bluffs on the Mississippi River where peregrines are successfully nesting on natural substrate. Representative cliff species include red cedar aged at 250 years of age, hairbell, slender lip fern, smooth cliff brake, slender cliff brake, white-flowered leaf-cup, and plains muhly grass.
“The open cliff and adjacent narrow band of dry prairie provide habitat for several rare plant species including cliff goldenrod, dragon wormwood, and prairie sagebrush.
“Many dry prairie species are also present including little bluestem, wild bergamot, columbine, leadplant, mountain mint, alumroot, pasqueflower and silky aster. Larger blocks of restorable oak savanna are found on the deep soils of the lower slopes and support such species as arrow-leaved aster, zigzag goldenrod, bare-stemmed tick-trefoil, round-leaved shinleaf, sweet cicely, and wild yam. The rocky bluff provides hunting perches and habitat for a variety of other raptors including gyrfalcon, golden eagle, bald eagle, and turkey vulture. Situated along the Mississippi River flyway, an important migration corridor for raptors and neotropical songbirds, protection of Maiden Rock Bluff will also provide important habitat for other migrating birds.” Maiden Rock Bluff was designated a State Natural Area in 2004.
The draft management plans being open to public comment were people’s opportunity to say what they do and don’t like about the SNAs, if any changes should be made, etc., said Zine.
Most public comments seemed to be favorable about the three SNAs in the Pierce/Pepin area.
For more information and to see the plans and comments in their entirety, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Lands/MasterPlanning/tier3.html.