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Student Stewardship Projects
Courses at UW-Madison regularly bring students to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve for instruction in a wide variety of fields. Among the most exciting of these instructional uses are classes that give students direct experience with the complicated challenges associated with stewardship and ecological restoration. In these cases, students perform work and research that not only contributes to their own educations, but to the real-world care and management of the Preserve.
Managing human impacts
Because the Preserve is a very public natural area attached to a great university, there is no way we could possibly justify trying to exclude people from exploring and experiencing the habitats and organisms and human experiences it offers. But the very fact that the Preserve is an urban ecosystem receiving heavy human visitation and use means that some of the most interesting stewardship challenges associated with its care have to do with managing the human impacts that result directly from its mission.
Ironically, even the act of bringing classes into Preserve ecosystems entails impacts— erosion, soil compaction, transport of invasive species, threats to fragile organisms, and so on—that require careful management and stewardship. To realize that one's own presence in the place one is studying is itself a threat to that place is a profoundly important lesson in its own right.
Muir Woods and the Lakeshore Path
Some of the most interesting educational stewardship projects in the Preserve have given students the chance to mitigate impacts caused at least in part by past student use. In Muir Woods, for instance, students have been creating a management grid system, rerouting trails, installing cribbing to stop erosion, and building a bridge over an eroded area to protect the area for replanting.
Along the Lakeshore Path, students have made a view opening that is protected from the effects of water and ice action by restoring the shoreline using geotextiles and plantings of savanna and prairie plants. Additional restorations along the path will increase open beautiful views of the lake while simultaneously restoring habitat diversity and stabilizing the shoreline.
The Biocore projects
The Biology Core Curriculum (Biocore) Prairie continues as one of the Preserve's earliest and best examples of an academic program implementing restoration in partnership with other campus units. The first good prescribed burn in the prairie was successfully carried out in spring 2006. Preserve stewards are beginning to plan for additional fire-managed restorations, including oak woodlands, by inventorying and mapping of existent oak trees, and these projects can build on the example of Biocore to offer new educational opportunities as well.
The Biocore Bird Banding Observatory, initiated and managed by Volunteer Mara McDonald, celebrated five years of operation in Fall 2006. This important data collection compares the changing birds of Biocore Prairie with the birds of the old field to the south of the prairie. Data from the Observatory can be viewed on the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve website in addition to other extensive information provided on the Friends' website by Roma Lenehan and others on birds of the Preserve.
And more projects
The Bill's Woods projects, led and supported by the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve but often involving student employees and volunteers, have transformed a former compost area of gravel and weeds to a savanna and have significantly reduced erosion on the hillside. They have initiated extensive native plant enhancement of the woods and are beginning experiments in buckthorn control.
The soil pits of Bill's Woods have been used by Geography, Soil Science, and Geology classes for half a century. Few other universities have similar soil pits right on campus for classroom use. Soil Science students are now working to restore the pits to make them more sustainable. The students are also routing a trail to the pits through the restoration projects of Bill's Woods.
In sum, the Preserve is a great place for students to combine what they learn in the classroom with direct hands-on experience with the actual work of stewardship. Students interested in getting involved with the Preserve should think about taking courses relating to the Preserve or joining one of the several student groups that regularly do work in the Preserve. Teachers interested in thinking about integrating the Preserve into their course syllabi and assignments should consult the Courses web page elsewhere on this site.