Grasslands, also known as prairies, are areas mostly devoid of trees and shrubs where a variety of grasses and herbaceous plants thrive. Grasslands depend upon fire to keep trees and shrubs from reclaiming the land. These areas support a variety of unique species that prefer flat, open spaces over forest. In Central Wisconsin, one of the rarest and best known species that calls the grasslands home is the Greater Prairie Chicken.
History of Our Grasslands
Prior to European settlement, the great tallgrass prairies covered much of Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, transitioning to forest east of the Mississippi River and north of the Wisconsin River. When Central Wisconsin was settled in the early 19th century, much of the area was dominated by tamarack and spruce swamps. As loggers cleared the southern half of the state, the prairie and its dependents spread north into the newly cleared area. Wetlands were channeled and drained for agriculture, but the poor soil proved unproductive and many fields were abandoned. As the prairies to the south were rapidly converted to intensive farming, Central Wisconsin became a stronghold for the Greater Prairie Chicken and other grassland species. Today, we manage these areas carefully to provide proper habitat for these species and to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the beauty and awe of the prairies that their grandparents and great-grandparents experienced when they settled here.
The Grasslands Today
A partnership has been formed to educate people about the need for grasslands and how we can keep working lands productive while providing habitat for the Greater Prairie Chicken. Golden Sands RC&D is home to the Central Wisconsin Grasslands Conservation Area. This several thousand-acre area represents a partnership between state and local entities that helps to ensure that the species dependent upon the grasslands will always have a place to live. This goal is attained in many ways: public outreach, research, communication, education and land acquisition.
CWGCA Partnership Newsletters