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BADGER

insider

Tree Huggers
Badgers love the greenery
in the UW’s scenery.
Plus, the Arboretum: 80 years of burning and learning.

The Magazine for Wisconsin Alumni Association® Members Summer 2014
BADGER

insider
Paula Bonner MS’78
WAA President, Publisher
Mary DeNiro MBA’11
Chief Engagement Officer
Jim Kennedy The UW loves its natural areas — unnatural as they may be.
Senior Managing Director,
Marketing and Communications
Kate Dixon ’01, MA’07
Of the 936 acres of area on central campus, 325 of them are classified as natural
Managing Director, areas. These include Muir Woods, the Lakeshore Path, the Class of 1918 Marsh,
Communications
John Allen
Picnic Point, University Bay, Frautschi Point, the North Shore Woods, Eagle
Editor Heights, and the Lake Mendota Footpath. Then there’s the UW Arboretum, which
Colleen O’Hara
Art Director
adds up to 1,262 acres more. That totals 1,587 acres of parkland out of the 2,198 that
Sandra Knisely ’09, MA’13 the UW owns in Madison: 72 percent of the land area on campus.
Assistant Editor
Paula Apfelbach ’83
But as you’ll see in “Trial by Fire,” it isn’t easy to take care of the UW’s natural
Editorial Assistant spaces — and it’s not a task the university leaves entirely up to nature. That article
Brian Klatt
Senior Writer
discusses efforts to tame the prairie through the art of external combustion. And the
Arb is hardly the only campus “natural” area that has relied on human intervention.
Notes are the second-most-
Take Picnic Point, the wooded peninsula below Eagle Heights on the far west side
popular thing to find in a stein. of campus. Seventy years ago, it was a farm and orchard. The UW purchased the land in
Beer is number one. When was
beer first sold in the Memorial
1941. University officials talk about the Native American burial mounds that dot this
Union? bit of land, but other, less ancient things are buried there, as well. The UW has interred
A) 1908
B) 1928
the carcasses of a giraffe, an elephant, and a rhino there. And in summers, an anthro-
C) 1933 pology class has met on the Point to study how to make stone tools. Students chip
D) 1943 away at flint rocks to make axes and arrowheads, then discard their work in a heap, for
Email Insider@uwalumni.com future archaeology students to unearth while studying excavation techniques.
for the answer. So next time you’re in a campus natural area, keep your eyes open — there’s a lot
Wisconsin Alumni Association going on beyond nature.
650 North Lake Street
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 262-2551 On, Wisconsin!
Fax (608) 262-3332
Toll-free (888) 947-2586 John Allen
(WIS-ALUM)
Email: WAA@uwalumni.com
Editor
Website: uwalumni.com

Alumni Address Changes
Toll-free (888) 947-2586, or email
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© 2014 Wisconsin Alumni
Association
Badger Insider is published
triannually as the community
forum for the members of the
Wisconsin Alumni Association.
For information on membership,
visit uwalumni.com.
Cover photo by C&N Photogra-
10 It’s Our Nature 15 Stein Capsules 16 Trial by Fire
phy. Special thanks to the UW The UW’s school colors may For thirty years, student Sometimes, the best way to
Arboretum for hosting our shoot,
even though six-and-a-half- be red and white, but campus employees at the Stiftskeller protect something ancient is to
foot-tall, bipedal badgers are a is suffused with green. have quietly kept a tradition burn it to the ground. The UW
non-native (not to say fictitious) Readers share their favorite alive. We’re blowing the lid off Arboretum is celebrating eighty
species. natural spots. the secret of the Union steins. years of prairie restoration.
by Badger Readers Ask Abe by Sandra Knisely ’09, MA’13
Badger Insider is produced at a
facility that contains nuts.

Departments
4 Badgering 14 Bucky’s Wardrobe 23 Badger Pride Find more about these
stories and past Bucky’s
6 Badger Notes 22 Badger Families 28 In Memoriam Wardrobe outfits at
uwalumni.com/insider.
Trial by Fire
For eighty years, the UW Arboretum has blazed new trails
in prairie restoration — by Sandra Knisely ’09, MA’13

To the casual observer, Curtis Prairie is a peaceful place. The central (and
original) land tract at the UW Arboretum is a seventy-three-acre oasis for
tall grasses and the wildflowers tucked among them — species that have been
growing on Wisconsin prairies since the Ice Age.
Yet the chirping birds and sweeping grasses conceal a warzone. For more
than a century, native plants have been under siege, and sometimes the best,
and only, way to protect these ancient inhabitants from their creeping enemies
is to burn them all.

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Dawn breaks over the UW Arboretum.
JEFF MILLER, UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS

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T
his year marks the UW Arboretum’s eightieth anniversary.
One of the lasting scientific contributions from the country’s
first restored prairie is a series of experiments showing that
controlled burning is absolutely essential for helping
native plant life to survive.
However, even though prairie plants
“We only have one-tenth of 1 percent of native prairie left in
can do things like grow fire-resistant
Wisconsin,” says Arboretum ecologist Brad Herrick. “It’s a vital bark or germinate in scorched soil, they
resource that is very rare, and people are understanding more and were unable to cope with the rapid land-
more that once these communities are gone, they’re gone forever.” scape changes wrought by agriculture.
By the early 1930s, the land that is now
Though modern Arboretum land managers and volunteers know
Curtis Prairie was an abandoned farm
much more than their predecessors about how to use fire for overrun by Kentucky bluegrass, an
conservation, they also face an increasing number of man-made invasive, non-native plant used for
barriers to burning — and native species could end up in the crossfire. livestock grazing and often found in lawn
and turf mixes. The bluegrass roots had
turned the soil into a dense sod that had
An ecosystem in ashes and animals. Fire is one of the most
fundamental of these processes, and
all but choked out the native plants.
When the UW acquired the field in
Arboretum researchers believe that many prairie species have evolved to 1934 to establish the Arboretum, no one
certain natural processes are as much a thrive in an environment that regularly — not even founding director and famed
part of the prairie ecosystem as are plants experiences large, intense wildfires. conservationist Aldo Leopold — quite

Volunteers complete entry-level firefighting training and wear fire-retardant outfits during burns.

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knew what to do with it. Over the course decrease the abundance of Kentucky Burn practices remained fairly
of the next decade, Arboretum leaders bluegrass, which allowed native species unchanged until the 1980s, when a new
began to transplant native sod from other to better compete and even take hold invader swept into Curtis Prairie. White
Midwest prairie remnants and to dabble in certain areas of Curtis Prairie. After sweet clover, a biennial legume, was
with controlled-burning techniques. the paper, fire became a core tool for proliferating, and it had fire to thank in
Prior to European settlement, American generations of Arboretum researchers part for its success: early spring burns
Indians had regularly burned prairie in and land-care managers. They burned the always missed the clover blooms.
the area, and conservationists suspected prairie regularly at the beginning of each Botany professor and long-time
that native plants just needed a little spring and later carried the practice to conservation advocate Virginia Kline ’47,
room to “breathe” and bounce back. additional land acquisitions. MS’75, PhD’76 decided it was time to
In 1948, plant ecology professor John “A lot of what’s known about fire mix things up. She found that alternat-
T. Curtis, the prairie’s eventual namesake, started here,” says Herrick. “Anyone who ing the schedule to burn in early spring
and Max Partch PhD’49 published the utilizes burning in their management has one year and in late spring the next made
first scientific paper to directly attribute a been indirectly impacted by the studies a major dent in the abundance of sweet
reduction in an invasive-species popula- that happened here. Even if they don’t clover. In the first year, the fire stimulated
tion to controlled burning. In this case, know the research was done [at the germination, depleting the seed bank in
the researchers were able to significantly UW], they’re benefiting.” the soil. In the second year, the fire killed

BRYCE RICHTER (2), UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS

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off the flowering plants before they could if the test goes as planned, the team will Reed canary grass is a particularly
seed again. split into two groups of three or four. aggressive species. It seems to benefit from
“If you burn the same way over and They’ll light the fire downwind and move the open spaces created by fire, so land
over, decade after decade, a fire will start it slowly into the wind, with each group managers have had to turn to other
to help certain plants and harm certain moving in opposite directions around the strategies to control it, with limited
plants,” says Michael Hansen, the burn land. success.
Arboretum land manager who heads the Every member of the crew carries a But Hansen, Herrick, and their
fire crew and oversees every burn. “If you backpack filled with water that is sprayed colleagues are far from surrender in
mix it up, then your actions are having a to guide the fire along its intended path. their ongoing war against native and
more diverse effect. You’ll favor and harm By the time the fire makes it to the op- non-native invasives. They are currently
a different suite of species.” posite side of the land unit, it’s typically exploring plans to try burning during the
small enough to be put out simply by summer months. Though the logistical
stepping on it. challenges of burning during the hottest
No job for blue jeans time of the year are substantial, they
anticipate that burning during growing
For Hansen, a successful fire is, quite
simply, a safe fire — a concept that has Flames against a flood season could kill off significant numbers
evolved gradually at the Arboretum. Hansen bears the responsibility of of invaders.
“In the early pictures, the people keeping a long-time Arboretum practice
doing fires were usually university
researchers, wearing what they wore to
alive, but unpredictable weather isn’t his
only obstacle — there’s also bureaucracy. A canary with petals
teach class, or women in dresses,” he “I got into this line of work to protect One of the Arboretum’s core goals is to
says. “Even more recently, maybe from the plants and animals that need land maintain species diversity and, where
the ’70s, ’80s, or early ’90s, you would set aside and actively managed to protect possible, to expand it. But for Herrick,
see them wearing flannel shirts and blue them,” Hansen says. “I know fire is only biodiversity is more than a research
jeans. No gloves, no helmet. You would going to get harder to use as a tool to agenda. It’s an ethical imperative.
never see that today.” restore land. I realize I have to do a good “I think we have a moral obligation
Today’s fire crew is composed of job, do it safely, and be an advocate so that on some level,” he says. “Who are we
approximately eight Arboretum staff and [fire] can continue to be used.” to do things that would make or allow
select volunteers who have completed Curtis Prairie is surrounded on all these plants to go extinct? We don’t fully
entry-level firefighting training. They sides by signs of urban life, as its borders understand what we have yet [to know]
wear special outfits, comlete with fire- are close to hospitals, schools, public what we are losing.”
retardant pants and shirts, eye parks, and several homes. The Beltline, a Preserving the right balance of
equipment, and gloves. major highway, slices through its middle. species is an ongoing challenge for
The general burn seasons run from This tricky location means that Hansen Arboretum staff, but the presence of a
late fall until it snows and again in has to look at a complex menu of factors particular — and very popular — plant
spring, usually from April to May. The before even scheduling a burn. family indicates that their efforts are
crew tries to get in as many burns as Each year the Arboretum receives making a difference.
possible, but some seasons, such as the a permit from the city, which specifies a In 1938 the Wisconsin State Journal
overly wet spring of 2013, conditions narrow range of temperatures, humidity published a scathing letter by Leopold
never allowed for even a single fire. levels, wind speeds, and wind directions addressed to an anonymous wildflower
Hansen and his colleagues write during which a burn can take place. For enthusiast who appeared to have dug up
up burn plans months in advance with instance, Hansen’s team can’t burn with the Arboretum’s last remaining yellow
clearly outlined objectives for each fire. any sort of north wind, which would lady’s-slipper orchid.
Then they wait for the weather to drive smoke in the direction of the “The University of Wisconsin has
cooperate. If a good forecast holds true thousands of cars on the Beltline. got the notion, perhaps a foolish one,
on the morning of a scheduled burn, In addition to the rules, urban that the privilege of seeing a ladyslipper
Hansen will go through a checklist and structures also complicate burn practices. [sic] in the woods has got something to
make sure firebreaks are in place. These Three storm sewers from Madison-area do with education,” Leopold wrote. “For
are either natural features, such as water suburbs drain into Curtis Prairie, carrying this reason, it is acquiring an arboretum
courses, or man-made elements, such as in outside soils and excess nutrients. … Perhaps, after all, our students would
roads or strips of razed land. Further, runoff keeps the ground wetter learn a lot if we took them out there and
The team will then test a small than it would be naturally. In fact, some said: ‘Here is where we used to have a
portion of land to make sure the fire acres in the nearby, smaller Greene ladyslipper.’ ”
behaves as expected. If the flames are Prairie are now so saturated that wetland The Arboretum’s orchids continue
bigger than the crew anticipates or the vegetation is taking hold, and it’s begun to evoke strong public interest — and
wind shifts, they must reschedule. But spreading to Curtis Prairie. the protective instincts of its scientists.

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Several small orchid populations can be directs the Wisconsin State Herbarium as the tropical varieties depicted in movies
found on Arboretum lands. However, to and runs a lab at the UW that is dedicated and books. Unlike those tree-dwelling
prevent wildlife vandalism, staff members to orchid biology. cousins, Wisconsin orchids grow on the
are careful not to publicize their exact In a recent survey of orchid ground, and fire is an important element
locations. The definitive guidebook to populations across Wisconsin, Cameron for encouraging their growth. Many species
plant life in the Arboretum, Prairie and his graduate students found that are short but need direct sunlight, so they
Plants of the University of Wisconsin Dane County is home to around thirty benefit from periodic burns that clear off
Arboretum, lists six orchid species as being species, making it the fifth most diverse surrounding, taller plant life.
present, including the eastern prairie county in the state. He says preserved Because they are so delicate, the
fringed orchid, a flower as fragile as land areas serve as refuges for the flowers. presence of orchids at all is taken as a
the snowflakes its flared, white petals “There is just so little native prairie sign of a balanced ecosystem. Cameron
resemble. The orchid was once a common left in North America that these orchids says that these flowers often serve as
sight on Midwest prairies but is now on are barely hanging on,” Cameron says. “the canary in the coal mine” in terms of
the federal threatened-species list. In “We’re fortunate that in Dane County, gauging the health of their environment.
2005, only a single specimen was found we have quite a lot of protected land “Orchids tie together this web of
in the Arboretum’s Greene Prairie. [managed by the Arboretum] that gives life,” he says. “They need fungi, insects
Wisconsin is home to almost fifty more places for these orchids to grow.” and other plants around them to create
orchid species. That may seem like a Native orchids are a finicky bunch an ecosystem. Break that web and it
lot, but orchidaceae is actually one of the overall. They are dependent on fungi in the collapses — it can’t survive. We can’t
largest plant families in the world, with ground to help them obtain nutrition from protect the species without protecting
around 25,000 species. The incredible the poor soils they typically inhabit. That’s the whole ecosystem.”
diversity of orchidaceae has inspired partly why digging up and transplanting
generations of researchers interested in orchids often dooms them; they can’t Sandra Knisely ’09, MA’13 probably
plant diversity, from Charles Darwin to survive for long without the fungi nearby. shouldn’t be allowed to manage a candle,
Ken Cameron, a botany professor who In general, prairie orchids aren’t as showy much less a wildfire.

IISTOCK PHOTO

An orchid species native to Wisconsin, the yellow lady’s-slipper blooms during morel mushroom season. Hikers may discover them while exploring woods and fields.

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