The Fen at Scuppernong Springs

I always thought the Scuppernong Springs was a jewel — a “World Class” site —  as retired DNR Naturalist Ron Kurowski would say.  When I discovered back in July, 2012 that the Scuppernong River Area was one of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association‘s “Wetland Gems“, I reached out to them for some advice.  WWA Executive Director Tracy Hames, newly arrrived from his previous position as head of the Yakama Nation’s Waterfowl Program, responded quickly and we soon had a date set for his first visit to The Springs.  Here is the interview I captured with Tracy back in August 2012 — his love and passion for wetlands is inspiring!  We’ve stayed in touch since that first visit and Tracy recently brought the entire WWA staff to check out The Springs.


Kyle, Jake, Erin, Chelsea, Tod, Tracy and Katie

Tracy had just let me know that I would be one of the recipients of the 2016 Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Wetlands Award.  I don’t volunteer my time and energy to try and garner any awards — it’s how I escape the reality of a world gone mad — but I’m proud to have received this honor from the WWA and I invite you to the celebration:

Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Wetlands Awards recognize individuals and groups whose work advances our tri-fold mission – the protection, restoration and enjoyment of Wisconsin’s wetlands and related ecosystems.

Wetlands Awards celebration information:

November 10, 2016
UW Madison Arboretum
1207 Seminole Hwy, Madison, WI

Tickets $40/person
Event includes a buffet dinner and cash bar.
Get your tickets today by calling (608) 250-9971. RSVPs required by November 3rd.

I’ll be sharing the spotlight with:

The Friends of the La Crosse River Marsh

And the Oneida Nation.  oneida-indian-nation-big-logo

Of course I couldn’t have done it without the love, support and excellent nomination of Pati Holman.  The Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited chapter deserves credit for all the work they’ve done on the Scuppernong River.  And the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association has long played a key role in the rehabilitation of the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, partly by their financial support for The Buckthorn Man.  And, I’m practicing my speech here, thanks to all the friends who have helped me at The Springs, especially Lindsay Knudsvig and Ben Johnson.  I hope to see you at the Arboretum!

Biodiversity is one of the distinguishing features of the Scuppernong Springs and in the past month I have been working in the fen area shown approximately in blue on the map below.


I’ve been noticing a proliferation of tight groups of glossy buckthorn, which I’m guessing metatasized from batches of finely seasonsed seeds deposited via deer feces.  They consist of as many as 20 individual stalks that have reached a height of around 10-12′ growing from little mounds.   The understory is a carpet of 2″ buckthorn seedlings ready to take advantage of the sunlight.  Deer must love this place as their beds are everywhere.  When you stand on the marl pit bridge and look southeast into this area you can see the encroaching buckthorn.


The bunches of glossy buckthorn look like green snowcones in front of the wall of tall trees in the background.

I am trying to nip this onslaught in the bud with my brushcutter; in another couple years, it will take a chainsaw, and in a decade, the fen will be completely covered.  But I am learning that, unless you can control the schedule of the application of prescribed burns, you are creating more problems than you solve by opening up the canopy to a carpet of buckthorn seedlings.  Thus, I will be applying a foliar spray of Aquaneat to the glossy buckthorn carpet to prevent another thicket emerging — I’m making an exception to save the fen.

The last prescribed burn at The Springs was back in May, 2013 and we really need another one to put a check on the buckthorn seedlings and resprouts.  I’ve been busy in the past month mowing and treating buckthorn seedlings and resprouts in many different areas.  These young trees are wasting no time in producing seeds and it gives me a little angst to walk the trails and see the buckthorn resurging in all of the areas where we cleared the big buckthorn.  My strategy of mowing and treating, rather than foliar spraying, is not working very well absent prescribed fire.  I’m doing the best I can to keep up with the resprouts and I think I may forego cutting anymore big buckthorn at the Scuppernong Springs until I get the buckthorn seedlings and resprouts under control in the areas already cleared.

The areas marked in red on the map below show where I have been brushcutting.


I had an excellent workday at the Hartland Marsh with help from the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter of the Ice Age trail, students from Arrowhead High School, and the Friends of the Hartland Marsh.  Our next workday at The Marsh is November 5th; we’ll be working on the John Muir Island.


I’ve been brushcutting buckthorn seedlings and resprouts at the Waukesha County Land Conservancy‘s property at the Hartland Marsh as well, and recently did some infrastructure support work on the Bark River bridge there.

img_2516Back in the summer of 2010 we had a major rainfall event, and the water rose so high in the Bark River that it lifted the bridge, shown above, off it’s supports and left it pointing downstream — hanging onto the bank by a corner.  Mike Fort and I swam and waded into the river and guided the bridge back over to its original position.  It felt miraculous!  A month or two ago I noticed that one of the support posts had shifted and was barely carrying any load.

img_2536My first attempt to fix it was not quite right as I lifted it completely off its partner support.


I repositioned it to distribute the load to both supports and its a little better now than when I started, but this needs work.  I would hate to loose that bridge!

img_2585My plan for the next few months, or as long into the winter as I can do it, is to concentrate on buckthorn seedlings and resprouts.  I have a new camera and plan to break it out soon.  In the meantime, here are a few parting shots courtesy of my iPhone.

See you at The Springs!

2 thoughts on “The Fen at Scuppernong Springs

  1. Congratulations on the Wetlands Award Paul! While we know you don’t do the work expecting to be recognized, we are excited that this is happening in your honor. We are proud of all your hard work and the real difference you have made and continue to make for our wetlands.! Cathy & Tom Bobbe


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