Wild Refuge

Wild Refuge

The skies over South Africa were surprisingly natural, absent the chemtrail/contrail graffiti that mars our views here in the states.  The spin of the earth feels different; when facing north, the sun and moon rise before you on your right and set on your left.  The southern cross replaces the big dipper as the key directional landmark in the night sky.  You’re closer to the ozone hole and the sun can burn you very quickly.


I’m glad I got a chance to see a little bit of it thanks to Pati’s work with special needs children.  We stayed and worked in a quiet suburb of Johannesburg across the street from the Botanical Gardens, where all the homes are surrounded by 8′ walls topped with razor wire and electric fence.  Pati booked a safari at the Pilanesberg National Park and we stayed at the Shepherd’s Tree Game Lodge.   I’m a student of history and the legacy of Cecil Rhodes and the British Empire was always on my mind as I soaked in the sites and sounds of this complex country.

When we got home, Pati and I went on a little safari of our own at the Ottawa Wildlife Refuge.  This is one of the gems owned by the Waukesha Land Conservancy and it encompasses restored prairies, wetlands and mature oak woodlands.  We parked at the entrance on Hwy ZC and walked the yellow two-track trail to explore the landscape.

Ottawa Wildlife Refuge- trails

There were three substantial trees down across the trail and The Buckthorn Man volunteered to clear them out the very next day.

Time flies and its already been a week since my first workday back at The Springs.  People say that the sap is running and it’s too late to cut buckthorn because the stump poison won’t do it’s job, but I don’t care — I’ll cut them again if need be.  There were a couple patches of buckthorn right below Hwy 67, just off the northeast end of the loop trail, that have been bugging me for a long time, and I got to work on them.  It was great to be back in the Kettle Moraine doing what I love.  Here are a couple of before and after shots, but it is admittedly pretty hard to see the differences.

I quit early and got in my first bath of the year in the Scuppernong River and did a little yoga on the marl pit bridge to boot.

Saturday, April 16, was the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association‘s Annual meeting.  Lindsay joined Pati and I and it was good to see everyone.  The highlight of the event was Dr. Todd Levine‘s presentation entitled: “The Surprising Natural History of the Freshwater Mussels of Southeast Wisconsin”.  Dr. Levine is passionate about mussels and I was too by the time he was done.  He had some incredible videos of mussels doing their thing to attract fish.  They lure the fish into biting into them, or, alternatively, they clamp onto them for the purpose of depositing their eggs in the gills of the fish.  The eggs mature in the gills of their surrogate parent for a few weeks before releasing into the world on their own — a truly remarkable life cycle.


Mussel with fish lure lips

It’s good to be home!

See you at The Springs.

The Secrets of Bluff Creek West

The Secrets of Bluff Creek West

Thanks for following the adventures of The Buckthorn Man!  I’ve been keeping a relatively low profile lately compared to the borderline compulsive level of activity seen in the past, but my head is always in the game.  I want to thank all of you who have contributed financially to support my efforts — it means a lot to me!  And thanks to all of the volunteers who share my passion for preserving our beautiful Kettle Moraine landscape.

Pati and I took some time off from preparing for our trip to South Africa to visit a good friend up in Gurney Wisconsin.  The waterfalls on the Potato River (on the left below) and the Black River (on the right) were spectacularly scenic.

UpNorthWaterFallsI memorialized the trip with pictures and video accompanied by the sparkling brilliance of Jimi Hendrix’s May This Be Love.

Last Saturday I joined the Southern Kettle Moraine State Natural Areas Volunteers at the Bluff Creek West SNA for the last brush cutting workday of the winter season.  I stopped at the Scuppernong Springs to get some drinking water on the way there.


State Natural Areas Program

SNA Program logo State natural areas (SNAs) protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin’s native landscape of natural communities, significant geological formations and archeological sites. Encompassing over 380,000 acres, Wisconsin’s 675 natural areas are valuable for research and educational use, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity and for providing benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands. They also provide some of the last refuges for rare plants and animals.

The Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation is responsible for managing the SNAs.

Natural Heritage Conservation staff work with citizens, private landowners and businesses to track, assess and manage nongame species; provide regulatory protection to endangered and threatened species; manage State Natural Areas to preserve the best remnants of Wisconsin’s original landscapes; and consult with other DNR partners and private landowners to help them manage their land to help maintain Wisconsin’s unique plants and animals and special places.

The program sounds great, and it is, the problem is that it is woefully underfunded.  It’s akin to a fire department showing up at raging fire with hand pumps and backpack sprayers — it’s just not enough!  The Natural Heritage Conservation program’s 2015 annual report shows a budget of approximately $5.5 million.  I made the case during my acceptance speech last year at the Wisconsin Invasive Species Council‘s “Invader Crusader Award” that shortchanging our Natural Heritage is unconscionable.

How do we persuade the powers that shouldn’t be to reallocate funds from the military-security-industrial complex to protecting our natural resources?

My frustration with the current state of affairs boiled over at the start of the Bluff Creek West workday when The Buckthorn Man let loose a mini-rant.  I hope my outburst did not ruin the day for all of the volunteers present.


Jared Urban, DNR Conservation Biologist, explains the goals of the workday.

IMG_7725 Jared started with an overview explaining that we would divide into three teams to cut, treat and pile buckthorn.

BluffCreekWestWorkdayThen he gave an excellent explanation of calcareous fens and why it was important to remove invasive species from the area.   He showed us two maps: one with the locations of rare plants and the other with locations of rare animals.  I love maps and asked if he would send us copies of the maps with the intention of posting them here.  Jared, replied that “no”, the public was not allowed access to this information.  The reason given was that people would use the information to plunder the rare plants and animals, and an example of an orchid thief selling his stolen plants at a farmer’s market was provided.

OK, let me get this straight.  The government uses money it taxes from us to acquire public lands.  It designates federal land, and land it acquired from the federal government when it was incorporated into a state — lands that were stolen from the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas — as National Forests, State Forests, State Parks and Natural Areas.  It adds to it’s bounty lands donated by private individuals, conservancies and county government lands.  Altogether, these public lands, “the commons”, comprise 5.7 million of the 34.8 million acres of land in the State of Wisconsin.  These public lands, especially the 675 State Natural Areas, contain rare plants and animals but The State doesn’t trust the people with specific information about their locations.

Maybe that is why our SNA program is underfunded.  People are not educated and exposed to the beauty of the rare plants and animals in the state.  They don’t understand the threats they are under because they have never seen them in their natural settings to appreciate their beauty and what it takes to preserve them.  I asked the gathering if anyone saw a problem with The State keeping the locations of the rare plants and animals a secret from the public and there was silence.

I dunno, it just bothers me: according to The State the people cannot be trusted.  The mindset of the believers in the authority of government is that people are naturally bad, untrustworthy, lazy, uncooperative, thieving, selfish bums.  Therefore, a subset of them need to be selected, oops, elected, to rule over and protect us.  Uh-huh, I see.

Well, it’s just my opinion after all, and there was work to do…

Here is a gallery of before and after images of the area that I helped work in (it is the leftmost yellow outline on the map above).

There is a magnificent group of oaks up the moraine from our base location and we couldn’t resist clearing under them, although our focus was supposed to be working along the wetland edge.

Lindsay and I stuck around to talk and I cut a few more tankfuls worth into the afternoon, so we missed the parting group shot.  It was a pleasure to participate in the workday and I hope no one was too offended by my morning rant about The Secrets of Bluff Creek West.


Photo courtesy of Jared Urban

I stopped by The Springs on the way home and took a nice walk around the loop visiting my favorite haunts.

See you at The Springs!

Life on the Edge

Life on the Edge

The Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve is a crazy quilt of wetlands and uplands but the beauty of the pattern has been hidden beneath a blanket of buckthorn for years.  Last winter we cleared the perimeters of three or four distinct wetland areas in the northeast section of the preserve thus creating more open “edge” habitat — the kind that bluebirds prefer.

This winter we have been opening the woodland along the left side of the trail roughly between signpost #1 and #2 and this past Wednesday we arrived at the wetland across the trail from the marl plant ruins.  The wetland is marked in blue below and the area we cleared is shown in red.

SSTrailMapMarlFactoryWetlandsA couple inches of fresh snow had fallen the day before and temps were in the single digits when I arrived at the Hotel Spring to get some drinking water for the day.

IMG_2157The hoarfrost was spectacular.  Check out this gallery of early morning pics.

This was going to be my last day working at The Springs until Pati and I return from South Africa, and likely the last real winter day of the season, so I was really looking forward to it.  Andy Buchta, Lindsay Knudsvig and Chris Mann would be joining me and it promised to be a very productive day.  I tried to arrange the pictures with before and after images side by side for easier comparison (click any photo to open the gallery).  If you subscribe to get these posts via email, you may have noticed some inconsistencies in the way that gallery pictures are delivered: sometimes they come as medium/large images, and at other times they arrive as jumbled thumbnails.  I have reported this issue to the folks at WordPress…  You can double-click any photo embedded in the email to view it full size on the website.  Better yet, visit the website to take full advantage of the gallery feature.

We almost connected the open space on the north side of this wetland with the space we opened coming from the other direction back in January.

Some of you may know Paul Sandgren, the former Superintendent of the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit, Lapham Peak Unit and Glacial Drumlin Trail — East, who was forced to retire last spring.

IMG_1150Yes, Paul is a giant of a man.  He is having a rough go of it with brain cancer.  I got this update from his Caring Bridge from Anne Korman, the new superintendent.

Next step
By Paul Sandgren — 1 hour ago
As of Tuesday, March 1st, Paul now resides at Angel’s Grace Hospice, Cty. P, Oconomowoc,

This was our plan all along…it was just a timing issue and what could not be handled at home any longer.

The MRI on Tuesday at the cancer center confirmed what we suspected.  Paul’s decline in the last two weeks included balance loss confirmed by the tumor growth at the back near the 4th ventricle that inhibits balance and causes nausea.  The mobility loss is from the expansion of the edges of the main tumor extending more into the motor skills area.  The two small tumors near the front also grew and it has spread into the right hemisphere…something we knew would happen eventually.

So no infusion on Tuesday.  No blood thinner shots into the belly.   We stopped the Optune system…so he has some hair fuzz coming back.  We continue with the steroid to keep down inflammation and Keppra to stave off seizures.

Angel’s Grace is beautiful.  Paul, of course, is teasing all the staff–those poor unsuspecting people!!!  Food is great.  We recommend the French toast.

Continue with thoughts and prayers. If you want to do a short visit with him there are no set hours but he may be sleeping.  Even with his eyes closed, he does carry on some conversation.  Of course you want to know the big question..how long.    Dr. Krouwer said weeks, not months.  RN Carol has been amazed at the large support system Paul has and this long length of battle time.  That is by far not what the cancer team sees.

Judy has been having breakfast and supper with Paul and adjusting at home this week.  There are so many emotions ….some are better taken with happy hour.  Oh, and speaking of that….it’s 5:00 somewhere so we are signing off for now so Judy can pack up some snacks and beverages and head back to hospice.

Smile…just imagine Paul’s hair coming back with a little red tint!!

More posts later,  Judy

Thinking of you Paul…


Burn the Scuppernong!

Burn the Scuppernong!

IMG_2706 IMG_2701 IMG_1276

See you at Bluff Creek West on March 12!

Savory Buckthorn

Savory Buckthorn

Could it be that winter is already over?  No more days spent playing in the snow grilling buckthorn over an open fire?  No more slow cooking The Buckthorn Man‘s favorite recipes for Rhamnus cathartica and Frangula alnus beneath the moonlight?  Well, I have savored the season, and every day I get to spend at the Scuppernong Springs.  It pleases my senses while at the same time being morally exemplary.


People often ask me: “What is your secret Buckthorn Man?”  Ok, here it is, my recipe for Savory Buckthorn:

Savory Buckthorn

  • 1 Chainsaw (I prefer the Stihl 361 pro)
  • 3 sharp chains (no safety chains please)
  • Bar Oil (first cold press virgin oil)
  • 2-cycle engine gas mix (mid-grade gas)
  • triclopyr stump poison mixed to taste with marine anti-freeze
  • 1 pair chaps
  • Safety helmet for everyone in the kitchen
  • Steel-toed boots
  • Deerskin gloves
  • Propane tank with “Red Devil” torch
  • Wheelbarrow or sled for transporting gear
  • Extra bar for chainsaw (optional)
  • Splitting wedges (optional)

Pick a spot where the buckthorn is thick and nasty; a place you suspect might look a whole lot better sans the woody weed.  Don protective gear.  Add gas and oil to the chainsaw and test the stump poison sprayer.  Fire up the chainsaw and commence to prepping the buckthorn by cutting it into manageable chunks and poisoning the stumps to taste.  Make a pile with dead buckthorn branches and braze it with the red devil until burning brightly.  Cut, poison, pile, burn and repeat, until all of the buckthorn in sight has been eradicated.  There you have it — Savory Buckthorn!

We have made modest progress this winter at The Springs, working on the left side of the trail clearing buckthorn in the area marked in red below.

SSTrailMapWinter2015-2016On February 18th, I was joined in the “kitchen” by world renowned chef: Andre Buchtá.  Nobody piles buckthorn on a fire like Andre!  Below are some before and after shots documenting our efforts.  I’m trying something new here by juxtaposing the before and after views side by side for easier comparison (click any photo to open the gallery).

At dusk, as I tended the fire carefully turning the buckthorn logs until they were done just right, I heard the familiar sound of a sand hill crane and looked up to see the adventurous bird languidly floating overhead.

I took some time off to attend to things on the home front, but the pangs of hunger eventually became so strong that I had to return to The Springs to cook another batch of Savory BuckthornAndre again was my right hand, piling brush and tending the fires.


I hope to get out to the woods a couple more times to whip up a batch of Rhamnus cathartica or Frangula alnus before Pati and I head off to Johannesburg South Africa.

See you at The Springs!

p.s. Join me and the Southern Kettle Moraine State Natural Areas Volunteers on March 12 at Bluff Creek West, where we try my new recipe for “Baked Buckthorn”!

And thanks to Ben and Karen Johnson for spicing things up at The Springs by installing two homemade duck houses along the marl pit canal!

The Kilkenny Family Project

The Kilkenny Family Project

The Buckthorn Man has finally landed his first cash paying client!  I’ve been giving it away for the last 16 years, volunteering everywhere I worked out of pure love for the land.  But since I launched this new website last November, I have been offering my buckthorn cutting services for hire.  My new bosses are none other than Lindsay Knudsvig, Constance Kilkenny and her son, Joe Winn.

August 21, 2012, Tracy Hames, Sophia, Constance Kilkenny, Lindsay Knudsvig, The Buckthorn Man, Pati Holman

August 19, 2012, Tracy Hames, Sophia, Constance Kilkenny, Lindsay Knudsvig, Paul Mozina and Pati Holman

Joe Winn and Lindsay Knudsvig on a lunch break

Joe Winn and Lindsay Knudsvig on a lunch break at The Springs

Lindsay and Connie have been working on “the farm” for many years now and since Joe joined the effort, the action has really heated up.  Joe applied for a grant for the Kilkenny Family Project from the Wisconsin forest landowner grant program (WFLGP) and it looks like the funding will become available in August.  The farm is a 70 acre spread near Delavan, Wisconsin that features Turtle Creek, aka Swan Creek winding right through the middle of it.

KilkennyFarmGoogleMapThe restoration efforts began near the homestead, which you can see in the lower left of the picture above (and also below), and they have progressed over the last 4-5 years along the old horse trail between the south edge of the farm field and the railroad line.   This past fall they turned the corner north to work along the tree line between the farm field and Swan Creek.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home


The view of the southwest corner of the property

I’m trying to create something different with this website: make it a place were people can share and focus their volunteer efforts and also support me financially — so that I can continue to give it away.   I invite you to check out my About page for a description of all the features on this site.  The latest addition is the Kilkenny Family Project page, which we will use to document the history of their restoration effort.

On February 11, Lindsay, Joe and I loaded up the trailer and headed down the horse trail for the tree line on the east side of the farm field.  Drifting snow and previously cut buckthorn eventually blocked our path and we decided to unload the gear and get to work right there.

My favorite part about working at the Kilkenny Family Project is relaxing afterwards with a cold beer near the fire in their cozy kitchen and savoring a plate of Lindsay’s special recipe beans and rice!

It has been a real pleasure to share my passion for the land with other like-minded volunteers.  On February 6, I was joined by Andy Buchta, Lindsay Knudsvig, Chris Mann, Steve Brasch, and Ben and Karen Johnson at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  We continued clearing the left side of the trail between signposts #1 and #2 and achieved amazing results!

On February 12, I joined the Southern Kettle Moraine SNA volunteers at the White Water Oak Opening, which is part of the Clifford Messinger Dry Prairie & Savanna Preserve State Natural Area.  We cut, poisoned, piled and burned our arch enemy — buckthorn — while working on a knoll and deep drainage at the base of a steep moraine near Hwy P (you can see it on the topo map below).

map230cI grabbed this video of the UW Whitewater Ecology Club volunteers heating things up.

Jared Urban, with the DNR’s Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, has been building momentum for the State Natural Areas volunteer program for 4 years now. He will be closing the deal any day now on a trailer loaded with brand new equipment for the Southern Kettle Moraine SNA volunteers.  Way to go Jared!

Well, I’ve been busy and having a lot of fun. I hope you will come out and join us when you can, and make a donation to The Buckthorn Man if you want to show your support for what I’m doing.

See you at The Springs!

Wisconsin DNR: Super Mow Champs

Wisconsin DNR: Super Mow Champs

Time was running out at The Marsh.  Since I punted back in 2011, the Buckthorn’s offense had rallied back to take the lead and we were stymied by their impenetrable defense.  Ice Age Trail Alliance coach, Kevin Thusius, got the call from the booth: offensive coordinator, Village Administrator Dave Cox, said the only hope to save The Buckthorn Man’s efforts was a “Hail Mary” pass.  Kevin looked to the bench for the DNR’s special teams players Don Dane and Mike Spaight, who hadn’t seen action in the game since last March.

Don, the wily veteran, called timeout.  He suggested we rent an ASV machine, mount a DNR forestry mower head on it, and then throw it to Mike, waiting upland in the end zone.

As the last seconds ticked off the clock, I snapped the ball to Don and blocked the rushing buckthorn, holding them off just long enough for him to get the pass in the air.  Mike, surrounded by a thorny thicket, caught the ball and mowed the defenders down as he cleared a path into the end zone.


Here is a look at the field before the big play.  Note that you can open the gallery and see the pictures full-size by clicking on any of them, or, you can hover your mouse over a picture to read the narrative in the description.

I was working at the Scuppernong Springs this past Monday when Don called to say that he had lined up the ASV machine and they would be ready to start the next day.  We had just enough funds left in the kitty, contributed by the Village of Hartland, and we had made the decision that its best use would be forestry mowing; that was a good call, as you can see by the amazing and outstanding work that Don and Mike accomplished.  But our dance in the end zone will be merely a gaudy display if we don’t get more funding to treat the cut stubs.  We are debating whether to do a basal bark treatment before they get covered with snow, Don’s recommendation, or, wait until the cut stumps bush out in the late spring to treat them with foliar herbicide spray.  In either case, we don’t have any money right now.   We’ll get flagged with a penalty, and the touchdown will be called back, if we don’t come up with something.  Here is a map showing the area they mowed in blue, followed by an “after” gallery displaying the results.


Long time followers of The Buckthorn Man were probably stunned when they read this statement at the bottom of the presentation I made to the Village of Hartland Board on January 25:

The preservation, restoration and protection of the primary environmental corridor in the Village of Hartland is too vitally important to leave in the hands of ad hoc groups of volunteers, especially when considering that the Village is one of the primary land owners in the corridor.

Yup, this is coming from the same pen that wrote a post called Freedom that includes this gem:

Our Political “law” is nothing but the arbitrary WILL OF MEN and WOMEN. Government exists to direct and control our minds; the “State” is a figment of our collective imaginations.

On one hand, I’m challenging the legitimacy of the government’s claim of “authority”, and on the other, I’m asking the Village of Hartland — the powers that be, who “speak the law (exert jurisdiction)”, in these parts — to step up and take leadership.  You can rightly question the sanity of The Buckthorn Man: is he schizophrenic, or just pragmatic?

I’m still trying to sort out the meaning of Village Board President David Lamerand’s response to my presentation and I have confidence that the Village will act in good faith to address the concerns I have raised.  You can listen to an audio of my presentation to the Village Board on January 25, here, beginning at the 5:55 mark.  Thanks to the Village Clerk, Darlene Igl, for providing the audio.

It has been an exceptionally benign winter so far, perfect in every way for cutting and burning buckthorn in the forest.  On Thursday, January 28, I was joined at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA by Andy Buchta and Ben Johnson.  We had a flawless day continuing to open up the views to Ottawa Lake from Hwy 67 and the SkyDance Pet Lodge parking lot.

On Friday, January 29, I was joined by a new volunteer, Jeff Saatkamp, a member of the Ice Age Trail Alliance at the Hartland Marsh.  I brush cut buckthorn saplings on the Waukesha County Land Conservancy property and Jeff and I poisoned the cut stubs.  Thanks Jeff!  I’m looking forward to working with you again at The Marsh.   As a bonus, Cheryl White the new executive director of the Waukesha County Land Conservancy, stopped out to visit and we had a marvelous time exploring the property.  Cheryl brings a wealth of experience and skill to the job and I’m looking forward to working with her

On Monday, February 1, I was joined at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail by Andy Buchta and Lindsay Knudsvig in the morning, and Ben Johnson later in the day.  Thank you all for volunteering your time and energy to restoring our Kettle Moraine treasure!

Later that evening, around 6:30pm, as Ben and I were tending the fires, I happened to be looking to the east through spreading oak branches at Orion’s belt in the sky.  Just then a bright light emerged and I called out to Ben, “Look!” and we both watched the meteor expand into a huge white ball before it disappeared at the horizon.

I’m looking forward to joining my friends at another State Natural Area Workday at the Whitewater Oak Opening on February 13.

See you at The Springs!

Tis’ the Season to Cut Buckthorn

Tis’ the Season to Cut Buckthorn

The holidays are over but The Buckthorn Man, heedless of the wind and weather, is still celebrating before the blazing buckthorn yule with his friends.  Fa la la la la, la la la la his chainsaw sings in merry measure, as the buckthorn falls fast as the year passes.  Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!

IMG_7141It’s been a great winter season so far for cutting and burning buckthorn, with just enough snow cover and moderate temperatures.  I’ve been busy at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail and the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA and, thanks to a lot of help from my friends, we’ve freed some oaks from their buckthorn chains and opened up some exciting new vistas.  It’s buckthorn cutting season, my favorite time of the year!

On Thursday, January 14, Andy Buchta and I worked at The Springs in the area marked in yellow on the map below.

SSTrailMapJanWorkI really appreciate Andy’s generous, volunteer contribution; he works hard and we make a good team.

On Saturday, January 16, we returned to the north side of the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA to work on the south side of the SkyDance Pet Lodge property.  Thanks again to Dennis Lutynski for agreeing to let us clear the buckthorn on his land and integrate the open space with the state natural area.  Our goal is to open the views into Ottawa Lake from Hwy 67 to show off this beautiful landscape; hopefully, this won’t cause any accidents by drivers rubbernecking to take in the scenery.

I was joined by Andy Buchta, Lindsay Knudsvig, Ben Johnson, Chris Mann and Steve Brasch; Thanks Guys!

On Friday, January 22, Dr. Dan Carter, Senior Biologist with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, led a field trip at The Springs to teach us how to differentiate between exotic and native phragmites.  Dan organized his analysis into an excellent post on his Prairie Botanist blog.

Dr. Dan Carter, SEWRPC; Eric Tarman-Ramcheck, DNR; Maggie Zoellner, KMLT; Lindsay Knudsvig, Kilkenny Family Project; Mariette Nowak, Wild Ones; Cheryl White, WCLC

Dr. Dan Carter, SEWRPC; Eric Tarman-Ramcheck, DNR; Maggie Zoellner, Kettle Moraine Land Trust; Lindsay Knudsvig, Kilkenny Family Project; Mariette Nowak, Wild Ones; Cheryl White, Waukesha County Land Conservancy

I captured his work in the field in a series of videos, which are concatenated below.  The exotic identification comes first and then we visited two sites to see all of the characteristics of the native species.


This patch of native phragmites is just west of the gaging station bridge over the Scuppernong River

Almost all of the phragmites in the valley encompassing the headwater springs of the Scuppernong River is of the exotic variety, while the huge expanse of phragmites in the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, that is visible from the marl pit bridge or the Indian campground, is native.  The later information was a revelation, as we had always assumed that it was exotic phragmites, and had considered it as such in the NAWCA grant proposal.

Exotic Phragmites australis ssp. australis, John Hrobar standing on the deck at the Emerald Spring, photo by Sue Hrobar

Exotic Phragmites australis ssp. australis, John Hrobar standing on the deck at the Emerald Spring, photo by Sue Hrobar

Native Phragmites australis ssp. americanus, view into the Scuppernong River Habitat Area from the marl pit bridge over the Scuppernong River

Native Phragmites australis ssp. americanus, view into the Scuppernong River Habitat Area as seen from the marl pit bridge over the Scuppernong River

I really need to get more science in my life; that was fun!

Finally, on Saturday, January 23, I was joined by Andy Buchta and Ben Johnson at The Springs.  We worked in the area marked in red on the map above, near signpost #1.  Anne Korman, the new Superintendent Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit, Lapham Peak Unit and Glacial Drumlin Trail – East, stopped out to visit and thank us for all of our hard work.  You’re welcome Anne!

Well, it’s time to don my gay apparel and cut some buckthorn, Fa la la la la la la la.

See you at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.

Penbrook Park

Penbrook Park

“I had a dream. Crazy dream.
Anything I wanted to know, any place I needed to go

Hear my song. People won’t you listen now? Sing along.
You don’t know what you’re missing now.
Any little song that you know
Everything that’s small has to grow.
And it has to grow!”

Martin Luther King had a dream.  Led Zepplin had a dream.  Dream a little dream now with The Buckthorn Man.  I’m in a peaceful village set among ridges and kettles, dotted with oaks and splashed with wetlands.  A river runs through it and the people care deeply for the land.  Flowers, grasses, ferns and sedges grow in wild profusion covering the wet meadows and hillside prairies.  Creatures of every kind share our neighborhood and entertain us with their little songs.  Well-trodden trails take us to special places that feel like home.

The Village of Hartland 1937

The Village of Hartland 1937

My Hartland Marsh dream is slowly becoming a reality.  With a little help from my friends, I’m cutting the buckthorn thicket that was choking my imagination.  First it was the Ice Age Trail Alliance property at The Marsh, then the Waukesha County Land Conservancy land — the old Parker Brothers Homested that Marlin Johnson help them acquire, then the Village land around the Cottonwood Wayside and more Ice Age Trail land at the Aldo Leopold lookout on Maple Avenue (where others, notably the IATA and the Rotary club, had already done most of the work).  The trail took a jog north on Maple Avenue and I found myself at the entrance to Penbrook Park, possibly some of the prettiest landscape in the area — under siege from buckthorn and surrounded on all sides by development.

My dream to rehabilitate the land and foster healthy ecosystems in the primary environmental corridor from Hwy 83 all the way to the east side of Penbrook Park was put on hold for a few years back in 2011, but now it’s Dream On.  Please join me at the Village of Hartland Board meeting on Monday, January 25, 7:00pm at 210 Cottonwood Avenue, where I will be making the case for the Village to take a leadership role in restoring the ecosystems in the primary environmental corridor in the Village starting with Penbrook Park (click to check out my presentation — Village of Hartland Comprehensive Development Plan: 2035).

The gallery below documents the changes at Penbrook Park from 1941 to 2015, as the buckthorn moved in to dominate the understory of the uplands and encroach into the the wetlands.

I’m going to go out on a buckthorn limb and declare that Penbrook Park is in a world of hurt.  The understory that has filled in since 1941 is predominately buckthorn and it is steadily encroaching on the wetlands in the center of the park.  Last Tuesday Pati and I took a tour and I want to show you what I’m talking about.  Bear with me, there are a lot of pictures here.  The map below shows the route we walked marked by the yellow trail and the numbers will correlate to the photo galleries that follow.


Just west of the play ground in the park “proper” there is a beautiful vernal pond completely encircled with buckthorn, honeysuckle and box elder, #6 on the map.

There are many, many excellent trees in the park. I wonder if they are all counted as “Park Trees” (see my presentation — Village of Hartland Comprehensive Development Plan: 2035 for the reference to “Park Trees”).

Pati and I love exploring new areas. We finally made it down to the wetland.

I think you get the idea. The landscape is varied with ridges, steep slopes, vernal ponds, open wetlands and kettle style bowls or depressions. There are many, many excellent oak and hickory trees in the park but the understory is totally dominated with buckthorn and honeysuckle. My dream is to see the ecosystem in this primary environmental corridor restored to health. I would also like to see the trail system expanded in Penbrook Park by the addition of the two segments marked in blue below. The lower loop takes you to an overlook over the kettle that is right off of Maple Avenue, then it would swing down to the vernal pond and connect up at the play ground. The other new blue loop would follow the high ground on the east side of the park and then take you down into the wetlands and then back through some beautiful oak uplands to the play ground (existing trails are marked in yellow).


I’m dreaming and imagining and working to make it come true. Become a Friend of the Hartland Marsh and join me!

See you at The Springs!

Bluff Creek Rendezvous

Aficionados of the Kettle Moraine converged at the Bluff Creek State Natural Area this past Saturday to continue clearing the buckthorn from the headwaters of the creek.  The Buckthorn Man left his heart the last time he worked there and, I’m happy to report, he found it pulsing strongly in the springs that flow from the base of the bluffs.  It’s hard not to fall in love with this peacefully remote and stunningly beautiful place.  The massive moraines loom over deep kettles and ravines where no trails constrain your imagination.  Come and explore!

BluffCreekWe rendezvoused at the parking area on Esterly Road and found Scott Farrell, Zach Kastern and Ginny Coburn already hard at work.  Zach picked up a truckload of equipment from the DNR facilities in Fitchburg the day before and had already been to the worksite with Scott to start brush piles on fire; the Southern Kettle Moraine SNA Volunteers were here back in November cutting and piling buckthorn.  Ginny was clearing some brush that had fallen across the trail.  Pati and I visited the area on Christmas day and captured a few images of their prep work as well as documenting our own exploration of the eastern complex of springs which you can see above near the power line corridor.

Zach explained that the goal for the day was to cut and burn buckthorn on the terminus of the ridge that Pati and I were walking along when we took the pictures at the beginning of the gallery above.  Below is a closer look at the worksite, which is to the left of the “Bluff Creek” label on the first photo above and just to the right of the open field.

BluffCreekEastEndofRidge2015SNA volunteer stalwarts Michelle Bonness, Herb Sharpless and Gerry Petersen from the Kettle Moraine Land Trust, Gary Klatt, secretary of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, and Scott Farrell, and Lisa Ritzert were there, as well as some new free agents like Lindsay Knudsvig, Sarah Betzler and Lindsay Rheingans.  We split into two teams: one began up on the ridge and the rest of us proceeded to the rounded point shown above where the outflow of the springs on the left side of the ridge curls around.  Scott was working the burning brush piles when we got there and Zach soon had Sarah and Lindsay R. swinging brush cutters for the first time.

It was a fun and satisfying day at The Creek.  Come and visit the springs and kettles at Bluff Creek, and the nearby Lone Tree Bluff overlook; you won’t regret it!

See you at The Springs!

Buckthorn Resolution

After a long hiatus, The Buckthorn Man has returned, chainsaw in hand, to The Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  The winter of 2014-2015 was one of relentless attack on the bane of the Kettle Moraine and by the time I quit cutting there on April 1, 2015 my reservoir of aggressive energy was exhausted.  I took solace in the Alchemy At The Springs wrought with Stihl and Sweat: “Out of Darkness, into Light”.  There is light at the end of the buckthorn tunnel at The Springs and, with a little help from my friends, we will resolve the dissonance of buckthorn into the consonance of prairie, woodland and meadow.

The Buckthorn Man recorded this video on new year’s eve while standing on the west end of the buckthorn alley.

Therein I sketched out a plan for this winter’s cutting season describing burning snow covered brush piles and shining a light into the darkness of the buckthorn thicket.  A resolution is the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones — the act of answering or determining — and I think I have an excellent approach to cutting buckthorn this year.  We are going to focus on the area outlined in yellow on the map below.  This is the last upland area within the loop trail that is still covered by a buckthorn thicket and I don’t think more than a handful of people have threaded their way through it recent years.

SSTrailMapWinter2016The areas in red above mark the three locations where we cut buckthorn in the last week.  The blue circle indicates a large wetland area that is relatively open.  I am going to focus on clearing the area within the yellow circle this winter and just see how far we can get.  Each workday will consist of: picking a central location among the buckthorn to start a fire, digging a hole in the snow, cutting and collecting standing dead buckthorn, lighting a fire, and finally, feeding the fire with the surrounding freshly cut buckthorn.  This is the approach that The Friends of Lapham Peak (and many others) use and I have found it to be very efficient and effective.   So, if you are looking for something different to do on a cold winter day, watch my Upcoming Volunteer Events calendar feed on the Home page, or, better yet, subscribe to my volunteer workday events calendar via the Volunteer page, and meet me at The Springs or any of the other excellent places where I volunteer.

On new year’s eve day Andy Buchta joined me and we had a fine day cutting and burning in the topmost area marked in red on the map above.  Thanks Andy!

On Sunday, January 3, I returned to work in the area marked in red on the right on the map above.  During our recent workday with the Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group on the Scuppernong River, DNR Fisheries Biologist Ben Heussner suggested we return to the area when there was snow cover and transport brush piles over to the river to use to backfill behind the biologs we installed.  That is what The Buckthorn Man is discussing in this video.

I realized then that my original plan to burn all the brush piles there was no good, instead, we should make new piles and burn fresh buckthorn.  It’s hard to believe that a liar like The Buckthorn Man could have any friends, so I was a little surprised, and it warmed my heart, when Andy Buchta, Lindsay Knudsvig, Ben Johnson, Joe Winn and Chris Mann showed up to help me.  We had a great time, got a hell-of-a-lot of buckthorn cut, and revealed 5 or 6 large burr oaks and a cluster of 4 huge black oaks that you can see in the background of the group shot below.