Storm Water Management versus Ecological Restoration–a review of Pond #1


Fraying of Social and Ecological Connections

Sometimes changes to landscape features happen so gradually, and over such a long time frame that we come to take them for granted. If we see them at all, we consider them part of the background, or think the situation they represent is the way it has always been, the way people want it to be, and always should be. This is certainly true of the storm water pond and collapsed infrastructure on the southwest edge of Curtis Prairie.  It has left an open wound that continues to fester.

The storm water wound on Curtis Prairie has physical and symbolic implications beyond the confines of Curtis Prairie; it has poked a hole in the watershed’s social and ecological fabric.  The collapsed flume typifies the “broken windows” syndrome:  neglect begets further neglect until neglect becomes the norm.

As a result, the ecological and social fabric of our common home, our shared Lake Wingra Watershed, is slowly coming unraveled. The events that tear at a community’s ecological connections often start small and are unnoticed, by most. Like an ignored and un-mended rip in the fabric of a favorite jacket, the hole will eventually get so big the owner has to mend the jacket, or throw it away—out of embarrassment, if nothing else.

History of Storm Water Management Issues

In 1969 the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WIDOT) excavated (with University and Arboretum acquiescence) a 3 acre storm water detention pond in the iconic Curtis Prairie, the world’s first prairie restoration. The WIDOT expansion of the nearby Beltline Highway had increased stormwater runoff into the prairie, necessitating the detention pond to hold the silt-laden water coming from the roadway construction.

The pond was connected to the Beltline Highway (US 12-14-18-151) storm water outfall—about 100 yards distant—by a concrete raceway, or flume.

To add insult to injury, the new pond—the first of eventually six in the Arboretum—dug up research plots established to study the effect of prescribed fire on restored prairies. The state’s excavation compromised and ended the experiment.

Over the years the concrete flume became undermined and, in the summer of 1996, it collapsed. Storm water, however, continued to flow; and with it the erodible sandy soil of the Leopold Pines flowed downstream.

Concrete slabs of the former Pond #1 flume lie in disarray as if an earthquake has pushed them aside.

Concrete slabs of the former Pond #1 flume lie in disarray as if an earthquake has pushed them aside.

I worked at the Arboretum when the storm water flume collapsed. The financial and technical magnitude of the repair task was beyond the meager resources or capabilities of the UW-Madison Arboretum, a research unit of the university’s Graduate School. We sought advice and assistance from the WIDOT.  And the WIDOT offered to repair the broken flume to approximately the design and condition prior to its collapse. Arboretum officials considered the proposal but, on the advice of water resources and stormwater experts in the university and extension office, rejected the offer of help.

Instead of fixing the flume right away, a storm water committee was formed to consider Pond #1 and the entire scope of storm water issues afflicting the Arboretum.

Arboretum Storm Water Committee

The Arboretum Storm Water Committee, on which I served, consisted of university and Arboretum faculty and staff. One of the first things the Arboretum Storm Water Committee did was develop a set of storm water management values. These values were to “better guide the Arboretum storm water planning process, and to provide criteria for making decisions about future storm water management options.” (2006 UW-Arboretum Facility Storm Water Management Plan, p 5.)

Arboretum Storm Water Management Values

These values were developed and approved in 2004 by the Arboretum Committee, a University faculty governance committee.  They are published in the Arboretum’s 2006 report, “Facility Storm Water Management Plan”.

  • “Managing storm water on UW-Arboretum property should attempt to maintain (or restore) conditions of storm water transport and infiltration that best serve Arboretum restoration objectives, while protecting the environment.”
  • “Flows of storm water runoff onto Arboretum property resulting from the surrounding urban areas should be controlled to pre-settlement levels to the extent possible, and managed for minimum impact upon Arboretum ecosystems.”
  • “The quality of storm water runoff (e.g. nutrients, solids, temperature) entering Arboretum ecosystems and draining to surface waters, should be consistent with pre-settlement quality.”
  • Any construction of storm water management infrastructure (e.g. detention ponds and dikes) on Arboretum property should serve and enhance Arboretum restoration, teaching, research, and outreach goals.”
  • “UW-Arboretum should encourage wise storm water management practices throughout the surrounding watershed community, by example and through education.”

The values looked good on paper but never got traction among the engineering planners who generally viewed them at best, as irrelevant, or at worst, as an obstacle.

The former flume has become a small stream, carrying runoff from a portion of the watershed south of the Beltline.

The former flume has become a small stream, carrying runoff from a portion of the watershed south of the Beltline.

The storm water committee eventually developed a few conceptual plans to repair the collapsed flume, dredge the existing pond and better design it to meet City of Madison storm water management needs and requirements and Arboretum restoration and research needs and requirements. Trouble was, as we discovered, 1) the needs, and requirements of the City (and University?) and 2) of the Arboretum were entirely different. One group valued an engineering approach; the other valued an ecological approach. The values gulf between the two could never be bridged.

That philosophical obstacle, as well as financial ones, prevented development of construction designs and plans. The storm water committee could not secure sufficient funding from the University, the City, or the State to take on a project whose costs were estimated to exceed $1million.  So, here we sit in 2016 and no plans have been approved, let alone money allocated, to repair the collapsed flume and Pond #1 itself. A search of the UW-Madison Arboretum website turns up no mention of the Pond #1 flume, its current condition, nor plans to repair it.

Native Soil Continues To Be Lost

In the meantime, the Arboretum Storm Water Management Plan, (2006 p. 17) estimated that in the 10 years since the flume collapse, more than 1000 cubic yards of native soil was eroded from beneath the flume and accumulated in the pond. This overload of soil limited the capacity of the pond for containing storm flows and removing nutrients.

Time Passes

Twenty years later, as of this writing in early Nov. 2016, the collapsed flume has still not been repaired. It is estimated that in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016 at least an additional 1000 cubic yards of native soil have been washed away. The total over 20 years is a loss of 2000 cubic yards of native soil; and with it the native flora and fauna.

Access gate to the fenced off Pond #1 flume area.

Access gate to the fenced off Pond #1 flume area.

What’s Happened Since 1996 Here on Earth

In case you have forgotten, or were not alive in 1996, or are new to Madison, the collapsed flume is not normal and is not good for the Arboretum or the watershed. Twenty years is a long time to let a wound fester. The infection has now spread throughout Curtis Prairie, and beyond.

While time seems to stand still in parts of the watershed, much else in the world has changed since 1996.  In that time the United States has had three presidents: Bill Clinton (second term), George W. Bush (2 terms), and Barack Obama (soon to complete his 2nd term).

The Arboretum has had three directors, none of whom were able to produce a solution to the storm water problems afflicting Curtis Prairie. The Arboretum storm water planning project team and the later storm water committee, while they identified the problem, have failed to develop or carry out a solution.

But the collapsed storm water flume continues to send eroded native soil down the drain.

Technological Developments since 1996

Elsewhere there have been many developments and accomplishments since 1996:
In 1996 came MP3 formatting.
The DVD was invented in 1997 and Fujitsu released the first 42-inch plasma television.
In 1998 the first digital cameras were released.
Also in 1998 computer animation was introduced.
In 1999 there were two inventions that impact us all: WiFi and the search engine Google.
In 2000, Toyota introduced the first hybrid automobile.
In 2001 the iPod was introduced, and the first artificial liver was developed.
In 2005, YouTube was launched.
In 2007 the first iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs.
In 2016 the iPhone 7 was introduced.

In addition to items mentioned above, since 1996 there have been advances in artificial intelligence, driverless cars, virtual reality and the widespread use of wind and solar power.

All the while more native soil washed downstream and neither the state, nor the university, nor the city could muster the interest, moral resolve, or resources or overcome differences to carry out a repair to the collapsed Pond #1 flume.

Since 1996 in Outer Space

In terms of lunar and planetary exploration, NASA and private companies have accomplished much since 1996. For example:
The International Space Station has made countless orbits over the collapsed Pond #1 flume.
NASA has launched several missions to Mars and even landed exploratory rovers on the planet.
In 2005 NASA accomplished a fly-by of the Comet Hartley 2 as part of its Deep Impact mission.
In 2011 NASA launched a Jupiter orbiter.
The Hubble Space Telescope was repaired 4 times and continues to send amazing images back to earth. Launched in 1990, Hubble is expected to be retired in 2016.
In addition, there are the accomplishments of private companies such as Space X which is developing the ability to launch its own rockets for space exploration.

And the list goes on, and native soil continues to flow downstream, but still the collapsed Pond #1 flume lies in ruins on the edge of the world’s first prairie restoration.

Accomplishments Closer to Home

The Beltline Highway, again.

In November, 2016 the WIDOT is putting the finishing touches on an extensive $139 million project to expand, yet again, the Beltline Highway on the Arboretum’s southern boundary to six lanes (3 in each direction) from Seminole Highway west to Whitney Way, a distance of about two miles. The massive project began in March 2013 and is expected to conclude in early November, 2016. The project boundaries like the Arboretum, are within the Lake Wingra Watershed.

Although the State of Wisconsin can find the money for the Beltline project it can’t summon the resources to fix a 200 yard scar on the landscape. And during the highway project the Arboretum’s native soil continued to wash downstream.

A small wetland delta has formed from eroded soil has developed in the past 20 years.

A small wetland delta, formed from eroded soil,  has developed in the past 20 years.

On the Positive Side

I don’t approve of neglect as a strategy or tactic to solve problems.  But, ironically, and fortuitously, over the past twenty years neglect of the Pond #1 flume has proven to be a good teaching tool and demonstration project.    Eroded soil from underneath the flume and from the Evjue Pines on the Arboretum’s Grady Tract south of the Beltline, has formed a delta and small wetland at the mouth of the flume.

It has been documented (J. Zedler 2016 personal communication) that the wetland provides an important ecological function by denitrifying storm water inputs. Zedler also reminds me that a shallow pond is more likely to support denitrification than a deepened pond. And, because the threat to Arboretum is nitrogen (N) and not phosphorous and because there is no evidence that phosphorous escapes all the way the Lake Wingra, there is no need to dredge the pond. If the pond were dredged, and/or enlarged as the storm water engineers insist is necessary, these functions would be lost.

Whether or not these science based findings will be valued and influence future storm water management plans is an open question.    Whether or not Arboretum management can negotiate desirable restoration outcomes remains to be seen.

Posted in Curtis Prairie, Ecological restoration, Human impacts on restorations, Lake Wingra Watershed, Restoration ecology, Soil erosion, Storm water | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Look at Storm Water Management Pond #5

The City of Madison Engineering Division has, over the years as the City has expanded, installed six storm water detention ponds on UW-Madison Arboretum property.  This is Pond #5 on Monroe Street.

City of Madison storm water detention Pond #5 on Monroe Street.

City of Madison storm water detention Pond #5  looking NW towards Monroe Street.  The woody debris on top of the concrete culvert is not the work of beaver but marks the high water mark from this summer’s storms.

The storm water pond in Curtis Prairie is #1 (the first constructed); Pond #6 (formerly known as Secret Pond) is at the intersection of Nakoma Road and Manitou Way.

One of two storm water outlets in Pond #5 that direct storm water into the UW-Madison Arboretum's West Marsh.

One of two storm water outlets in Pond #5 that direct storm water into the UW-Madison Arboretum’s West Marsh.

The City of Madison’s six storm water detention ponds occupy over 25 acres in the UW-Madison Arboretum.

Storm water as it flows out of Pond #5 towards the Arboretum's West Marsh.

Storm water as it flows out of Pond #5 towards the Arboretum’s West Marsh. Notice the oily sheen on the water.  And this is how the water looks after “treatment” in the pond.

What is the bubbly, chocolate-colored substance (right center) floating on the surface?

Storm water flowing into West Marsh, traditionally a nesting site for a pair sandhill cranes.

Storm water flowing through a patch of reed canary grass on its way into West Marsh.

Because of the heavy rain overnight (2″ by 8am) and continuing this morning, the water level in the pond is likely to rise.

What a sight!

Green vegetation in lower left corner is garlic mustard; invasive cattails in the middle right.



Looking NW towards Monroe Street and its intersection with Glenway Street.  The red awnings belong to the Gates and Brovi restaurant.

Posted in City of Madison Engineering Division, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, Marion Dunn Pond, Storm water | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Ray Schulenberg Planted the Prairie at Taylor University

Taylor University of Upland, Indiana in the east central part of the state

Taylor University of Upland, Indiana in the east central part of the state.

Last month I spent a few days in Indiana and took the opportunity to visit Taylor University in Upland, Indiana to see and photograph its famous prairie planted by Ray Schulenberg.  I had seen the prairie many years earlier but at the time, was not aware of who planted it or of its significance in the history of prairie restoration.  This time I approached the prairie with keen interest, and a deep appreciation of the time and effort that went into the project.

Ray Schulenberg is perhaps best known for his planting of the prairie (since named after him) at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, begun in 1963.  But Schulenberg, who was honored for lifetime achievement at the 24th North American Prairie Conference in Normal, Illinois this summer, has planted scores of prairies at colleges, universities and other public spaces across the midwest.   Schulenberg could be considered the Johnny Appleseed of prairie restoration.

The prairie at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.

The prairie on the outskirts of the Taylor University campus in Upland, Indiana.

The university has grown and been built up over the years.  Although the campus is relatively compact,  I could not, at first, get my bearings among all the new buildings nor find the prairie.  I flagged down a campus police officer and asked for help and wondered if he could direct me to the prairie.  I received a big blank stare.  When I tried:  “where is the area they burn every year?”, his eyes lit up and I was directed to a spot on the edge of campus, near the intersection of two state highways.

A trademark of a Shulenberg prairie planting is an emphasis on grasses in the heart of the prairie, surrounded by a verge of forbs

A trademark of a Shulenberg prairie planting is an emphasis on grasses in the heart of the prairie, surrounded by a verge of forms.  Faculty and students conduct a prescribed management burn of the prairie each year.

One would imagine that east central Indiana is out of the prairie region of the midwestern United States and that a prairie planting would be a bit out of its range.  But, as I know from experience,  prairie remnants–especially along railroad rights-of-way–are not uncommon from Upland, through Marion, and on to Wabash, Indiana.

I don’t know if prairie once grew on the spot of Schulenberg’s prairie, it certainly does fit in  with the landscape.

Posted in Prairie forbs, Prairie restoration, Restoration ecology | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Council Ring Spring

The Council Spring flows from beneath the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council.

The Council Ring Spring flows from beneath the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council.

Located just off Arbor Drive and Monroe Street, in the UW-Madison Arboretum, the Council Ring Spring has an average annual flow of 221 gallons per minute. Situated below the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council Ring (designed by the famed landscape architect, Jens Jensen in honor of his nephew who died at a  young age) the Council Ring Spring is in the heart of one of Madison’s best known warbler-watching spots during the annual spring migration in May.

Bird habitat here is ideal:  fresh water,  food sources, vegetative cover, and a variety of nesting sites from ground level to the oak canopy of the nearby Wingra Oak Savanna.

The Council Spring as it flows towards Lake Wingra.

The Council Spring as it flows towards Ho-Nee-Um Pond then on to Lake Wingra.

The Council Ring Spring flows on to Ho-Nee-Um Pond, an artificial pond dug between March 1938 and October, 1939 by the National Park Service when it ran the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) housed at Camp Madison in the UW-Madison Arboretum.

The pond flows into Lake Wingra over two small dams about a foot above lake level at either end of a dredge spoil island that shields the pond from Lake Wingra. The pond was , for many years, also  supplied by a storm sewer pipe that used to enter Ho-Nee-Um Pond at the foot of Knickerbocker Street, making Ho-Nee-Um Pond a large storm water detention pond.   The storm water brought in urban sediment that gradually filled the pond to the point that in recent years it is barely navigable, even with a canoe.

The Council Spring area is a popular bird watching spot especially during the spring warbler migration.

The Council Ring Spring area is a popular bird watching spot especially during the spring warbler migration.

However, Ho-Nee-Um Pond did provide a sort of filtering function and captured some sediments and contaminants, perhaps protecting Lake Wingra a bit from the direct assault.   But A few years ago City of Madison Engineering re-routed the storm water pipes about a block or so east so that the storm water now flows directly into Lake Wingra.

I’m not sure that this  “cure”  is any more desirable than the problem it was intended to fix.  The larger issue, as the Friends of Lake Wingra (FoLW) have been pointing out for years, is that storm water continues to run into the lake.  According to a Friends of Lake Wingra report (2009)  one-third of Lake Wingra’s water supply is from storm water; this is up from an estimated 8% storm water contribution prior to European settlement of the Madison area.  The contribution of spring flow to Lake Wingra has fallen from an estimated 50% pre-settlement to 35% today (FoLW 2009).

This does not seem like a sustainable situation, neither for fish, wildlife, recreation, or for drinking water supplies.  See the Friends of Lake Wingra watershed management planning for their recommendations for change and improvement.


Lake Winga:  a vision for the future.  2009  Friends of Lake Wingra.  Madison, WI

Posted in Council Spring, Friends of Lake Wingra, Jens Jensen, Lake Wingra, Springs | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gorham Springs (aka Duck Pond Springs) on Nakoma Road: a review of “invasive species impacts”

Lake Wingra Duck Pond Springs in the UW-Madison Arboretum

Gorham Springs as it flows into a pond in the UW-Madison Arboretum, as it appeared in September, 2016.

Nakoma Road and  Monroe Street are two of the busiest thoroughfares in Madison.  But just a few feet away from where these two traffic arteries intersect, is one of the few remaining natural springs in the Lake Wingra Watershed.

Just below the graceful curve of Nakoma Road and beyond the old stone wall that guards the Arboretum, and at the base of Spring Trail Road, flows a scarce and valuable source of cold water for Lake Wingra–the Gorham Springs.    In a watershed where once there were over 30 springs, it is now one of only 13 that remain.

More Than Just One Spring

The Gorham Springs (also known as Duck Pond Springs) is actually a complex of 5 springlets that flow from deep underground and emerge at the base of the stone wall and into the pond in the UW-Madison Arboretum, across Nakoma Road from the old Spring Trail Tavern.  Because the single source of upwelling groundwater is divided into 5 spring channels, Gorham Springs has never had the fast-flowing appearance of some other springs in the Lake Wingra Watershed.

Duck Pond Springs.

Watercress and forget-me-not growing in one of the vegetation-clogged spring channels of Gorham Springs (aka Duck Pond Springs) as it appeared in September, 2016.

Aquatic Weeds

What is different this summer is that the spring channels are so thoroughly clogged with forget-me-not and watercress that a visitor can’t even see the water.  Although these species have grown in the Lake Wingra Watershed for many years, and probably as long as Europeans have been in the area, the extent of their abundance this summer is alarming.

Watercress (Nasturtium officiale) and Forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpiodes) are described in “Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region” (Black & Judziewicz 2008)  as “introduced–naturalized and ecologically invasive.”   Pictured above and below, they like to grow in, or near, cold-water streams.

One of several springlets that are part of the Duck Pond Springs complex.

One of several springlets that are part of the Duck Pond Springs complex, as it looked in September, 2016.

Perhaps part of the reason the springs are clogged with aquatic weeds is that the spring does not have a powerful enough flow rate to flush them out, or to at least push them aside.   The flow rate of Gorham Springs (measured as cubic feet per second) is relatively slow compared to, say, the Council Springs at nearby Arbor Drive, or Big Spring across the lake.  Or, alternatively, the aquatic plant growth is slowing down the flow rate?  No one knows.  At least, I have not found any research on the topic.

What Problems Are Caused by Watercress and Forget-me-not?

I admit that watercress and forget-me-not are not garden beauties and seeing them clog a cold-water stream is not appealing; but, are they ecological problems or just aesthetic issues?   Because these two plants are considered invasive by the WIDNR, periodic efforts have been made to physically remove them from the Gorham Springs area.  But a manager of such a situation needs to decide if the abundance of these two plants is an aesthetic issue or can they cause real and documented ecological harm–a manager needs some proof that a control effort would be worthwhile and would be successful before deciding to invest in such an effort.

The Claims of an Ecological Threat

So, let’s see what the invasive species literature says about watercress and forget-me-not.   One claim for the invasive status of forget-me-not and watercress is found in “Invasive Species of the Upper Midwest” (Czarapata, 2005).   Czarapata lists both watercress and forget-me-not as invasive species and describes control measure but offers no documentation as the nature of their ecological threats other than that the Wisconsin DNR lists the two species as “invasive”.

Another claim comes from Black & Judziewicz (2008) in which they describe both watercress and forget-me-not as “introduced–naturalized and invasive” as “defined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Herbarium.”

The United State Agriculture Department (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service plant database lists forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpiodes) as invasive but this is based upon only the recommendation of the Wisconsin DNR invasive species section.

And finally, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources lists forget-me-not as an invasive species  and classifies it as “Restricted” under NR 40, DNR’s invasive species rule. The rule means that a person: “Cannot transport, transfer, or introduce without a permit.**Possession is allowed except for fish or crayfish. Control is encouraged but not required.”

The WIDNR cites several ecological threats posed by forget-me-not, including:
1.  “Aquatic forget-me-not can quickly crowd out native plant species and is able to form large monocultures, especially in situations where it is in or near a stream. This, in turn, affects community composition by reducing the number of native herbs.”
2.  “This species has the ability to escape water gardens and ponds and grow in undisturbed and natural environments. It can grow in wetlands, forests, bogs, swamps, marshes, lakes, streams and ponds.”
3.  “Aquatic forget-me-not is difficult to control due to its mechanisms for spreading. It is capable of abundant reproduction through spreading stolons (runners) and abundant seed production.”
4.  “Due to habitat competition, aquatic forget-me-not poses a threat to two threatened and endangered Wisconsin native plants; the threatened intermediate spike sedge (Eleolcharis intermedia) and the endangered winged monkey flower (Mimulus alatus).”

Watercress is not considered an invasive species by the Wisconsin DNR.

The Evidence

Through my investigations, here is what I have been able to find so far.  There may be other evidence out there that I am not aware of,  so if anyone if familiar with more recent literature, please let me know. I’m always eager to learn more.

The primary piece of evidence for the ecological harm caused by forget-me-not is found in this literature review , the Aquatic Invasive Species Literature conducted by the WIDNR.

  1.  Forget-me-not is documented to have a high rate of spread, and is shown to produce abundant seed and can spread through vegetative fragments.  It is also claimed to compete with native plants in wetland habitats but there are no reports cited in the DNR literature review that document forget-me-not outcompeting or crowding out native plants to the point that they are extirpated from a given site.
  2. The plant’s ability to escape cultivation is well documented, and its abundance in some situations is also well-known.  But what happens after it escapes and how it impacts ecosystems in which it establishes are less well-known, and no examples of this are cited in the literature that I have reviewed.
  3. The effectiveness, and cost/benefits of various control measures are not documented.  The DNR literature review states that some herbicides are non-selective and may  impact non-target species.  And, as the DNR literature review shows, the cost, efficacy, and timeframe of control efforts are “undocumented.”   My experience is that repeated,  hand-pulling, several times a year,  over several years is required to even make a dent in the populations of forget-me-not.
  4. To investigate its claims of the potential ecological threats of forget-me-not, the WIDNR used the traditional methods of examining  a variety of variables that constitute what is termed “Damage Potential” in terms of ecosystem impacts.  These potential ecosystem impacts included:

a. Ecosystem Impacts


Competes with native plants in wet habitats1


Can alter canopy layer and water flow


May reduce nutrients available to native plants10

Allelopathic Effects


Keystone Species


Ecosystem Engineer






Biotic Effects


Abiotic Effects



Provides shelter and food for macroinvertebrates1

As you can see, the majority of the possible  ecosystem impacts are “undocumented.”

I could find no documented cases–and the WIDNR does not cite any such examples–in which forget-me-not has impacted  the two species in Wisconsin that the WIDNR has said are potentially vulnerable to forget-me-not invasion:  the threatened intermediate spike sedge (Eleolcharis intermedia) and the endangered winged monkey flower (Mimulus alatus).

The most thorough documentation of potential ecosystem impacts comes from the Alaska Center for Conservation Science.  Alaska’s invasive impact assessment can be found here.  And, Alaska’s impact assessment for forget-me-not can be found here.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In brief, the Alaskan report says that forget-me-not has the potential for impacts on community structure, function, and interactions because it can compete with native species in aquatic environments, has the potential to form large monocultures, and has the potential to reduce the populations of native species but, like the WIDNR literature review does not cite any documented cases of these impacts happening.

Forget-me-not also, according to the Alaskan report,  contains alkaloids that are toxic to mammals and can cause weight loss.

But having the potential to cause an ecological impact is a long way from actually causing an ecological impact, let alone such an impact being documented in a scientific case study.

Whether or not these potential impacts are enough to justify calling forget-me-not invasive, let alone warrant the time and expense of a control program, is something that each individual institution and manager will have to decide on their own.

The scarcity of documented ecological impacts of forget-me-not suggest a rich field of research.  Please let me know if you are aware of more recent research that documents actual cases of ecological impacts of forget-me-not.



Black, M.R. and E. J. Judziewicz.  2008.  Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI.

Czarapata, E. J.  2005.  Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI.



Posted in Council Spring, Duck Pond Springs, Groundwater, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dane County Trout Stream Habitat Improvement Project Implemented

Harbison Branch of Token Creek, Dane County, Wisconsin

The newly dug channel of the Harbison Branch that reconnected the stream to Token Creek, Dane County, Wisconsin.

In 1934 the Wisconsin Conservation Department (WCD) annexed land on private property near the Village of Token Creek in northeastern Dane County for the development of a large carp pond as a commercial venture. For the project, the Wisconsin Conservation Department (now the Department of Natural Resources, WIDNR) re-directed a small un-named trout stream into the pond, thus radically altering the flow, temperature and effectiveness of the stream.  The small trout stream–now known as the Harbison Branch– and its fish populations were also affected.

The commercial venture sold carp to markets on the east and west coasts and thrived for a while but was not sustainable in the log run and the project was eventually abandoned.  But the carp pond remained–until this year.

A New Era and Renewal

John and Rose Mary Harbison, co-directors of the Token Creek Festival, have ‐ at their own expense ‐ restored the stream’s connection to Token Creek, eliminated the carp pond, and created a beautiful and ecologically vital terrain that once again enhances the Lake Mendota watershed.

James Addis, formerly Administrator of the Division of Resource Management and Director of the Bureaus of Fisheries Management and Science Services with the WIDNR, over saw the project.   Inter-Fauve, the stream and river restoration firm, implemented the project.

A section of the newly re-connected Harbison Branch of Token Creek.

A view  of newly re-connected Harbison Branch of Token Creek.

Setting and Hydrological Importance

The Harbison property is next to Token Creek County Park and is in the  Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area which “encompass approximately 900 acres in northeastern Dane County. Token Creek is the only cold water trout fishery in this region of Dane County, and the 27 square mile watershed provides nearly half of the base flow of water for Lake Mendota.” (Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area Master Plan Dane County, Wisconsin May 2011.)

According to Dane County Parks planners, “Token Creek is one of the most significant natural resources in northeastern Dane County.” (Token Creek County Park 2011)   This ecological and hydrological importance is recognized by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources which has classified Token Creek and its tributaries as cold water communities that support cold water species such as trout.  The cold water habitat qualities has led the Dane County Land Conservation division to classify the Token Creek watershed as “thermally sensitive” and as such “have special stormwater management regulations in place to prevent adversely impacting the temperature of the stream.” (Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area Master Plan Dane County, Wisconsin May 2011.)

Early Project Outcomes

A couple of project goals have been met within weeks of project completion.  Trout moved into the new Harbison Branch stream channel right away (Token Creek supports a reproducing population of brown trout).  And, according to Addis, thermal readings in the new stream channel proves that the water temperature has fallen back into the low 50 degree F range that is ideal for trout habitat.

The project also supports earlier and ongoing stream improvement efforts by Dane County Parks, WIDNR, and the Token Creek Watershed Association and Conservancy  which include:  removal of the mill-pond dam, bank stabilization, invasive species removal and adding fish habitat structures.

Future posts will report on how the project might benefit native species in general and  the existing sedge meadow remnants, in particular.


Hunt, Robert L.  1993.  Trout Stream Therapy.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI.

Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area Master Plan Dane County, Wisconsin May 2011.  Dane County Parks, Madison, WI.

Posted in Dane County Parks, Token Creek, Token Creek County Park, Token Creek Watershed | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sightings of Free-range Monarchs* in Southern Wisconsin Are Rare So Far This Year

Female monarch on showy blazing-star (Liatris ligulistylis).

Female monarch on showy blazing-star (Liatris ligulistylis) seen on Saturday August 13, 2016 in Madison, WI at the DMNA prairie planting at Glenway and the SW Bike Path.

But reports of sightings have increased in the second and third weeks of August.

Sightings of monarchs are few and far between here in southern Wisconsin.  I saw my first monarch of the season on Friday August 12 in a prairie restoration near Cross Plains, Wisconsin.  Then I saw the one (the photo above) the next day (Saturday the 13th) in a community/neighborhood prairie planting on the west side of Madison.  The following day, Sunday morning, three monarchs–two females and one male–were gathering nectar on prairie plants in a second community/neighborhood prairie planting along a commuter bike path.

That’s it; the sum total of monarchs I’ve seen this year.  No monarch eggs or monarch caterpillars, either.  These disappointing results, despite searching high and low, far and wide on milkweed plants in my yard, the gardens of neighbors, and in prairie plantings along the SW Bike Path.

By comparison, last year (2015) I saw my first monarch of the season on July 26 and saw monarchs frequently through the summer.

Similar Observations Elsewhere

And it’s not just in Wisconsin where the monarchs are scarce this year.  I spent a day in mid-July touring The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands in north central Illinois as part of the 24th North American Prairie Conference.  Neither myself or the dozens of other prairie enthusiasts on the tour saw a single monarch.

Others in the midwest also report few sightings of monarchs.  For example, Dr. Michael Jeffords, retired entomologist from the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute, Illinois Natural History Survey has seen few monarchs this year.  Although retired, he spends his time in the field.  He travels the state of Illinois searching for an photographing insects, especially butterflies.   He told the 24th North American Prairie Conference in Normal Illinois, in a presentation on July 18 that from June  until now, he had seen just two monarchs.  In Dr. Jeffords’ view “nothing is common anymore”, citing the declines of several other once-abundant species.  Dr. Jeffords blames habitat loss, and the fact that there are so many events that can negatively impact the monarch along its migratory route and in its wintering grounds in Mexico.

Similar distressing reports come from Monarch Watch.  In his July 7, 2016 Monarch Population Status summary, Chip Taylor reports that:

“Unfortunately, in the words of Yogi Berra – “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Meaning that all the data to this point in time suggest that this year will be a repeat of 2014 with a significant decline in the migration and the overwintering numbers.”

Chip’s analysis or, as he says, “guesswork”

“suggests that the largest numbers of monarchs will be produced from the eastern Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, southern Wisconsin and Michigan, northern Illinois with lower production as one moves eastward from Illinois. Numbers will be down in Pennsylvania, New York and most of the East north of Maryland.”

Rescuing and Rearing a Few Monarch Caterpillars

What can be done to help the monarch?

Individuals throughout the midwest are taking a direct approach by bringing the vulnerable monarch eggs and caterpillars into their homes to safeguard them for the 30 days or so to rear a monarch from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and finally to a butterfly.

I tried this for the first time last year.    After seeing monarch eggs and caterpillars fall prey to predators and disease over the past few years, I, like many others, decided to step in and help.

By the end of July last year, I began finding monarch eggs on milkweed plants in my garden.  I took them inside to care for in the safety of a netted rearing chamber; the survival rate in the wild for these little creatures is estimated to be 10%, so they are generally better off inside  and away from predators and diseases.

Mine was a fairly small-scale, mom and pop operation.  By this date (August 14) last year I had in the rearing chamber two chrysalis and six more eggs or caterpillars–six of the eight eggs/caterpillars went on to produce adult butterflies–a survival rate of 75%.  They were all released in time for them to join the fall migration to Mexico.

Free-range versus captive breeding

* Free-range monarchs, in my view, are those individuals that complete their life cycle with little direct help from humans.  Human assistance may include raising a few monarchs from eggs or caterpillars–a very vulnerable stage of life–to reduce or prevent mortality due to diseases and predators.  In this scenario,  the butterfly is released as soon after emerging from the chrysalis, as its wings are dry.  The monarch release usually happens in a few hours.

The opposite of free-range monarchs are those butterflies that are raised in Monarch Mills–those factory-like settings that breed and rear monarchs in captivity using assembly line techniques.   Monarch mills can produce vast quantities of caterpillars and monarchs for educational use in schools or for sale to specimen collectors.  Breeding adult monarchs may never be released to the wild.

Monarch butterfly on Showy Blazizingstar

Monarch butterfly on Showy Blazizing-star in 2013 in the Odana Road Prairie in Madison, WI.

Habitat preservation and restoration are key

Producing monarchs for release to the wild is a positive action but this step alone is not likely to save the monarchs.  Having lots of monarchs on the wing will not increase the over-wintering population in Mexico if the little creatures don’t have food to eat and a place to stay overnight on their way south.  Habitat restoration and creation along its migratory route will help.   Planting of more milkweeds, and native nectar plants along roadsides, in city parks, and in rural areas is important.  These initiatives are being done all over the midwest and especially in cities such as Madison.  A good example of this are the extensive plantings of native flowers and grasses along the SW Bike Path.

The bee and butterfly garden at Commonwealth Avenue and the SW Bike Path.

The bee and butterfly garden at Commonwealth Avenue and the SW Bike Path.

Here is to everyone who is doing their part to help the free-range monarchs.

Posted in Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association, Glenway Prairie, Milkweed, Monarch butterfly, Monarch migration | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Kissick Alkaline Bog Lake–a Wisconsin State Natural Area

A field trip to one of Wisconsin’s ecological gems, sponsored by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

Field trip leader, Thomas Meyer of the WI Department of Natural Resources.

Field trip leader, from the WI Department of Natural Resources demonstrating a bit of wetland ecology.

One of the pleasures, and benefits, of living in Wisconsin is that one is surrounded by a vast natural beauty and that it is relative easy to visit and explore the state’s abundance of publically-owned forests, prairies, and wetlands–preserved as state natural areas (SNA).  The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin promotes the protection,  public awareness of, and facilitates guided visitation to, these natural wonders.

One such SNA that I recently visited is Kissick Alkaline Bog Lake in northwestern Wisconsin.  On a delightful day in mid-June, 20 or so members of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF), from all over the state, gathered on a rural roadside to be led on a three-hour walk, or slog, through a bog.  Many were photographers, eager to capture an image of one or more of the 14 native orchid species that find refuge in the bog; others were retired folks and some were young parents with children–all were enthusiastic supporters of Wisconsin state natural areas, state parks, and other public lands.  The field trip to Kissick Lake Bog is just one of the 188 field trips in 2016 sponsored by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.  Click at to learn more.

Members of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin begin their trek into the Kissick Alkaline Lake Bog State Natural Area (SNA).

Members of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin begin their trek into the Kissick Alkaline Lake Bog State Natural Area (SNA).

Located in a protected wildlife area in northwest, Wisconsin, the “Kissick Alkaline Bog Lake features a 10-acre wilderness lake encircled by a large, quaking bog mat and northern wet forest” (Wisconsin Naturally, a guide to 150 great State Natural Areas, 2003 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.)

What is a “natural area”?  In ecological terms, they are “tracts of land or water that represent the last vestiges of Wisconsin’s native landscape as it existed before the 1830’s, before European settlement began” and extensive alteration of the landscape began in earnest.  Wisconsin state natural areas–more than 600 of them–“harbor natural features essentially unaltered by human-caused disturbances or that have substantially recovered from disturbance over time.”  Only the best of the best are recognized as State Natural Areas (Wisconsin Naturally” 2003 page 3.)

Walking sticks came in handy during the difficult off-trail hike.

Walking sticks and photographer’s monopods came in handy during the difficult off-trail hike.

Of course, the emphasis during the walk, in addition to taking in the natural beauty,  was on maintaining one’s footing on the quaking bog mat, preventing your boots from becoming stuck in the peat, and on finding a few of the native orchids that we all came to see.  In total, Thomas, our field trip leader, led us to six species in bloom and one–the pink lady slipper–that had just finished blooming.  My favorite was the grass pink orchid, below.

Grass pink orchid (Calapogon tuberosus). Calapogon is Greek for beautiful beard, referring to the bearded lip; tuberoses refers to the roots.

Grass pink orchid (Calapogon tuberosus). Calapogon is Greek for beautiful beard, referring to the bearded lip, visible in the middle flower above; tuberosus refers to the roots.

An especially interesting plant was the narrow-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia), one of several carnivorous plant species–bladderwort and pitcher plant are others–that  make a living in the bog.  The narrow-leaved sundew (pictured below) is a tiny, prostrate plant that is easily overlooked.  It lives on the top of the sphagnum moss bog mat–literally under our feet–as a small rosette of  basal leaves that are glandular-hairy and sticky to attract and capture insects.

At the request of the field trip leader attendee held up a sundew plant for all to examine. Afterwards, the sundew was replanted back into the bog mat.

At the request of the field trip leader, an attendee held up a sundew plant for all to examine. Afterwards, the sundew was replanted back into the bog mat.

It was a real treat to experience the bog environment, walk on the quaking bog mat, and see one of Wisconsin’s natural treasures.  I am encouraged to visit more state natural areas later this year.

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Planning for the future of ecological restoration

Picnic Hill sentinel.

Picnic Hill sentinel.

When I am planning an ecological restoration project, my two main questions are:

1) Toward what restoration standard (s) should I aim; and 2) What is the best way to achieve the desired outcome (s)? The answers to these two questions are not always obvious right at the start, are often elusive, and are usually discovered only after much fieldwork, trial and error, and adaptive restoration.

If I follow my own advice—which is to know what I am doing and why—I try to set clear, measurable goals and objectives and identify a variety of alternative approaches and a range of acceptable outcomes.   I also consider enlarging the restoration target as much as possible and extending the time I imagine that the restoration will need to be completed.  All the while, keeping in mind that I may have to change course as new conditions and information becomes available, and understanding that restorations are never “completed”.  This is—or should be—standard ecological restoration practice.

But, despite good planning based upon scientific principles, and despite our technical expertise, we don’t get all that we hope for.  Restoration is hard work, and at the end of the day, most ecological restoration projects I know of achieve only some of their project goals. Ecological restoration projects meet a few surprises and setbacks along the way; we restorationists experience both satisfaction and frustration; we learn some things, and continue to be puzzled by other things. But, we forge on and strive to do better.

Critiques of Ecological Restoration

All this comes to mind as I consider the recent spate of criticism of ecological restoration from the proponents of novel ecosystems.

Novel Ecosystems are defined as:

. . . systems that differ in composition and/or function from present and past systems as a consequence of changing species distributions, environmental alteration through climate and land use change and shifting values about nature and ecosystem.” Hobbs, R. J., E.S. Higgs, and C.M. Hall. 2013. P. 3

While what Hobbs and colleagues say describes the sort of situations we restorationists have always dealt with, the basic idea of the novel ecosystem proponents is that because of the nature, extent, and rate of impacts of human activities, some ecosystems have moved in to conditions never seen before and are beyond the ability of restoration ecologists to repair.

After a prescribed burn of Curtis Prairie in the UW-Madison Arboretum

After a prescribed burn of Curtis Prairie in the UW-Madison Arboretum

 Specific Claims against ecological restoration made by novel ecosystem proponents

Then, novel ecosystem advocates (Hobbs, et al. 2009) take it a step further and claim:

  1. Restoration, taken literally, offers false promise.”
  2. “Escalating global change is resulting in widespread, no-analogue environments and novel ecosystems that render traditional goals unachievable.”
  3. “False expectations . . . derive, partially because of an overselling of what restoration can do, by some, and partially because of a misunderstanding of the complexity and dynamics of ecosystems being managed or restored.”

Claims of this sort are found throughout the novel ecosystems literature but Hobbs, et al. (2009) are especially clear and concise statement of their positions.

Myself and other restoration ecologists take an exception to these statements, especially because the authors have not subjected their theories to rigorous scientific scrutiny. But, to be fair, our discipline should not be immune to, or afraid of, criticism or discussion. If our colleagues feel that we are falling short, we should listen.   We should ask ourselves if there is any truth to these assertions?

Restoration Checklist and Planning Principles

One way to acknowledge the critiques and to examine the assumptions of our profession, is to think about how we plan for the future–both what we expect to happen, and the uncertainties.  For example, we know that two primary challenges facing ecological restoration in the next few decades will be 1) the restoration of severely disturbed land—perhaps by creating unusual communities and ecosystems—and 2) anticipating the impacts of global climate change. And, just like any preparedness planning—take prescribed fire planning, for example—there are a few underlying principles that provide a good planning foundation. To that end, here is a checklist for ecological restoration planners and managers that we can all use during our planning and implementation.

How do we define ecological restoration?

  • Do we use the term restoration too freely, sometimes as an “ecological seal of approval” for a project?
  • Do we refer to some projects as “restorations” when in fact, they may be something else For example, a pest plant control effort might be necessary for restoration but, by itself, is pest plant control sufficient to really call the project a restoration?
  • When we say we are restoring a prairie, what aspects of a prairie do we realistically hope to bring back?

Are we intimately familiar with our surroundings?

  • Are we familiar enough with the ecosystem in question to know that it is in need of our help?
  • When we set out to restore a “disturbed system” do we have a complete understanding of the nature, and extent of the disturbance?
  • What do we me by “disturbed”?
  • Do we know what to do to help it?  If not, how do we find out what we should do, if anything?
  • What do we know about the processes that led to the ecosystems degradation and invasion (if that is a problem) and do we have an understanding of what it will take to recover the system.
  • Is a research study that asks these questions, built into the restoration project?

Do we promise more than we can deliver?

  • Do our goals and objectives use evidence-based ecological indicators integrating structure, function, and diversity in our projects?
  • Do our goals and objectives include measurability and criteria to assess the outcomes of our ecological restoration projects?
  • And are we monitoring our projects to answer questions about how the project turned out so we can whether or not the outcomes produce the results we anticipated?

Plan for the worst and hope for the best

  • Develop a list of if/then scenarios to guide your actions for a range of possible outcomes.
  • Develop response plans to meet anticipated outcomes.

Build capacity within your team

  • This is perhaps the most important strategic thing you can do. Strive to build capacity, and flexibility, within your organization to expect, and respond to, changes.
  • Celebrate the achievement of desired outcomes.
  • Learn from setbacks and surprises.

These steps are all part of knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it.


Harris, J.A., Hobbs, R.J., Higgs, E. and Aronson, J. 2006. Ecological Restoration and global climate change. Restoration Ecology 14. 170-176.

Richard J. Hobbs, Lauren M. Hallett, Paul R. Ehrlich and Harold A. Mooney. 2011. Intervention Ecology: Applying Ecological Science in the Twenty-first : BioScience, 61(6):442-450. 2011.
Published By: American Institute of Biological Sciences

Hobbs, R. J. Higgs, E.S., and Hall. C.M. 2013. Introduction: Why Novel Ecosystems? In Novel Ecosystems, Intervening in the New Ecological World Order. 2013 Edited by Hobbs, R.J., Higgs, E.S. and Hall. C.M. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Riccardi, A. 2007. Are modern biological invasions an unprecedented form of global change? Conservation Biology. 21. 329-336.

Root, T.L. and Schneider, S.H., 2006. Conservation and climate change: the challenges ahead. Conservation Biology, 20. 706-708.




Posted in Basic assumptions of restoration ecology, Burnham Centennial Prairie, Ecological restoration, Novel Ecosystems, Restoration ecology | Tagged , | Leave a comment