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A grassy meadow surrounded by trees

Meyer Preserve: Restoration and Stewardship Project

September 9, 2019  |  Topics: Places

Protecting local oak ecosystems, making a global impact

By Jane Huffman and Meghan Wersel

The extraordinary significance of Meyer Preserve

Meyer Preserve is one of the most valuable and environmentally significant preserves that the Waukesha County Land Conservancy (WCLC) has ever protected. WCLC protected Meyer Preserve in 2018 by way of a WDNR Stewardship Grant and tremendous community support; now we are focusing on actively stewarding it. We secured two years of restoration and stewardship funding from the Wisconsin Habitat Partnership Fund and are working to establish a long-term endowment of $250–300,000 to steward Meyer Preserve in perpetuity.

A broad field of tall grass and wildflowers with trees in the background

Just as you must maintain a house so that it does not degrade in value, we must act quickly to maintain Meyer Preserve’s tremendous quality before it’s too late.

wildflowers in a woodland meadow

Meyer Preserve is an 80-acre remnant of a globally imperiled oak ecosystem, meaning that it has remained relatively untouched by human development and disturbance for generations. It is located within the Southern Kettle Moraine conservation opportunity area (COA) and is part of a 143-acre regionally significant natural area that offers critical species habitat. COAs are the areas in the state that contain the most significant ecological features, natural communities, and species of greatest conservation need. Restoring and stewarding this project area is our top priority—a priority that is supported by state, county, and local conservation plans.

A large oak in a woodland opening
Image courtesy Waukesha Area Land Conservacy

Why oaks?

Oaks ecosystems are globally imperiled. This is because only 1% of Earth’s original oak ecosystems still exist today. These oaks are a “keystone species,” meaning that they support hundreds of other wildlife species including many rare, uncommon, and threatened plants and animals. These include the redheaded woodpecker, which has experienced a 68% population decline due to loss of habitat, and the state-threatened kitten tail plant. Kevin Doyle of the WDNR says that Waukesha County presents one of the best opportunities to protect kitten tail plants in the region—if not the world.

two kittentail plants
Kittentails. Image courtesy Waukesha Area Land Conservacy

Meyer Preserve contains a diverse complex of natural communities. It is home to oak savanna and dry prairie, oak woodlands, sedge fen, sedge meadow and emergent marsh. The preserve also contains a stream that connects to the Mukwonago River, which provides a large habitat area for wildlife, supports ground water discharge, and maintains good water quality for two high-quality trout streams. The Mukwonago River is one of the richest, most biodiverse rivers in the state of Wisconsin; it is home to 59 species of fish, seven of which are listed as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern.

wetland pond surrounded by woodland

Science-based restoration and stewardship

Our essential stewardship initiatives include invasive species control; forestry mowing and brush removal; native seeding; and prescribed burns, a safe and controlled conservation technique that has been used for centuries to protect Wisconsin’s natural communities. Prescribed burns ensure that oak ecosystems can support abundant biodiversity, that they can self-sustain and self-renew in the way that nature intended, and that their structures and functions—the living and nonliving elements and processes that compose every ecosystem—are healthy and unimpaired.

Common selfheal flower in bloom
Common selfheal in bloom

WCLC land stewards pair fires with careful planning and safety measures to manage and restore oak ecosystems. During a prescribed burn, fire is applied to a predetermined area under specific environmental conditions to help restore the health of an ecosystem by removing invasive species, creating space for native seeds to germinate and thrive.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Image courtesy Waukesha Area Land Conservacy

Join the cause

Part of the Meyer Preserve stewardship plan is to make the property more accessible to and fun for visitors seeking outdoor recreation opportunities—and for those who want to get involved in our restoration efforts. Click here to learn how you can participate in one of our upcoming workdays to truly help us make a difference, learn new skills, and have fun outdoors. Also consider donating to WCLC to support the restoration and stewardship of Meyer Preserve. This magnificent preserve is counting on us.

meadow with wildflowers in bloom surrounded by woodland

Celebrate with us!

Oaks are so important to us that we deemed 2019 the “Year of the Oak.” Join us for a special “Oaktober” Fest celebration on Saturday, October 5 at Stone Fences Farm in Dousman, Wisconsin, home of the state’s 311-year-old number-one ranked champion burr oak tree. There will be food, family-friendly fun, and lots of opportunities to learn about our mighty oaks from the WCLC team and local experts. Click here to Register. All are welcome!

field of tall grass and wildflowers with woodland in the background

Jane Huffman is a writer and Meghan Wersel is the Land Stewardship Manager for the Waukesha County Land Conservancy.

A young woman walking in an oak grove

Photographs by Eddee Daniel, A Wealth of Nature Project Director, except as noted.