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October 23, 2001

Campus Burn Planned to Preserve Original Prairie
By Khrysten Darm
UW-RF News Bureau

Members of the UW-River Falls Prairie Project Group, an interest group of teachers and local landowners, are keeping a watchful eye on the weather in the hope that they can conduct a burn this fall to protect three acres of original prairie land on campus. The burn must be conducted once the plants are dormant and conditions are dry, but before the first freeze.

The original prairie land is located on a path south of campus, past the Melvin Wahl Amphitheatre, on a dirt road leading to Campus Laboratory Farm No. 1, according to plant and earth science assistant Professor Eric Sanden. "This land is believed to be an original relic sight," said Sanden, a member of the group. "The land has been untouched because it is the site of an old railroad bed. The railroad tracks have been dug up, and the bed has been converted to a walking and biking path. The land around it has been left in an unfarmed and natural state."

Sanden said the burn will improve the conditions of the land, and will preserve it for the future. It will also prepare the land for new plantings of indigenous species, such as silver buffaloberry and butterfly weed in the spring; wild bergamot and yellow coneflower in the summer; and little bluestem and indiangrass in the fall.

The burn will get rid of unwanted weeds and will clean out the woody vegetation, he said. Once an initial burn has been made, there will be several years in a row where burning will be needed to get rid of woody species that are invading and infesting the area. After that, a maintenance burn will be done every few years to keep out the non-indigenous species.

Sanden said that Campus Planner Dale Braun has been very helpful in making sure that nothing disturbs the site, such as the plans for a new student center and a Health and Human Performance building. Horticulture Professor Terry Ferriss, another member of the group, has plans to develop an entryway garden filled with the indigenous species and name cards so people can identify what they see when walking through the land.

"We are trying to restore, maintain, and protect the site," said Sanden. "Itıs a lot of work for three acres, but remnants of original prairie are so rare, itıs worth it."

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