Dane County Parks staff and the Friends of Indian Lake County Park have embarked on a project to restore 17 acres of oak savanna at the park just west of Waunakee, removing invasive species to encourage the growth of native prairie.
According to a press release from the Dane County Parks Department, oak savanna was one of the most common vegetation types in the upper Midwest but is highly endangered with just a fraction of 1 percent remaining.
“Intact oak savannas are now one of the rarest natural communities on earth,” the release states, noting that they are characterized by scattered oak trees covering between 10 to 50 percent of the site with prairie underneath.
The 17-acre area includes remnant sections of healthy prairie, along with areas taken over by invasive species, according to Darren Marsh, county parks director.
“There’s more of a seed bank in there,” Marsh said, adding that the hope is once the invasive species are under control, the native plants will return.
The county parks department and the Friends group have worked on restoration projects for many years at Indian Lake, restoring approximately 20 acres of prairie and 6 acres of woodland. Another 4 acres of savanna restoration is currently underway.
The county has a contract with Valton Log and Lumber to have the company cut down the invasive black locust trees and others not part of the oak-savanna ecosystem then pay the county for the lumber. The county will use the proceeds to pay for the resources and staffing for the project.
“The goal is to at least break even,” Marsh said, noting that Valton would oversee removal of the trees. The county will then have the resources to manage the site.
Oak savannas are beneficial for native insects and wildlife, Marsh said.
“Native insects and wildlife are really challenged when they don’t have their natural habitat to live in and gain shelter from, and the plant species they need to survive,” he said.
Work was scheduled to begin on the project located at the northeast section of the park June 25 and last through July 15. Information will be posted about the project on the trails, and some trails may be temporarily rerouted to provide access for equipment.
Once the trees are removed, park staff and volunteers will work on suppressing any remaining invasive species and introducing native plants that are part of the habitat. Controlled burns will also be used to manage the area.
Marsh said the county board and county executive have made a priority of restoring whole landscapes.
“This work being done by our parks staff and volunteers will provide amazing experiences not only for all of us today, but for generations to come,” County Executive Joe Parisi said in the press release.
Those who would like to donate to this and other restoration projects in Dane County parks can do so online at danecountyparks.com/donate. Those interested in volunteering can visit the website danecountyparks.com/volunteer.