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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A clear-cut case of conservation?

Even before the sun eases up past the horizon, the Lakeshore Path is dotted with runners and bikers hoping to get the path to themselves before it's filled with families and leisurely walkers, looking for the first glinting red leaves of autumn. A few people walk briskly in the crisp air, swinging briefcases and backpacks, on their way to work at the Capitol or to campus for school. Golden light sifts its way through the trees near the Lakeshore dorms, revealing a large pair of bulldozers near a huge pile of brush. 

 

A woman in a suit and carrying her lunch balks at the sight. She checks her watch, pops out her headphones and bends over to peer at a sign with a large bold heading that reads, What's going on here?"" She begins reading the lengthy paragraph but gives up after checking her watch again and scurries off. 

 

Over the past summer, the scenic areas near Lake Mendota, collectively referred to as the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, have been noticeably interrupted by trucks, chainsaws and large piles of discarded brush. The natural landscape normally consists of a mix of large, open fields and airy, wooded forests. Now, trails and forests throughout the preserve have been completely changed by invasive plants brought to the United States by European and Asian immigrants. 

 

Garlic mustard, honeysuckle and buckthorn choked out native plants to the point of extinction in the Lakeshore area. Without any natural predators, dropped seedpods rapidly overtook open patches of soil. Invasive plants like buckthorn are not only incredibly adaptive, but also incredibly dangerous to other plants. 

 

""[Buckthorn] secretes compounds through its leaves, bark, berries and roots that basically inhibit the growth of other plants and possibly some soil microbes,"" Emily Sievers, UW-Madison graduate student and lead steward for the preserve said. ""As far as control goes, the best method that I'm aware of is to cut mature trees and treat the stumps with herbicide."" 

 

Without direct chemical treatment, reproduction and re-sprouting is only stunted, not stopped. It can also be difficult to assess progress, since buckthorn seeds can remain dormant for two to three years. 

 

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Urban influence has also exacerbated erosion and pollution in the preserve. Rain washes a flow of car oil and chemicals into the lake, pulling along nutrient rich soil and making it difficult for plants to keep their roots underground.  

 

Formed in 1998, the Lakeshore Nature Preserve is a group of ecologists, volunteers and students working together to combat these ecological threats. Their vision is to restore the land back to a healthy plant system filled with the native, green diversity it once had. 

 

Cathie Bruner, the program's field manager, spoke about how removing the overgrowth on Picnic Point would not only be helpful for the environment, but also open up the path.  

 

""If we cleared it out, imagine how spectacular the [Madison] skyline would look,"" she said. ""The wall of buckthorn has become what everyone is used to seeing.""  

 

Unfortunately, that vision cannot come to fruition without creating a lot of disruption in the landscape and in the public's enjoyment of the land. Bruner conceded that these kinds of changes, though they give native plants the kind of light and resources they need, often alarm citizens.  

 

In the case of Lot 34, an area along the Lakeshore Path just below the Adams/Tripp parking lot, restoration has been met with a great deal of public skepticism.  

 

Several student workers and preserve leaders spent the summer sawing, cutting and pulling weeds by hand. Eventually, a few large bulldozers came in to cut away larger brush and to repave the parking lot with concrete that will absorb water rather than sending polluted run-off into the already troubled lake.  

Bruner posted signs along the trail explaining the visual disarray and various projects the preserve is undergoing. Yet, when asked their opinion about the new open woodland at Lot 34, those walking the path still seemed wary. 

 

""It disappoints me that I have to look at a parking lot,"" said Rollin Reinart, a UW-Madison sophomore.  

 

Madison resident Christine Pawley, who walks the Lakeshore Path every day to work agreed.  

 

""I don't like to look at the cars,"" Pawley said. ""[Though] I can appreciate that it has to be managed."" 

 

Josh Hartman, a UW-Madison senior who works for the preserve, said passersby often misinterpret the efforts undertaken at Lot 34. 

 

""We spent a lot of time making sure the brush didn't distract people along the path or keep them from using it,"" Hartman said. ""In such a busy, public space, though, people often approached us and expected us to be able to defend exactly what we were doing.""  

 

Lakeshore Program Manager Daniel Einstein believes people react this way because they are protective of the green space traditionally viewed as a part of the Madison community.  

 

""Even when the land was privately owned, it was viewed as a kind of community home ground,"" he said. ""It really belongs to the whole city.""  

 

Great care has been given to authentically replanting the preserve. Stephen Thomforde, one of preserve's lead stewards, harvested grass seedlings from one of the American Indian effigy mounds, speculating the seeds may contain some of the oldest native grass DNA in Madison.  

 

This cycle of clearing and planting will continue through the warmer months of fall.  

 

""I think in a few years, the community is really going to see the transformation in regrowth,"" Hartman said, ""and appreciate the difference and how it all came together.""

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