Bascom Hill, the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, is a sprawling lawn enjoyed by students year after year. A new campus initiative, however, envisions a future where Bascom Hill is not only a haven for students, but also serves as a hub of biodiversity in Madison.
Bee-utify Bascom started out as a final project for Botany 651: Conservation Biology, led by Christian Fischer and Erin Urbaniak, both seniors studying conservation biology. The goal of the project was to promote biodiversity.
“The two of us were sitting in class in Birge Hall racking our brains trying to think of a project,” Fischer said about the origins of their project. “Erin looked out the window and said that monoculture lawn [on Bascom Hill] ... and we decided that it needed to be fixed.”
While many students flock to Bascom Hill year round, the same cannot be said for Wisconsin’s native wildlife. In general, the more diverse a habitat is, the more biodiversity in the area. Monocultures, in contrast, have relatively low levels of biodiversity. After all, it would be difficult for a butterfly to find nectar in a field of Kentucky bluegrass, or for small mammals like rabbits to find a place to hide on well manicured lawns. Adding more native plants, grasses and flowers to Bascom Hill would increase its biodiversity while also providing habitat for endangered or threatened animals.
Yet, the benefits extend beyond conservation. Exposure to flowers can improve your mood, reduce stress and even increase feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment. Native grasses have an economic impact, too, preventing runoff which can reduce water costs and reduce the amount of agricultural chemicals that leach into Lakes Mendota and Monona.
While native prairies are great for pollinators and native wildlife alike, turning Bascom into a giant prairie would make it harder for students seeking to enjoy the hill.
“It’s really important to us to preserve the function of Basom Hill right now,” Fischer commented. “I know everyone loves to sit out there on a sunny spring day to study and picnic, and we don’t in any way want to remove the ability to do that.”
In order to increase the biodiversity on Bascom Hill without interfering with student activities, the team is proposing a solution that meets both demands: micro-prairies. Instead of transforming the whole hill into a prairie, Bascom would be interspersed with small patches of prairie containing native plants and grasses. These prairies would not only represent Wisconsin's current day prairies, but they would also be a tribute to Wisconsin’s heritage and history.
The project is currently in its planning phase and seeks to meet with UW-Madison faculty and leadership to discuss the future of the initiative.
“If you think of the UW-Madison campus, you think of Bascom Hill.” Urbaniak said. “I’m excited for people to come in from all over the country, even the world, and just see that we’re bringing back the pre-colonization prairie and encouraging people to think, ‘Wow, this is beautiful on Bascom Hill, maybe I’ll go plant some flowers in my garden.’”