University of Wisconsin–Madison

Category: Uncategorized

WIDNR to hire Mary C. Anderson as Conservation Agriculture Specialist

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has hired a new Conservation Agriculture Specialist that will focus on developing grazing as a grasslands management tool.  See the May 23rd announcement below from Kent Van Horn, Chief of the Bird and Wildlife section of the WIDNR.

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I am very pleased to announce that we have hired our first Conservation Agriculture Specialist to help us manage our growing grazing program. As many of you know, we are challenged with the work load of managing over 80,000 acres of grassland on Department properties using a range of management tools including prescribed fire, brush control, haying and chemical application. These grasslands are important to a variety of wildlife species and our public land users. Our creative property managers have explored using grazing as an additional tool to manage these important grassland habitats for wildlife habitat and public use. As the program has expanded, the need to create a vision for the future, assist our land managers with grazing plans and create statewide consistency in process/policy developed. We have had come great partners that have advised our work and helped us move forward to this point. We created the position of Conservation Agriculture Specialist to lead our grazing management program. Once advertised, we had an amazing interest in this position with 2-3 times the number of applications we anticipated and we interviewed a group of highly qualified candidates.

We are excited to announce that we have hired “Mary C.” Anderson to provide this expertise and lead this program into the future.

Mary C. will start with the Department on May 29. Mary will have statewide duties and will work out of the Eau Claire office. Please welcome her and take the opportunity to introduce yourself in the weeks to come.

Welcome Aboard: New Members to the Grasslands Team!

The grazing public grasslands team would like to extend a warm welcome to two new members of our team: Alden Dirks and Laura Judge!

Alden is a graduate student who has a strong interest in studying agriculturally beneficial fungi. Working alongside Dr. Randy Jackson, Alden is exploring the impacts of grazing on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and the trophic interactions between grazer, plant and fungi. When he’s not in the lab, he enjoys foraging, extreme cooking, and ceramics.

Laura collecting wild blueberries on a backpacking trip to Isle Royale this past August, 2017

Laura is also a graduate student who is eager to learn about how agricultural land can be managed to provide benefits to both ecosystem services and agricultural production. Working alongside Dr. Mark Renz, she is monitoring the quantity and quality of rotationally-grazed forage areas and changes in plant communities. Outside of the project, Lauren enjoys outdoor activities like backpacking and camping, as well as relaxing activities like yoga and meditation.

Welcome aboard!

Project update, August 2016

This is the first post on activities in a collaboration between UW-Madison, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and private graziers to assess the potential for grazing on public grasslands. We want this blog to be a place for idea and information exchange among stakeholders, which includes everybody interested in how we manage public lands and how these lands respond to management.


After a year of designing experiments and collaborating with partners on plot locations and other details, this spring saw the transition to getting animals and researchers out on the landscape. There has been considerable progress at all three of our main research sites – Hook Lake, Buena Vista, and Johnson Wildlife Areas. With the help of WDNR, we have mowed and applied herbicide pre-treatments at all three sites. Cattle are grazing at two of the sites (Hook Lake and Buena Vista), but the introduction of grazing has been delayed at Johnson because there is not yet fencing.

There are a number of different aspects of grazing and associated impacts that we are investigating.  First, under the guidance of Professor Mark Renz, Agroecology graduate student Jacob Grace and recent UW-Madison graduate Galen Bergquist are studying the impacts of grazing on plant communities.  They have been actively sampling at Hook Lake and Buena Vista Wildlife Areas and will continue to do so through the remainder of the grazing season. They completed shrub counts and species surveys at both sites this May and June, and are now collecting forage samples before and after the cattle graze the research plots. By the end of the grazing season they expect to have enough data to begin to do some comparisons across different treatments.  For more information on the design of their experiments, please see the project details page.

Highland cattle grazing at Hook Lake, July 2016

Highland cattle grazing at Hook Lake, July 2016

Sam Asper, a second-year Agroecology graduate student studying under Professor Christine Ribic, is conducting bird counts at Buena Vista to assess the impact of grazing on Greater Prairie Chicken communities. Late July and early August is the primary time she will conduct most of these surveys. Sam is working closely with WDNR Wildlife Technician Erin Grossman, and private grazier Bill Kolodziej.

Agroecology student Sam Asper with advisor Chris Ribic locating prairie chickens at Buena Vista Wildlife Area, July 2016

Agroecology student Sam Asper with advisor Chris Ribic locating prairie chickens at Buena Vista Wildlife Area, July 2016

Two additional project aspects extend beyond the borders of our three research sites. The first is a producer survey to determine the producer willingness to pay to rent public land to rotationally graze cattle. Under her advisor Mark Rickenbach, second year Agroecology student Courtney Robinson designed and distributed the survey in the spring of 2016 to graziers around the state and is currently analyzing the data. She will present some of her findings in the fall, and will facilitate a dialogue between producers and public land managers on how to overcome barriers to grazing public land in Wisconsin at the January 2017 Grassworks Conference in Wisconsin Dells.

Agroecology student Greta Landis taking samples, June 2016

Agroecology student Greta Landis taking samples, June 2016

Finally, Agroecology student Greta Landis is working under Professor Randy Jackson to conduct a “meta study” across the state to help us better understand the public grassland resource inventory in Wisconsin and to determine what “success” looks like to graziers, land managers, and researchers in these varied locations. Greta’s work sampling plant communities will also be used to ground truth remote sensing methods under a NASA study that will ultimately help us understand how we can more efficiently measure plant communities remotely for a variety of assessments, including grazing productivity and plant diversity.

Research on these and related themes will continue around the state for the next three years. All UW-Madison project personnel look forward to continued collaboration with key stakeholders and partners such as the WDNR and private graziers as the project continues to grow and develop.