University of Wisconsin–Madison

Month: August 2016

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.