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.


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.

Project Update, November 2017

Monitoring plant species composition at Johnson Wildlife Area in the Western Prairie Habitat Restoration Area, 2017

Over the past several months, the members of the grazing public grasslands team have been busy conducting field work, collecting data, and leading presentations in grassland management. This blog post will introduce new projects and provide updates on current projects led by the members of the grasslands team.

Farmers, conservation managers, and local neighbors gathering at one of the pasture walks at Buena Vista Wildlife Area, 2017

PhD student Greta Landis spent some of her summer this year on outreach and presentations for the grazing project, including two pasture walk events with land managers and graziers at Hook Lake and Buena Vista Wildlife Areas.

A sign guiding visitors toward the pasture walk entrance, 2017

The walks provided a chance for farmers, conservation managers, and the general public to give their feedback on grazing management and learn about some of the successes, challenges, and research findings involved with grazing.

Despite rainy and cloudy conditions, visitors expressed their interest in learning about conservational grazing, 2017

Even through the rainy weather, the two events attracted approximately 50 people. Many visitors encouraged the graziers, land managers, and graduate students to host future events, focusing on the impact of grazing on vegetation and on grassland bird conservation. Feedback also suggested new topic areas for research, such as pollinator conservation and water quality issues. The team would like to thank those who attended the walks and provided feedback for future events.


The Ecological Society of America hosted their annual conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference attracted more than 4,500 researchers, students, and educators across the United States, 2017 (Image provided by esa.org)

On August 6th, project leader Randy Jackson and Greta attended the Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference in Portland, Oregon. The ESA is a nationwide, professional organization of ecological scientists that host annual conferences, attracting researchers and educators to discuss leading projects in ecology and environmentalism. They delivered a presentation on the collaborative research approach used by the grazing group, and met with other ecologists working on public-private partnerships in grassland conservation all across the nation.

A cover photo of the Greener Pastures segment of the WDNR magazine, April 2017 (Image provided by WDNR Magazine)

Professor Mark Renz was interviewed for an article for the Greener Pastures segment in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) magazine released in April. The article covered the benefits of conservation grazing on public land, detailing the review process the WDNR undergoes when considering a piece of land for conservation grazing. The article also discussed the impacts that conservation grazing has on local grassland bird nesting habitats, explaining that conservation grazing will provide sustainable environments for nesting, ultimately increasing the quality of game for hunters.

Click here to read the full article: dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/2017/04/Grazing.PDF

Undergraduate Student Lauren Jorgensen soil sampling, 2017

Undergraduate student Lauren Jorgensen and Greta continued soil sampling at Buena Vista, Hook Lake, and Johnson Wildlife Areas, monitoring changes in soil nutrients and soil structure to relate to vegetation changes.


Graduate student Jacob Grace (right) and research assistant Lanette Martell (left) collecting soil samples, 2017



Graduate student Jacob Grace spent his second year of fieldwork collecting data on shrub regrowth, plant community composition, and forage abundance and utilization in response to grazing and shrub suppression treatments. Data analysis is still in progress, but shrubs at the Buena Vista Wildlife Area, one of his three grazing research sites, are showing visible signs of damage and reduction by three years of rotational grazing. Once data analysis is complete, he hopes to find more developed and conclusive relationships between rotational grazing and grassland traits.

In addition to his fieldwork, Jacob also conducted video interviews with graziers and land managers at three grazing sites: Buena Vista, Hook Lake, and Kickapoo River Wildlife Areas. Jacob intends to use information from these interviews and their perspective on grazing to create an informational video about the Grazing Public Lands Project and its endeavors for the general public.

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!

Unexpected Allies: Continuing the conversation on grazing public lands at the GrassWorks Grazing Conference

“What does it mean for grazing on public land to be both financially viable ­and acceptable to the public?” This was the central question the grazing team asked at the GrassWorks Grazing Conference in February 2017, where Courtney, Jacob, Sam, and Greta ran a roundtable discussion session titled “Unexpected Allies.” This discussion included land managers from the Department of Natural Resources, producers, graduate students, and other attendees in a conversation on grazing public lands focused on these two major issues: navigating profitability and public perceptions of grazing public land.

Courtney and Greta facilitating the discussion

Small groups first discussed the profitability of grazing public lands, with the conversation focused on writing grazing management plans and contracts, planning for potential conflicts or emergencies, and considering cultural differences between producers and land managers. Participants suggested that grazing contracts must be sensitive to the variability in size and scope of public lands in addition well as the health and forage needs of cattle. These considerations are critical in determining contract length, grazing intensity, and location. Sites should be assessed for potential risks to both cattle and to wildlife conservation. They mentioned that making a grazing plan feel as secure as possible is important to avoiding over-burdening producers.
Alongside planning and writing contracts, participants noted that a number of cultural considerations are necessary in a successful grazing plan. Frequent interaction, clarification, and feedback between the DNR and livestock producers is essential to meet multiple goals. Additionally, the scientific consistency provided by university of research is important, but needs to be balanced with conservation goals and flexibility of contracts in order to minimize skewing of goals in grazing activities. Overall, as participants noted from experience and ongoing grazing projects, clear communication and guidelines are key when managing the profitability of grazing public land.

Land managers, graziers, and grad students discuss different grazing scenarios and questions in small groups

The groups also discussed the public perceptions of grazing public land. From the experiences of both graziers and land managers, it seemed that public perception is highly variable. However, producers and public land mangers agreed it is possible to successfully change negative opinions by framing and marketing the issues clearly. With regard to framing, presenting grazing in terms of management explanations for the stakeholders in light of their interests seemed important to all groups. However, even when targeting hunters’ concerns specifically, land managers acknowledged that some groups don’t want management at all. Groups explained the importance of emphasizing to hunters that the land will remain intact for hunting and cattle will be moved off the land by hunting season. Because of the financial investment of hunters from permits and hunting licenses, explaining the potential benefits of grazing to hunters is crucial to the success of the grazing projects.

The groups suggested that marketing can help combat some push-back, and that working at the township level with press releases, town halls, and individual conversations allows for a natural diffusion of conflict and building local support. In addition, producers noted a direct-marketing opportunity with ‘conservation grazing,’ as a way to appeal to environmentally conscious and interested customers. The partnership between conservation organizations and graziers also produces an educational opportunity, which furthers a personal connection with the public. However, outreach should be selective and not excessive. Too much public relations work prior to a success story can cause public distrust.

Notes from the discussion session–how should land managers, graziers, and students talk about grazing with the general public?

The question of how and when rotational grazing on public land can meet the needs of both conservation and agriculture is on our minds as we prepare to collect measurements and assist with the next season of grazing. We’re very grateful for those who joined and participated in this discussion at the GrassWorks Grazing Conference. Looking forward to continuing the conversation soon!

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.