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Driftless Area Roadsides

 

December and January can be excellent for local roadtrips. If the weather is fine, a short drive can be very enlightening.  A focus on savanna structure and restoration potential should be the goal. A blanket of snow and no leaves provide the perfect backdrop to observe normally hidden features from a distance.

 

Look for gnarly oaks, especially on south-facing slopes. Large lower branches and crowns with a crooked bending appearance can be strong indicators the land was formerly savanna or woodland. Note these locations on a map and come back in summer to check the road ditch for savanna ground layer species still hanging on. This exercise will give you a "feel" for the structure and composition of your restoration.

 

In addition, scope the hillsides for other hidden features which may indicate special microhabitats for consideration in your restoration. Small prairie remnants may be seen at this time hoping and praying for sunlight.  Cliff faces should be open to sun, if facing south or west. Ice accumulation areas or snow-free areas may indicate seeps or flowing springs. Stands of conifers near the cliffs indicate relict communities, which have persisted since the "Ice Age."  If steam vents are found, then a very rare algific talus slope may be present.

 

Known locations for savanna structure are west facing hills in the Kickapoo Valley, roads north of Prairie du Chien, northen Iowa County, western Vernon County, northern Buffalo County, and eastern Pepin County. Many other driftless area roads have examples of savanna structure. Get out and explore.

 

The slide show exemplifies images as described above to aid in your search:

1. White oaks choked by brush

2. A large cliff face that could be opened to sunlight

3. A managed oak woodland - note the paucity of shrubs

4. An exceptional oak savanna - this is what several million acres of Wisconsin looked like at the time of European settlement

5. Hidden springs may need management

6. Many small goat prairies can be opened to this extent