Students Restore Prairie Landscape

Ecotone, a student organization founded to improve the ecological health of UWM’s campus, recently coordinated a prairie plant installation to restore native vegetation. Coordinators and volunteers layered newspaper, sand, and leaf mulch to smother existing grass without using herbicides and to provide a medium for seed germination. Natural landscapers Paul Ryan and Nancy Aten educated Ecotone members about the details of this “sandwich” application. Ecotone also transplanted prairie plants donated by Dorothy Boyer and Lorrie Otto. As the plants grow a root system, the “sandwich,” along with the existing soil, will be mixed and aerated by the roots. The cover crop, consisting of annual plants, has already sprouted. A few of the perennials have begun to sprout, but most of their first-year growth occurs below ground. By planting indigenous prairie species next to the Architecture and Urban Planning Building, Ecotone’s hopes to revive original vegetation features evident before European settlement. After a century and a half, Wisconsin’s native landscape looks foreign and the present species are non-native, particularly in urban areas. “To right our ecological estrangement,” says Nicholas Bittner, Ecotone co-founder, “we must assist certain ecosystems that would disappear from memory without intervention.” Not only will the planting help restore prairie vegetation, but it will also allow the UWM community to learn about the landscape that once existed in the region. Creating environmental awareness and restoring natural systems just two of Ecotone’s goals. They also hope to perform an environmental audit of the campus, says Christi Weber. Although the planting has been successful, Ecotone’s coordinators, Bittner, Weber, Erin Russ, and Joel Springsteen, see the project as a first step towards a larger campus initiative.
by Neill Kleven