Rice Paddies at the Mequon Nature Preserve?

Rice planting at the Mequon Nature Preserve? I was surprised when I read this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. After all, wasn’t the Mequon Nature Preserve (MNP) land supposed to be restored to pre-settlement ecosystems? Rice growing was not, to my limited knowledge, native to this area.

christine_nuernberg_smSo, I decided to ask my best resource about MNP, my friend and four-term former Mequon Mayor Christine Nuernberg.  Christine was the driving force behind MNP, and is still active as a member of the Board of Directors of Mequon Nature Preserve, Inc.

According to Christine:

Short answer:

MNP land is being restored with native species to re-establish the habitat that existed prior to European settlement beginning in the early 1800’s. Land not undergoing restoration at this time is leased to others (with DNR’s approval) for farming. Any income from leases goes to MNP to maintain out-buildings, carry out land restoration, and deliver educational programs. Marquette’s effort is permitted as a use by DNR and also falls under MNP’s mission statement that supports education and research. Rice cultivation, however, is not part of MNP’s land restoration program.

Long answer:

Over the next 150 years, what had been farm land at Mequon Nature Preserve will be transformed into a hardwood forest, a wetlands system, and prairies. Because of the significant cost to initiate and manage the restoration process, restoration will occur gradually over a number of years as resources become available. To date, about 237 acres are now undergoing restoration, which includes 72 acres where restoration was started this spring.

This spring’s work will transform a large field where corn and soybeans once grew to an open prairie. A contractor removed drain tile which has resulted in about five acres of open water in what will become a large wetland. The land was also seeded with a native prairie mix. MNP purchases native species of trees, shrubs and seed, which are more expensive than what you will purchase at most local nurseries. For instance, the native prairie seed came from a nursery near Madison known for its native mixes, and the seed cost $30,000. Over many more years, a hardwood forest will overtake the prairie.

Understanding the cost and significant effort it takes to start restoring a parcel of land, the Department of Nature Resources has permitted MNP to lease any land not undergoing restoration to farmers, and this year, that includes Fondy Market. An additional benefit of farming is that farmers are preventing the growth of invasive plant species. As funds become available, farming will cease at MNP, and restoration will take over any land now in agriculture.

MNP’s 2006 Master Plan lists restoring a beech-maple hardwood forest to maximize the species diversity of interior forest flora and fauna as a primary goal. A second goal is to establish a premier site for environmental research and education within the Milwaukee region. Marquette University’s effort to determine whether cold climate rice can be cultivated in this area is welcomed as a research effort. However, it is not part of MNP’s restoration program.

Makes sense.  Interesting.

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