Sep 29 2020


By the time you read this, we will have passed the Autumnal Equinox that arrived on Tuesday, September 22nd.  Did you know that Equinox comes from the latin meaning equal night? During the equinox, the sun crosses the celestial equinox creating days and nights of equal length followed by days of shorter daylight. The sun rises and sets due east and west, respectively.  The sun will set before 7 pm from now until the middle of February.

As the days become shorter and the temperatures become cooler, a chemical change takes place within Wisconsin’s deciduous (which means falling off at maturity) tree leaves. In the summer, these leaves use the process of photosynthesis – when chlorophyll (green pigment in leaves) absorbs sunlight’s energy to transform water and carbon dioxide into starches and sugars – to fuel the tree’s growth and release oxygen. 

As the hours of sunlight decline and cooler weather comes, trees respond to these changes by making less and less chlorophyll until they stop making it. This allows the carotenoids (yellow and orange pigments) existing within the leaves to show through.

Researchers have found some tree species have leaves that produce red anthocyanins pigments at this time of year. These pigments create leaves of bright oranges and reds, and deep purple colors. The brilliance of anthocyanins each year is weather dependent. During warm, sunny autumn days, trees still produce sugars but the cooler nights prevent these sugars from moving into the branches and trunk. Anthocyanins allow these trees to recover nutrients found in the leaves before the leaves fall off. 

In the fall, you can identify trees by the colors the leaves change to.

Dogwoods and sumacs – reds/purples

Birches – bright yellows

Aspen/poplars – golden yellows

Sugar maples – orange-reds

Red maples – bright scarlett

Hickories – golden bronze

Oaks – reds, russet browns

Larches/tamaracks – golden yellows

Also during this time, a special layer of cells is created at the point where the leaves attach to the branches. These special cells gradually cut the tissues that hold the leaves to the trees, while the trees seal the cut by creating leaf scars when the leaves fall off the trees. Trees lose their leaves because the leaves will not be able to survive the cold. Oak trees are an exception – they hang onto their leaves through the winter!

Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County Land &Water Conservation Department. For more information contact Steve Kircher, County Conservationist-Land Information/GIS Director at 715-478-1387 or by e-mail at

Sep 23 2020

When is the Best Time to Seed Your Prairie Flowers?

Fall is a great time to plant your prairie grasses and flowers. Smooth Phlox, Wild Petunia, Blue Vervain, and Wild Bergamot are just a few that are native to Wisconsin. These seeds need exposure to cold, damp conditions for better germination rates. Most of these flowers and grass seeds have a built-in dormancy that need to be exposed to the cold conditions for a specific amount of time. Once the soil starts to warm up in the spring the seed will know it is okay to germinate. 

Early fall is also a good time to transplant your trilliums, bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, etc. By planting them early in the fall, this give the plants enough time to establish their roots for a head start come spring. Before the snow flies a good tip is to cover your early-blooming spring ephemerals with a few inches of straw. 

Watch for the Forest County Land Conservation Plant Sale. Coming soon! 

Conservation Corner,  


 Cassidy Neilitz, Land Conservationist-Land Information/GIS Technician at 715-478-1387 or by e-mail at 

Sep 14 2020

Fall Gardens

This time of year, many of you are probably thinking of closing down and cleaning up your gardens.  There are many reasons NOT to clean up your garden in the fall.  What we do in them every autumn can either enhance or inhibit that role. Here are some reasons to ‘leave the mess’ in fall and wait until spring to tidy your gardens 

The Butterflies (and moths): While the monarch flies south to overwinter in Mexico, most other butterflies stay put and take shelter somewhere dry and safe until spring. Some butterflies, like the mourning cloak, comma, question mark, and Milbert’s tortoise shell, overwinter as adults. They nestle into rock fissures, under tree bark, or in leaf litter until the days grow longer again and spring arrives. Butterflies that overwinter in a chrysalis include the swallowtail family, the cabbage whites and the sulphurs. Many of these chrysalises can be found either hanging from dead plant stems or tucked into the soil or leaf litter. 

The Birds: Insect-eating birds, like chickadees, wrens, titmice, nuthatches, phoebes, and bluebirds are very welcome in the garden because they consume thousands of caterpillars and other pest insects as they raise their young every gardening season. Not cleaning up the garden means there will be more protein-rich insects available to them during the coldest part of the year.

These birds are quite good at gleaning “hibernating” insects off of dead plant stems, branches, and out of leaf litter. The more insect-nurturing habitat you have, the greater the bird population will be. 

The Native Bees: Many of North America’s 3,500-plus species of native bees need a place to spend the winter that’s protected from cold and predators. They may hunker down under a piece of peeling tree bark, or they may stay tucked away in the hollow stem of a bee balm plant or an ornamental grass. Some spend the winter as an egg or larvae in a burrow in the ground. 

The Ladybugs: North America is home to over 400 different ladybug species, many of which are not red with black polka-dots. While the introduced Asian multicolored ladybug comes into our homes for the winter and becomes quite a nuisance, none of our native ladybug species have any interest in spending the winter inside of your house. 

Most of them enter the insect world’s version of hibernation (diapause) soon after the temperatures drop and spend the colder months tucked under a pile of leaves, nestled at the base of a plant, or hidden under a rock. Most overwinter in groups of anywhere from a few individuals to thousands of adults. Ladybugs are notorious pest eaters, each one consuming dozens of soft-bodied pest insects and insect eggs every day. 

The Predatory Insects: Ladybugs aren’t the only predatory insects who spend the winter in an intact garden.  Assassin bugs, lacewings, flower bugs, damsel bugs, ground beetles, and scores of other pest- munching predatory insects spend the winter “sleeping” in your garden as either adults, eggs, or pupae. 

To have a balanced population of these predatory insects, you have to have winter habitat – when spring arrives, they’ll be better able to keep early-emerging pests in check if they’ve spent the winter on-site, instead of over in the neighbor’s yard. 

The People: If the previous five reasons aren’t enough to inspire you to hold off cleaning up the garden, there’s one final reason to the list: You. There is so much beauty to be found in a winter garden: snow on dried seed pods, berries clinging to branches, goldfinches flitting around spent sunflowers, juncos hopping beneath goldenrod fronds, frost kissing the autumn leaves, and ice collected on blades of ornamental grasses. 

Delaying your garden’s clean up until the spring is a boon for all the creatures living there. Instead of heading out to the garden with a pair of pruning shears and a rake this fall, wait until next April. By then, all the critters living there will be emerging from their long winter nap. And even if they haven’t managed to get out of bed by the time you head out to the garden, most of them will still manage to find their way out of a loosely layered compost pile before it begins to decompose. 

Conservation Corner

Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County Land &Water Conservation Department. For more information contact Steve Kircher, County Conservationist-Land Information/GIS Director at 715-478-1387 or by e-mail at

Aug 23 2020


Lately, people have been asking, ‘Where are my Orioles or the Redwing Blackbirds?  Did you know that even though it’s summer, birds have already begun their fall migration? Fall migration starts as early as June and lasts until early January, with peak times running from August to mid-October. 

Migratory birds are birds of both game and non-game species who regularly move between summer breeding grounds and non-breeding wintering areas. 

There are five groups of migratory birds.

1.  Landbirds– Forest and grassland songbirds and other perching birds such as: hummingbirds, kingfishers and woodpeckers.

2.  Raptors- Eagles, hawks and falcons.

3.  Waterfowl– Swans, geese and ducks.

4.  Waterbirds– Traditional colonial nesting species such as gulls, terns, herons and egrets, loons, grebes, along with marsh birds like the rails and cranes.

5.  Shorebirds– plovers, allies, stilts, and dowitchers.

During their migration, birds must stop to feed and rest at spots known as stopover sites.  These stopover sites are critical to a bird’s survival during migration. 

Stopover sites include:

Fire Escapes– stopover sites in this category are areas such as city parks or forests that have been fragmented into smaller areas. These are areas of less use because they lack in resources. But, these are important stopping grounds to seek shelter from bad weather or predators. 

Convenience Stores– These sites have plenty of resources for birds and are much larger areas than Fire Escapes. This could be your woodland, prairie, or county park. 

Full-Service Hotels– These sites are not only rich in resources, but a bountiful habitat that can provide food, water and shelter to a large number of birds for a consistent period. These sites include National Parks, National Wildlife Refuge or State Wildlife Areas such as Horicon Marsh (Wisconsin has plenty of those!). 

Now is a good time for landowners to keep plenty of water and food out for those birds starting to migrate south, they could be stopping by! 

In Wisconsin, we have unique opportunities around the state to witness different fall bird migrations, you can read about them in Wisconsin’s Birding by Season: Fall. Wisconsin is a major corridor for bird migration so your opportunities to see birds migrating are abundant. 

If you feed hummingbirds, you know that they are drinking double the amount of nectar that they normally drink at your feeders at this time of year. Around the middle of September they will leave central Wisconsin for Mexico and Central America. In the middle of August (in the north) and late August (in the south), if you happen to be along the Highway 51 corridor at sunset, you will frequently see a “kettle” (or group) of Common Nighthawks migrating south. They are easily identifiable by their boomerang-shaped wings with a wide white bar on the wing. These are just a couple examples of our migratory birds. 

Aug 20 2020

No Wake Zones

Boaters in Wisconsin have long had to cut back on speed near docks, rafts, piers and restricted areas. Did you also know that the slow, no-wake rule also applies to the full lake shoreline on all lakes in the state?

The law prohibits boaters from operating their boats faster than slow, no-wake anywhere within 100 feet of shore.

Slow, no-wake means operating a boat at low speed, but still able to maintain steering of the craft.

Lake areas of flowages, which are wide parts of rivers such as Lake Wisconsin, also are covered under the new rule.

The law makes it safer for people wading, swimming or fishing near shore and it should help reduce conflicts between near-shore recreationists and boaters.

The rule will also aid in erosion control, since boats operating in shallow waters near shore can churn sediments and chop vegetation, possibly spreading invasive species such as the Eurasian water milfoil.

With the high water we’ve been experiencing on all of our area lakes, it’s especially important that boaters follow the No Wake law.  Several area lakes have temporarily posted their lakes as No Wake lakes.  If your lake is experiencing problems with wave erosion, you may want your lake association to consider temporarily classifying your smaller lake as a No Wake Zone Lake.

Another alternative is to mark areas that are prone to erosion with NO WAKE ZONE buoys and floats.  If you are experiencing these problems, contact the Forest County Sheriff’s Department’s Recreation Officer or the DNR.

Conservation Corner

Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County Land &Water Conservation Department. For more information contact Steve Kircher, County Conservationist-Land Information/GIS Director at 715-478-1387 or by e-mail at

Jul 23 2020

Conservation Corner: How a Tree Grows

In my yard I have a massive old maple tree.  There’s a hole in this tree that gets bigger every year.  My wife and I are waiting for the tree to fall and looks like it will land in a place that won’t damage too much.  Visitors to our place always ask how it’s still alive with such a big hole in it.

Well, I thought I’d take a minute to explain how it’s still alive.  It begins at the roots. When a seed germinates, it sends out a tiny root that anchors to the soil and starts water intake. Trees grow several kinds of roots; taproots and lateral roots. Tap roots grow deep into the soil, and the lateral roots are shallow and closer to the ground.  About 85% of a tree’s roots are within 18″ from the top of the ground and these lateral roots extend almost two times the branch length of a tree? 

These taproots and lateral roots are big and strong, containing cells for the storage of sugar (food for the tree made by leaves). As these roots spread out, they branch into smaller roots called rootlets. Rootlets are covered in tiny hairs that actually suck in water and nutrients from the soil, needed for tree survival. These are tiny but mighty roots as they will cling to the soil and protect from erosion. 

Within a tree’s trunk, are tubes made of cells. These tubes are like pipelines that conduct water and nutrients absorbed by those tiny but mighty roots, up to the leaves. There are two major tubes of cells. The phloem (inner bark) serves as the sugar pipeline, carries sugar made by the leaves back down the trunk. The Xylem or sapwood are the pipeline that carries water up the trunk to the leaves. 

Tree stems grow vertically while their branches grow horizontal at their tips, as well as a tree’s roots. This is because of cell division at the tips, called the meristems, which are zones of intense activity. They are where all new cells are formed and where they expand. But what about cell division that takes place for the tree to grow in diameter? Cell division is also still happening inside the tree stem in an area called the cambium. This layer is in between the bark and the wood. New cells formed in the cambium move outward to become phloem cells, other new cells formed will move inward to become xylem cells. This layer of new cells creates new wood on side of the cell, and new bark on the other. This is increasing the tree’s internal girth as the cambium moves outward, pushing the bark. Each spring and summer the cambium makes these new cells and wood layers. The wood formed in the spring grows fast and is lighter because of the cells are big and filled with moisture. 

The wood formed in summer grows slow and is darker colored because there is less moisture filled in the cells, therefore the cells are small. That’s why when you cut a tree, you see light and dark alternating rings. 

Of course, we all know that not all trees are the same, therefore, they do not all grow the same. There are differences between habitats, temperate zones, and between deciduous and evergreen species. A tree’s maximum height is more related to its longevity than its annual growth rate when young. Also, different species grow faster at different times. Some species are fast growers when young, like Aspen, whereas other species may grow slower when young, such as Oaks.  Environmental factors contribute to growth rates such as the amount of moisture, temperature changes, nutrients found in the soil and injuries to the tree.

Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County Land &Water Conservation Department. For more information contact Steve Kircher, County Conservationist-Land Information/GIS Director at 715-478-1387 or by e-mail at

Older posts «

» Newer posts