The insects are just warming up for their nightly chorus as folks begin to arrive at the Mounds View Grassland near Blue Mounds. The sun is low in the sky flooding the prairie and the big red barn with golden light. We are here to learn about pollinators that work at night, the lifecycle behavior, and ecology of the moth species that live on this prairie. The event is part of Land Trust Days—an annual celebration of the work done by land trusts across the state.
Our host tonight is Tim Hansel, philosopher by day, and intrepid moth-stalker by night. He is also a Wisconsin Master Naturalist, nature photographer, and Education Coordinator for the Empire Sauk Chapter of The Prairie Enthusiasts.
“We are an organization whose mission is committed to restoration and preservation of grasslands. So tall grass prairie, and oak, excuse me, oak savanna. So those are, that’s kind of our wheelhouse. And so here at the Empire Sauk chapter, our main area is this Mounds View grassland, which is, after acquiring 260 Extra acres. This summer, we’re now up to 830 acres here, just south of, of Blue Mounds.”
Tim says there were two workshops sponsored by The Prairie Enthusiasts as part of Land Trust Days this year. The other event, held in July, brought a nature artist to the prairie to teach attendees how to draw flowers and plants.
“And so we’re out here tonight, as part of our workshop series. This is actually the last workshop of the year. And we’re talking about night flyers. We’re talking about moths and black lighting for moths, as well as sugaring. So sort of two ways at night to attract moths to an area where you can take a look at them and survey and see what sorts of species that you get and see some really sort of interesting specimens, because moths come in a big variety of flavors.”
He says that Land Trust Days helps connect different sorts of organizations that share the mission of conserving and restoring land in the state.
“And this kind of ties into my other role as a Wisconsin Master Naturalist, where we do sort of volunteer work in, in educating people on Wisconsin natural resources. So it’s, it’s, it’s a fun sort of connection with all these different organizations in these different groups who are more or less sort of committed to serve a similar goal.”
We’ll check-in with our night time pollinators group a little later, but for now, let’s learn more about the different organizations across the state like The Prairie Enthusiasts, that preserve and protect Wisconsin’s wild places.
Mike Carlson is Executive Director of Gathering Waters, Wisconsin’s association for land trusts.
“In Wisconsin, we have just over 40, land trusts, independent land trusts. And when we say the term Land Trust, we essentially mean nonprofit organizations that have a primary mission of protecting lands for any number of different conservation priorities.”
Priorities like wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, water quality, climate mitigation.
“So over 40 nonprofit organizations that are working hard around the state to conserve land and water. So we do things like public policy advocacy, advocating for public funding for constant land conservation. We help with training and technical assistance for land Trust’s staff and board members, really helping to ensure that there are strong sustainable nonprofits.”
They also focus on communications and outreach, really getting the word out about the great work that land Trusts do, and the importance of land conservation.
“Wisconsin Land Trust days, we’re actually in our fifth year of this campaign. And it’s really essentially an annual promotion where in primarily focused in August in September, but with some events in in late July, and into October, actually, but it’s a statewide promotion to really highlight and showcase the work that our land trust members do across s Wisconsin.”
Mike says you can find Land Trust Days events in pretty much every corner of the state.
“And this year, we’re really excited that there were 41 Land Trust events that were registered as part of Wisconsin Land Trust days. And we had, you know, obviously, it’s quite a few in August, but just coming up here in September, there’s going to be 14 events, just in September alone, and then six that are in October. “
These events may take you to places you already know, but also provide a chance for new experiences.
“There’s some really fun opportunities to get out and explore I think some places that perhaps members of the public haven’t otherwise heard about or haven’t had a chance to visit before. And really, there’s kind of something for everyone.”
Glacial Lakes Conservancy, based in Sheboygan, is participating in Land Trust Days with eight events this year.
“We are 26 years old and we have saved from development 2040 acres in five counties.”
Thanks Jennifer Rutton, Glacial Lakes Conservancy executive director.
“We have 28 conservation easements, which are contracts with landowners and they are private properties. And we hold conservation easements that make this land protected forever. So we like to say that we’re in the Forever Business. And then we have five properties that we own. And those five properties we do all the land management for.”
Jennifer says they use the Land Trust Days events to educate attendees about what they do. She adds that it’s important for the public to hear stories directly from landowners about why they choose a conservation easement.
“Some of these properties are over 100 year generational farms, agriculture that have been turned over to create beautiful hardwood forests and prairies and wetlands. So the story and the storytelling behind some of our events coming up on September 17, we have one at a private conservation easement is going out with the family and hearing the stories of why they wanted to conserve it.”
Another of the Land Trust Days events is the annual Grandparents Day.
“And so we do that at our Willow Creek Preserve in Sheboygan. And that is our largest property that we own. And it’s an urban oasis that sits in the middle of the city of Sheboygan that not a lot of people know about.”
There are still over twenty events that you can attend before Land Trust Days winds down in mid-October, and many more events held by land trusts across the state year-round. Here’s Mike Carlson again:
“It’s important to note too, that our Wisconsin Land Trust members, those just over 40 groups really are holding events throughout the year. And we’d certainly urge folks to keep an eye out for those we try to try to keep those updated on our website as much as possible.”
Mike adds that you can find more information about Wisconsin Land Trust Days at the event website at havefunoutside.org. There, you can also request a free Wisconsin nature guide that has been popular with event attendees, or find out how to win a Yeti cooler.
Back to the Mounds View grassland, Tim and Rob haveset up the white tarps and black lights that will enable us to see our nighttime pollinators, and the kids are in charge of the fermented sugar concoction that will attract the nearby moths. Over the course of the evening, we’ve learned how to determine if a moth has smooth, comb, or feathered antennae; or if the wings have bands or spots–or maybe they’re checkered or speckled. These features and others will help us identify a moth, or even report it as a citizen scientist. We’ve seen pictures of the moths we’re likely to see, like the tiny Wave Line Emerald. Or some that we’re less likely to see this time of yea, like the rare Abbreviated Underwing. The sun has set–gloriously I might add–and the group spreads out between the two tarps. We are all eager for the first moth sighting.