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WISCONSIN DESERT -The Sand Barrens of the Lower Wisconsin River

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Sortland, Dane; Lamb, Ben; Hill, Hannah; Hall, Rye
May 2009
Blue River Sand Barrens; Arena Pines and Sand Barrens; Spring Green Preserve; Gotham Jack Pine Barrens; Woodman Lake Sand Prairie; Lower Wisconsin Riverway; Sand Barrens
When Glacial Lake Wisconsin drained at the end of the last ice age, it catastrophicly flooded the Lower Wisconsin River Valley. This flooding deposited massive amounts of glacial sand, which then, through a process of down cutting, formed terraces along the river. Today, there are areas on these terraces that have desert-like features. These places, called sand barrens, consist of areas dominated by open sand, occasional xerophylic plants, prairie grasses, and scattered trees. What makes the sand barrens so unique is that they provide habitat for species of plants and animals found nowhere else in Wisconsin. These species are adapted to the extreme environmental conditions of the sand barrens, which is a consequence of their sandy, nutrient poor soil combined with the effects of agricultural use in the past. We are exploring this interesting mix of natural conditions and human land use history that characterize sand barrens of the Lower Wisconsin River. We look at how the two have contributed to the landscape we see today. We are focusing on five sites with sand barrens: Blue River Sand Barrens, Spring Green Preserve, Arena Pines and Sand Barrens, Gotham Jack Pine Barrens, and Woodman Lake Sand Prairie. These areas are now designated State Natural Areas and owned by the Wisconsin DNR or Nature Conservancy. We examine the histories of these sites to find similarities and differences among them that will help shed light on their creation and how they respond to changes in land use.
Includes Color Maps, Airphotos, Photographs.
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