U.S. Fish and Wildlife teams up with New Richmond High School agriculture program
Rachel Sauvola teaches agricultural education at the New Richmond High School. She offers her students classes in veterinary science, small and large animal science, wildlife management and greenhouse management.
Chris Trosen is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His job working for the St. Croix Wetlands Management District (SCWMD) provides him with opportunities to work with high school students.
This is the fourth year they have partnered together on a native prairie seed preparation and planting program that begins in the classroom and culminates in the field later this spring during the high school’s service learning day.
The SCWMD encompasses eight counties and includes 43 waterfowl production areas totaling 8,300 acres, located primarily in St. Croix, Dunn and southern Polk counties. The district was established in 1992 with the goal of providing wetland and grassland habitat for breeding waterfowl.
Trosen told students restoring local grassland and prairie landscapes to their native condition, pre-european settlement, requires the use of local eco type seed.
“We harvest local eco type seed for our grassland restoration projects. Plant species introduced from other areas of the country into our area in Wisconsin, the prairie biome, tend not to do well and may even act like an invasive species. That’s why we only use seeds for our prairie planting projects that are harvested within 60 miles of Star Prairie,” Trosen said.
Trosen explained the collaborative seed project with the high school involves four steps, beginning with the stratification process when varieties of native prairie seeds are tricked to react as though they have undergone a freeze-thaw cycle. Students began by learning how to measure three types of seeds scheduled to be planted this spring: dotted blazing star, prairie spiderwort and sideoats grama.
“It’s really important to measure out our seed amounts to ensure we don’t get a solid stand of just one species,” Trosen explained.
Students first determined the weight of a plastic cup using a digital scale, filled the cup with seed, then subtracted the weight of the cup to determine the weight of the remaining seed. A single ounce of dotted blazing star seeds contains 7,000 specimens. The seeds were mixed with sand and water then flattened out and blotted dry with paper toweling. The seed sand mixture was then refrigerated for 30 days.
Trosen will work with the students twice more, first on Feb. 18, to plant the seed and one more time prior to service learning day to prepare plugs of the plants.
“We like to get our seed out on the ground within two to three years after we collect it. However, some native prairie seeds will stay viable for 30 years after being deposited by a plant,” Trosen said.
Trosen explained that by participating in the prairie planting project, students were providing an essential step in restoring habitat that will ultimately benefit local waterfowl and wildlife. He also explained their volunteer hours are valued at $20 per hour and are used by the USFWS to obtain funds through a matching grant program to hire summer intern students. He encouraged students who might be interested in pursuing a conservation career to apply to the Youth Conservation Corp. The program provides four, eight- to 10-week paid summer internships available to local high school students.
For volunteer opportunities with the USFWS, contact Trosen at the district office at 715-246-7784, ext. 116, or by email at Chris_Trosen@fws.com.