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La Crosse, WI 1867

About 85% of the Driftless region lies within Wisconsin and is host to more than half of the world’s rare Algific slopes. It is characterized by its Karst topography, bluffs, effigy mounds, river ecosystems, world class trout fishing, rare and fragile species, abundant wildlife, cave art, and goat prairies.

I’ve lived in the Driftless region for 23 years of my life, yet, it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that I have grown to truly appreciate how special this area is. I’ve always loved the bluffs and appreciated their forested valleys, which are great places to go mushroom hunting. Just within these last couple of years at Prairie Restorations, though, I have realized that these bluffs aren’t what they used to be. With human influenced fire suppression, trees have taken over many of the tallgrass prairies and bur oak savannas that once ruled the area. Cedar trees have nestled their way into what’s left of our Goat Prairies, and buckthorn or honeysuckle’s ugly face has bullied its way into the understory canopy and claimed any remaining light.

It always shocks people when I show them a historic photo of the bluffs, you wouldn’t recognize them as the bluffs we know today. Speaking with my great grandmother, she would tell me about the prairies she remembers on the bluffs and in the La Crosse area. Even the cool valleys and north facing slopes weren’t as heavily forested as they are today. The land our great grandparents once knew, is far gone, and trees have become the enemy. This can be a hard concept to wrap your head around.

My drive home from work travels through a small town called Stockton. Above it, you can see what’s left of a remnant goat prairie on the bluff overlooking the town, which is smothered by red cedar trees. A part of me prays for fire to sweep through and burn all the cedars down to reveal the irreplaceable, diminishing goat prairie underneath. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only goat prairie along my drive that needs help. I worry that with lack of appreciation for the rare and endangered area we call home, the Driftless area may lose everything it once had. A little further down the road is a restored goat prairie behind Ecker’s Apple Farm. It’s one to admire; it gives me hope.

I’ve talked to some professionals that want to turn the Driftless area into a nationally recognized site for protection and restoration. I hope they can accomplish this goal. The interest in the Driftless area has started to pick up it seems, especially after the making of our second Driftless area movie, Decoding the Driftless. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly suggest it, along with the previous Mysteries of the Driftless.

LeAnna Bender

Assistant Project Manager – Blufflands Site (Lewiston)

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