Pandemic Challenges Met with Creative Solutions
Photo Credit: Chris Hamerla
In 2020, our organization was challenged by the pandemic. Fortunately, our team quickly adapted to the virtual realm in order to provide services to the communities we support in a safe manner. One of our biggest successes was perfecting the use of Zoom and hosting virtual events and educational opportunities. By providing a virtual platform, our attendance to some events increased ten-fold. Throughout the pandemic, Golden Sands RC&D’s team proved that our organization is resilient and can cooperatively and creatively develop and implement conservation, no matter the challenges we might encounter.
This year we also welcomed Hannah Butkiewicz, a University of Wisconsin- Madison graduate and current graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, as Golden Sands RC&D’s Executive Director as Joshua Benes moved to his home state of Vermont. During his time with us, Josh focused on building stronger cooperative efforts between staff, volunteers, and our ever growing network of partners. He has officially handed off the baton to Hannah and her commitment to conservation.
Our vision is to make Central Wisconsin a better place to live and work through cooperative efforts. We achieved our vision this year by managing both natural and human resources in ways that were consistent with sound conservation principles and by cooperating with federal and state agencies, municipalities, local communities, and individuals. We believe cooperation and partnership strengthens our organization’s ability to conserve natural resources and improve ecosystem health.
As we look on to 2021, Golden Sands RC&D continues to expand its reach. We have been fortunate to increase the size of our team, connect with additional partners, address conservation needs, and find new funding sources to support this expansion. We encourage everyone to join our efforts in creating a brighter, healthier future for Central Wisconsin. Please reach out to our team to learn more about ways you can get involved in conservation that works!
In partnership for conservation,
Director of Operations
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This year, Golden Sands RC&D taught fifth grade students about the water beneath their feet through our virtual groundwater program. This program consisted of three lessons, with each lesson building upon the previous lesson. The goal of the program was to increase science literacy about groundwater and teach Waupaca and Waushara County students the importance of water and where it comes from. Thank you to the Waushara and Waupaca County Land Conservation Departments and the C.D. Besadny Conservation Fund grant from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin for their financial support!
Golden Sands RC&D is the fiscal sponsor of two Cooperative Invasive Species Management (CISMA) groups including the Northeast Wisconsin Invasive Partnership (NEWIP) and the Central Wisconsin Invasives Partnership (CWIP). This year, CWIP worked with landowners in the Emmons Creek Deer Management Assistance Program cooperative to inventory and control forest invasive plants on private land. During this Portage County project, CWIP inventoried 54 acres for forest invasive plants including: black locust, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and garlic mustard. Maps were also created to show where each invasive plant was growing. CWIP removed two acres of black locust so far.
Through our new Cooperating for Woods and Wildlife (CFWW) project, we helped landowners enroll into the state's Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). The program encourages neighboring landowners to work together to improve wildlife habitat and manage invasive species and forests. By enrolling into the program, landowners had the opportunity to receive a site visit and a written habitat management plan from natural resource professionals. Golden Sands RC&D, in partnership with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, provided financial assistance to landowners interested in habitat restoration for the Karner blue butterfly, which is an endangered species, as part of our CFWW project.
Photo Credit: Asa Plonsky
Golden Sands RC&D proudly supports two area neighborhood gardens. Previously vacant lots, these neighborhood green spaces now provide people the chance to get their hands in the soil and grow their own healthy food. These gardens also serve as a community gathering space and increase involvement in the local food system. Despite the pandemic, we had another successful gardening season in 2020. With the help of a sanitizing station for gardeners to spray the communal tools after use, gardeners were able to spend time outside and socialize with community members safely. Consider renting a garden bed or donating to support safety improvements to our gardens!
Photo Credit: Amanda Burzynski
We Support Grazing Management Best Practices in Wisconsin
Golden Sands RC&D organized pasture walks with other groups and organizations so that farmers were able to share ideas and experiences with one another, as well as to gain a better understanding of their own land from seeing others’ operations. Our pasture walks were held throughout our counties and encompassed a variety of operations and topics.
There’s growing interest in managed grazing as an agricultural system and its ability to mitigate climate change, improve resilience, and provide numerous ecosystem services. This system can improve profitability and reduce inputs. Having the land in grass-based systems reduces soil erosion, and protects our lakes and rivers. The permanent pastures also mimic natural ecosystems and provide habitat for a wide variety of native plants and animals, including threatened grassland wildlife. Our plan-writer, Rachel Bouressa, likes to say “after the soil, our greatest resource is each other,” in reference to the value of learning and relationships. This year our grazing program focused on building cooperative efforts among producers, between our knowledgeable staff and farmers, and between our organization and partners to create stronger on-the-ground conservation programs.
We have a team of grazing plan writers and soil conservationists based in NRCS offices that helped area producers with important technical assistance, plan-writing, as well as opportunities to learn from others through online forums, pasture walks, network meetings, and other events. Our grazing specialists assisted in designing and implementing a grazing management plan, which often includes fencing, waterline, and paddock design. Other components of a grazing plan are: seeding recommendations, stocking rates, out-wintering strategies, and general grazing rules. These plans were intended to give producers the information to get their operations started.
Our nonprofit organization has also been a leader in supporting the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) in Wisconsin to expand grazing technical assistance with co-employment staff. We have six different employees that serve NRCS customers throughout Central and Southwestern Wisconsin. These employees take on a variety of tasks that boost the capacity of the local offices, such as writing grazing plans, providing technical assistance, gathering eligibility information, and entering applications for conservation programs. For example, for the application period that ended November 2020, two of the counties our staff served had double the obligated funds for grazing management compared to the previous year. Our staff’s professional knowledge and relationships with our NRCS partners puts us in a unique role to engage with more producers and provide a high level of service to livestock owners who are seeking to be better stewards of the land.
Photo Credit: Denise Hilgart
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In 2020, our Environmental Education & Outreach Coordinator taught 5th grade students about aquatic invasive species. This lesson used to be taught in person prior to the pandemic, but then it was adapted so that it could be taught virtually during the 2019-2020 academic year. This lesson was taught to approximately 1,055 students during the spring semester and it helped to increase student literacy about aquatic invasive species such as: Zebra mussels, Sea lamprey, Eurasian Watermilfoil, and Curly-leaf Pondweed.
Aquatic Invasive Species Help:
We partnered with Buckatabon Lakes Association and Vilas County to support the lake group's biocontrol project to manage Eurasian watermilfoil. We cultured native milfoil weevils that the lake group volunteers used for their mass rearing tanks and then released into the lake in late summer. With the technical guidance from Vilas County, the volunteers turned about 280 weevils into 2800 weevils in just two months! The group plans to raise weevils for three years and monitor the lake's changes with Vilas County's help.
Woodland Wildlife Management:
The Central Wisconsin Invasives Partnership (CWIP) surveyed 54 acres of private forest land in Portage County for invasive plants including: buckthorn, black locust, honeysuckle, autumn olive, and garlic mustard. Maps created from these surveys will guide future control efforts. The CWIP Coordinator and various Golden Sands RC&D staff members then treated some invasive black locust growing in one of the surveyed areas.
Through a partnership with GrassWorks Inc. and funding through Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) we worked to establish forums for farmer-to-farmer learning, coordinated quarterly agency train-the-trainer meetings, and enhanced the collective grazing knowledge and outreach throughout the state. The Ask-A-Grazier listserv and Facebook group became well-utilized resources for graziers to ask questions and share resources and events. The agency (G Team) meetings were held virtually in 2020. Golden Sands RC&D has continued to lead the way as a resource for grazing knowledge, outreach, and assistance.
Photo Credit: Cory Scotti
We Welcome Your Support
Thank you to our 2020 partners, sponsors, volunteers, and donors for your generosity! Please click on the donate button below if you support our mission (to manage natural and human resources in ways consistent with sound conservation principles by working across county lines to address local concerns) and would like to help us continue to make Central Wisconsin a better place to live and work through cooperative efforts!