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Prairie restoration project underway

Crews remove non-native plants to make way for native varieties

Prairie restoration project underway

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Mathy Quarry in the bluffs of La Crosse is closed until Saturday morning as efforts continue to restore its 32 acres into a thriving prairie.

Federal grants are helping the La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department with work on their pollinator prairie restoration project at Mathy Quarry, which will bring back the native plants pollinators depend on to survive.

First, crews are using herbicide to get rid of the non-native plants that have invaded the quarry, in order to make room for the new ones.

Experts said the invasive plants, like smooth brome, crown vetch and honeysuckle, can push out native plants that pollinators like butterflies and bees depend on.

"We see a decline in pollinators species and monarchs when there's a loss of habitat," Hallie Rasmussen, the visitors service manager for the La Crosse district office of the Upper Mississippi Refuge, said.

That's why part of the Mathy Quarry pollinator prairie restoration project means getting rid of non-native species that have crowded the area to make room for 50-plus native species that wildlife prefer.

"When you go around your lawn or you kill weeds between your sidewalk, that kind of thing -- it's that, but on a larger scale," Sunshine Love, forest management coordinator for La Crosse's Parks, Recreation & Forestry department, said.

Love said that what pollinators eat is important because it affects us, all the way at the top of the food chain.

"If we don't have the bees, we don't want to find out," Love said. "Our crops are pollinated. We can't produce fruit without cross pollinated bees helping you."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife is providing $12,500 worth of  federal funds for the project, which will bring in seeds to repopulate the area with native plants that pollinators like.

"You've got to get your quality plants to create a quality prairie," Love said.

It will take a few years before native plants in Mathy Quarry really take root, but established areas like Onalaska's Brice prairie can give an idea of what to expect.

"A lot of these prairie plants (in Brice Prairie) are going to be similar at (Mathy Quarry)," Rasmussen said.

Project leaders imagine it will all be worth it.

"The amount of colors you're going to see are just going to be gorgeous," Love said.

Love said that crews will begin to plant the native plants in summer 2017, and mow the area two to four times a year to keep the non-native plant-growth down. After about three years, the native plants will have established strong roots, and they can then begin a burn regimen to keep up the prairie.

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