We had a great controlled burn in our north-facing oak woods (28 acres) on October 29, 2014.

Details can be found at this link.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Download a brochure and map for Pleasant Valley Conservancy (PDF)

 

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"A healthy complex of prairie, oak openings and prairie grove would be an enchanting place." Steve Packard: Restoration and Management Notes 1988

Find us on Google Earth by searching for Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Black Earth, Wisconsin.

Pleasant Valley Conservancy is a Wisconsin State Natural Area that has been extensively restored to its original character. It works to educate the conservation community and the general public on the values of nature and wildlife. Its principal focus is on the preservation of its restored habitats, especially the plant communities.

Pleasant Valley Conservancy is open to the public for hiking and nature study. Scheduled tours are offered several times a year as well as special events for school or college groups.

Pleasant Valley Conservancy is a site of The Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE), an organization active in the upper Midwest. Part of the Conservancy is owned by TPE and the rest is permanently protected by a conservation easement donated to TPE by Kathie and Tom Brock.

This web site provides extensive information on the restoration and long-term management of the Conservancy. Use the Menu at the left to access various topics. Follow Tom's Blog for current activities, including burns, invasive plant control, seed collecting, and new developments.

 
Fire-dependent ecosystems
As all of southern Wisconsin, until about the 1950s much of the land at Pleasant Valley Conservancy was burned almost annually, and these fires were critical in helping to preserve the original vegetation. When fires ceased, the land gradually reverted to a woody state, with low plant diversity and poor wildlife values. When restoration began in the mid 1990s, fire was one of the first practices to be reintroduced. Without fire, what you see today would not be possible. Fire destroys invasive woody vegetation as well as many fire-sensitive undesirable tree species. On the other hand, the oaks and hickories as well as all of the herbaceous vegetation are fire tolerant and not only survive, but thrive.



Habitats at Pleasant Valley Conservancy
Original prairie remnants Several small remnant prairies had remained intact in spite of the absence of fire. Mostly these were on steep slopes and would have been called "goat prairies" (too steep for anything but a goat). These remnants were major sources of seed for restoration of other parts of the Conservancy.
Restored tallgrass prairie Since restoration, the south-facing slope has recovered its original glory as a major tallgrass prairie. At one time, most south- or southwest-facing hills in southern Wisconsin would have been prairie and savanna. Today only Pleasant Valley Conservancy is intact.
Planted prairies The Lockwoods, who were the original farmers here, managed to find in this steep hill country about 15 acres of land that was flat enough for row crops. These fields have now been returned to prairie. Most of these planted prairies have high diversities of prairie plants, generally more than 100 species. In addition to providing excellent wildlife habitat, these planted prairies also serve as sources of prairie seeds for collecting and using in other parts of the Conservancy.
Oak savannas Savannas are fire-dependent plant communities where trees are a component but their densities are so low that grasses and other herbaceous vegetation are able to become dominant. Because of the open-grown character of the oaks, there are patches of sunlight which are essential for establishment of prairie plants. At one time the oak savanna was one of the most common vegetation types in southern Wisconsin, but today oak savannas are very rare. Oak savannas are most commonly found in a climatic zone intermediate between woodland and prairie, which is often called the prairie/forest border. Because of its extensive oak savannas, Pleasant Valley Conservancy is unique.
Bur oak savanna
In one type of oak savanna at the Conservancy the trees are predominantly bur oaks. These are found primarily on the upper slopes and on the ridge-top savannas. Some of the oldest trees here are bur oaks.
White oak savanna On the lower slopes, especially in the more sandy areas, are white oak savannas. Again, many of these trees are old.
Oak woodlands In contrast to the savanna, the oaks in the north-facing woods do not have a savanna character. The trees are fairly close together, growing tall and reaching for the sunlight. The oaks are predominantly red oaks. Because the north-facing woods is heavily shaded, the forest floor is cool and damp and the plant understory is completely different from that of the south-facing slope. The predominant flowering plants here appear early, before the leaves are out. They flower, set seed, and senesce. At Pleasant Valley Conservancy spring flowers start to appear in early to late April and flourish up to the time when the oak leaves appear, which is usually mid May. After leaf-out, there are very few flowering plants on the forest floor, due to insufficient sunlight. A trail is maintained through the middle of the north-facing woods.
Wetlands Wetlands are not common in this hilly region but in our area there are extensive creeks and spring-fed marshes, making this an attractive area for water birds. Sandhill cranes nest here, as well as many other birds. Beaver, muskrat, and otter are common and their activities are often seen. There is a trail along the edge of the wetland, and a boardwalk extends into the marsh, so that it is possible to see this attractive area without getting your feet wet.
Management activities The quality of the flora at Pleasant Valley Conservancy is very high, as shown by its outstanding Floristic Quality Index. This would not be the case without careful and continuous management work. Supported by the Savanna Oak Foundation, Inc., a permanent maintenance crew, supplemented by volunteers, works to control invasive weeds and shrubs. Long-term management is the key to the establishment of high quality natural areas.

 

 



 

 

 

 


Bur oak savanna




Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area

Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area No. 551 is a 140 acre Preserve in western Dane County, Wisconsin. It consists of extensive restored oak savannas, dry, mesic, and wet prairies, wetlands, and oak woods. Scenic views and wildlife viewing are excellent, and a two-mile hiking trail provides ready access into the heart of the Preserve. Especially noteworthy at Pleasant Valley are the fine oak savannas, once common in the Midwest but now very rare. The Preserve has many large open-grown white and bur oaks, which can be viewed from Pleasant Valley Road, and seen close up from the trail. Red-headed woodpeckers, a characteristic bird of oak savannas, breed at the Preserve and can frequently be seen from the upper ridge trail. Over 300 species of flowering plants have been recorded.

Pleasant Valley Conservancy is a site of The Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE), an organization active in the upper Midwest. Part of the Conservancy is owned by TPE and the rest is permanently protected by a conservation easement donated to TPE by Kathie and Tom Brock.

 
Tom and Kathie Brock are site managers of Pleasant Valley Conservancy.
Photo by Cathie Bruner

Our mission is to develop one of the finest oak savannas in the Midwest, and through field trips and volunteer workdays to help others learn how this is done. We promote education and science as tools in ecological restoration and preservation.

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See the Trail Map for a
2 hour hike

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