Nearly 260 prairie enthusiasts gathered Feb. 29 on a beautiful leap-year day at UW-Platteville campus for the 32nd annual TPE Conference and Banquet.

     Hosted by the Southwest and Prairie Bluff chapters, with coordination by Chapter Support staff, the team gained access to the building at 6:30 a.m. and scrambled to open for continental breakfast, raffle ticket sale and silent auction displays by 8 a.m.

     The keynote address, “Following Flames from Prairie Bluffs to Backwater Pines,” by Dr. Lytton John Musselman, Professor of Botany at Virginia’s Old Dominion University in Norfolk, peppered humor and research as he compared Midwest prairies and savannas with Virginia’s long-leaf pine ecosystem. Both are fire dependent.

     Breakout sessions followed in the morning and after lunch. Attendees had three options each hour. Topics included control of invasives, building conservation communities, turtles, timber rattlesnakes and more. In the afternoon, participants had a choice of panel discussions: “Common problems and solutions among conservation organizations,” and “Planting seeds: Using programs and social media to foster a love of prairies among all generations.”

     Everyone appreciated the live music of John Peterson during lunch.

     Time was allotted for socializing, exploring exhibits, bidding on silent auction items, and strategically spreading raffle tickets among dozens and dozens of items. According to Evanne Hunt, Board member, the silent auction brought in $3,469, the raffle $2,832, with a grand total of $6,301 to be shared among host chapters.

     The banquet dinner included pasta bar followed by the popular chocolate fountain. In the evening, a representative from each chapter gave a brief account of it activities for the 32nd Annual Conference & Banquet year. Executive Director Chris Kirkpatrick spoke to the group about the new initiatives TPE plans with a US Wildlife Services grant of $245,000. He also described the new capabilities of the recently acquired NationBuilder computer program.

     The winner of this year’s photo contest was Sue Steinmann’s

“The Beauty of the Burn.”


     The Conference Haiku challenge winner was Madison Belland with:

They speak, I listen

A strong voice for the voiceless


      Volunteers were honored through the night’s program. Three chapters awarded “Volunteers of the Year” – EmpireSauk chose Ron Endres, Minnesota Driftless honored Gabe Erickson, and Southwest celebrated Martha and Steve Querin-Schultz.

      Awards continued with overall TPE Chapter Volunteer of the Year Award given to Sue Steinmann and Bill Weege for their tireless work in protecting the Rattlesnake Ridge Preserve. The program ended with Gary Eldred surprising Scott Fulton with a Jonathan Wilde original painting in appreciation of his extraordinary service to the organization during his tenure as Board President.

     John Peterson performed beautifully on the guitar and mandolin during lunch. (Photos by Jerry Newman)

     Keynote speaker Dr. Lytton John Musselman, professor of botany at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

     Greg Schmidt, private lands’ biologist with Iowa DNR, presents on the timber rattlesnake.

     Board President Scott Fulton presents TPE Chapter Volunteer of the Year Award to Sue Steinmann (and Bill Weege, not pictured) for their work protecting the Rattlesnake Ridge Preserve.