Erbe Grassland is a 140-acre preserve of The Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE), located in the Driftless Area of western Dane, Co, WI. The preserve is being managed primarily as prairie, along with some limited oak savanna, for a wide range of rare and declining species dependent upon such habitat.
The site includes a blend of original remnant prairie and savanna sod and former cropland being restored back to prairie. It also has three springs and two small cold-water streams. It is managed by the Empire-Sauk Chapter of TPE. The site is within the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, a cooperative conservation effort of federal, state, county, and private conservation groups.
Erbe Grassland has critical habitat, of local and state conservation significance, for many rare and declining species. Over 100 native prairie plant species are present, including populations of the State Threatened wooly milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa) and the Sate Special Concern prairie turnip (Pediomelum esculentum). The State Endangered regal fritillary butterfly is present, along with other uncommon prairie-dependent insects. Lastly, the preserve provides critical nesting and foraging habitat for 9 grassland/savanna bird Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN); Bell’s vireo (Threatened), upland sandpiper (Threatened), Henslow’s sparrow (Threatened), bobolink, grasshopper sparrow, short-eared owl, dickcissel, eastern meadowlark, and red-headed woodpecker.
Although grants have been assisting the restoration and management work at Erbe Grassland, volunteers have been critical to the effort and there is still much to accomplish. If you wish to help, please contact the Empire-Sauk Chapter.
ACCESS & DIRECTIONS
The site is on Erbe Road in the Town of Blue Mounds in Dane County (see map below). There is a parking lot and kiosk on Ed Goplin’s land, with a mowed trail that gets visitors up to the TPE property. Ed has granted access across his land, which we help him manage.
- Hunting (no permit or reservation required)
Erbe Grasslands was established in 2007 with an initial 64-acre parcel acquired from the Losenegger family. In 2012 and 2022, 36-acre and 40-acre parcels were added; acquired from the Ihm and Goplin families respectively. Grants to TPE from the WI State Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund and the Dane County Conservation Fund helped make this possible.
The primary management goal for Erbe Grassland is to recover and maintain as much of the site’s original prairie/savanna ecosystem as is feasible. Including habitat for grassland birds and other native animal species associated with treeless grassland ecosystems.
At time of acquisition, the original 64-acre parcel consisted of 30 acres of treeless pasture (most of which was unplowed remnant prairie sod), 26 acres of active cropland, 5 acres of brush pasture, and a 3 acre walnut grove. The walnuts were likely planted in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew stationed in Mt. Horeb. They also built a retention dam on the property, that is still present today. Because a goal for the property is to provide critical habitat for grassland birds, the walnuts and much of the brush were removed in the winter of 2008-2009. The work was funded by the Wisconsin DNR Pheasant Stamp and Landowner Incentive Programs, along with funds from the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Although much of the original pasture was unplowed, past grazing disturbance was so severe that relatively little of the original native prairie vegetation remained. A survey at the time of acquisition revealed only 34 native prairie species in low abundance. Additional prairie vegetation has since been seeded into the pasture sod and all the cropland has been planted to prairie. The prairie is well on its way to recovery. However, it will likely take a century or more before it is fully recovered to is original state.
The 2012 36-acre addition consisted of 6 acres of cropland and 30 acres of an unplowed blend of degraded remnant prairie and overgrown oak savanna. The overgrown savanna and prairie are in the process of being restored, trees and brush have been removed, and the cropland has been planted to prairie. Grants from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and WI DNR Turkey Stamp Fund have assisted this work.
The 2022 40-acre addition consisted of high-quality remnant prairie, former cropland planted to prairie, and pastureland being restored to prairie. TPE had been working with the landowner on the management and restoration of this parcel for 20 years.