GLACIAL PRAIRIES: WORK PARTY
Help Out the Prairie Home Cemetery Anytime!
Location: Prairie Home Cemetery, Waukesha
One of the Glacial Prairie Chapter’s earliest efforts is likely the least well-known to chapter membership: The City of Waukesha’s Prairie Home Cemetery. In 2010 the [former] cemetery director hired a firm to plant 13 acres to prairie—3 of them dedicated to natural burial. There were problems related to the planting as a result of inadequate site preparation. A lot of quack grass, Canada thistle, sweet clover, and crown vetch grew in the planting and customers were very upset with the weedy appearance. I have been working on the site since I was contacted by the then interim manager who indicated pressure was mounting to return the area to mowed grass.
By 2017 most of the invasive herbaceous plants were a thing of the past, while a new problem emerged—persons unknown were stealing all of the pale purple coneflower seed heads every August! In 2019 Dick Bautz kindly joined me in working on the cemetery’s prairie and noted that prior to the annual theft someone was stopping at random locations and harvesting a few seed heads, presumably to test seeds for maturity. This exploratory harvest always proceeds each massive theft. Dick knows well how to develop population estimates and with his usual thoroughness suggests that the annual theft amounts to nearly $22,000 based on the average retail prices for this Wisconsin Threatened species!
In 2020 Dick, Nancy Gloe and I nearly caught the thieves. While they eluded us, we now know how they work. Dressed in bright safety vests the three men look “official.”
They drive around the oval prairie then disembark and snap off as many seed heads as possible in less than 15 minutes, then leave, minimizing chances for detection. Then they repeat the process until every last seed head is collected.
In 2021, Dick, Nancy, Janet MacIver and I collected at least seven 50 pound grain sacks of seed heads, while the thieves collected an estimated five 50 pound sacks. Dick and I cleaned the seed and Dick, Janet, Nancy and I hand-broadcast the seed in late fall. In 2022 Dick suggested that we simply clip of the seed heads and let them drop to the ground. That time the thieves had a very bad year for generating an illicit income. Dick and I have had no success in convincing the City of Waukesha to take meaningful action and the police don’t seem to be interested either. While the third cemetery director showed genuine concern, succeeding directors (the cemetery now has the fifth director since 2014) have shown no interest. Last year Dick found a WDNR game warden who was VERY interested, director number four asked the warden to leave her office. We must again plan to cut off seed heads beginning August 6 There are an amazing number of blooming coneflowers this year, but cutting off seed heads is easy and we a lot of hand pruners—we will, however, welcome additional hands. We can do the work on any day and at any time after sunrise and before sunset.
Please consider joining us between August 6-13, even if you can only join us once. Since Dick lives in Waukesha, please call him at 262-501-2929 to let him know if you plan to work at the cemetery. If for any reason Dick is unavailable, feel free to call Walter at 608-391-1921. It takes me about 35 minutes to drive to the cemetery and working there is always a pleasure. Please note that on Saturday afternoons (1:00 PM or later), Sundays (all day), and weekday afternoons (after 4:30 PM) no one should work alone because the thieves are most likely to appear on such days and times. Dick or Walter will be happy to work with you if you don’t have a partner to work with you.