This article was a collaboration with Rich Henderson.

We in the Empire-Sauk Chapter are dreaming of a day when more red-headed woodpeckers, regal fritillaries, and other grassland- and savanna-loving species will use Schurch-Thomson Prairie. That dream is one step closer now, as 25 acres around the Schurch-Thomson barn have been freed from a Managed Forest Law contract.

Woods in a sea of grass at Schurch-Thomson. Photo by Eric Preston

After many years of waiting, we’re now able to undertake the tree and brush removal that was prohibited by the contract. This is a crucial step for prairie and oak savanna restoration at this site, which is part of the Mounds View Grassland Preserve. Finally, the work has begun — and what a transformation!

In late August, with the generous loan of a forestry mower from The Nature Conservancy, we started clearing dense brush from the area. The next step was to harvest the larger walnut trees for sale. We engaged the services of Adaptive Restoration (located in nearby Mount Horeb), who brought their team of draft horses to the property. Rosebud and Duchess worked hard, providing excellent photo opportunities for at least one TPE volunteer.

Horse power. Photo by Eric Preston

The remaining walnuts under 12” in diameter, and some other non-oak species of all sizes, will be removed. We plan to give them away for firewood or small-dimension lumber over the winter, then pile and burn the tops. This will clear the way for follow-up brush and weed control. Next fall, we’ll seed in prairie and savanna species. The profits from the timber harvest will most likely pay for this follow-up work. However, the more work can be accomplished by volunteers, the more land management projects at Schurch-Thomson can be covered by the income.

If you would like to help clear the tree-tops and remaining trees, sign up for the Empire-Sauk Chapter’s weekly email notices (email Look for work party announcements there and in the work party flyer on our webpage. Also, if you’re in need of firewood or free logs for lumber, or know someone who is, contact site steward Rich Henderson (608-845-7065,

Soon, visitors to Mounds View will once again be able to appreciate the grandiose oaks that have been here for over 150 years.

Red-headed woodpecker in an oak savanna. Photo by Eric Preston