The Friends of Pheasant Branch organized as a non-for-profit organization in 1995 and received 501(c)(3) tax exemption status from the Internal Revenue Service two years later. Our motivation for organizing was to prevent construction of two proposed sewers through the Pheasant Branch Conservancy. After we lost one sewer battle and prevented construction of the other, we turned our attention to more enjoyable and productive activities, like restoring habitat in the Pheasant Branch Conservancy and educating the public about its resources. With the exception of a few contract workers, we are an all-volunteer organization.
In 1997 we began removing invasive species from the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, parts of which are owned by Dane County, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the City of Middleton. Two Middleton High School ecology teachers and their students have been especially helpful over the years.
In 2010, 1,144 restoration volunteers logged 4,223 hours during the year!
We obtained several grants early in our history to convene two watershed taskforces. Another of our grants enabled the U.S. Geological Survey to study how groundwater recharges the Pheasant Branch Springs, and how surface water in the Pheasant Branch Watershed causes erosion of the stream channel and sediment problems in the conservancy and Lake Mendota. Relying upon the research of several scientists and months of deliberations by more than fifty watershed stakeholders, our second taskforce made thirty-two recommendations; many were adopted before we could print our report. View the Taskforce summary or complete report.
Two of our major taskforce goals were to preserve infiltration capabilities in the Pheasant Branch floodplain along Airport Road and to reduce downstream erosion in the Pheasant Branch channel. To that end, the City of Middleton purchased Morey Airport and another large parcel of land in order to safeguard the floodplain's highly permeable soils from future development. The city also adopted several new ordinances to regulate development and construction practices related to stormwater runoff and erosion control. In conjunction with our taskforce work, we also began to sponsor public lectures about conservancy and watershed issues during the winter months and field trips during warmer weather.
At our urging, the City of Middleton established a Conservancy Lands Committee and, with the Dane County Parks Department, developed a long range master plan for the conservancy. Their final plan contained a survey of plant habitats in the conservancy, as well as recommendations for habitat restoration and a conservancy trail system. View the vegetation report.
To complement the master plan we hired a University of Wisconsin student to survey animals in the conservancy. Her report provides us with a baseline from which to evaluate how our subsequent restoration work has affected animal populations in the conservancy. We know, for example, that the number of bird species has greatly increased and bird populations have more than doubled in eight years. As a result, the conservancy has become a popular destination for bird watchers and photographers.
Using community donations of money and materials, our volunteers erected two viewing platforms in the 1990s. One is on top of the hill overlooking the conservancy and Lake Mendota. The other provides visitors with a stunning view of the Pheasant Branch Springs, which contribute 2.6 million gallons of water each day to the marsh and lake!
The DNR has awarded us several Lake Protection Grants for operating expenses and program development over the years. In turn, we helped the City of Middleton obtain grants from the Dane County Conservation Fund and Wisconsin Stewardship Fund to purchase of two properties on the east side of the conservancy. More recently, grants from the DNR and Fund for Children enabled us to develop our highly successful Kids for the Earth program. KFTE helps teachers and children in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, as well as youth group leaders, make use of conservancy resources for environmental education.
Grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and some environmental organizations financed construction of detention basins that prevent barnyard runoff at the north end of the conservancy from reaching the marsh. We also used those funds to remove drainage tiles from former cropland in the conservancy so that it could revert to a wetland meadow. In 2004, we received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to hire a restoration company to remove some aggressively persistent invasive trees and shrubs. Although the conservancy is relatively small, only about 550 acres, we won that grant because it contains an unusually large variety of habitats, including lowland forests, an open marsh, wetland meadows, mesic and dry prairies, and an oak savanna. Many wildlife species require the close proximity of two or more of these habitats during their life cycles.
A grant from the John C. Bock Foundation and donations to the Dorothy Shannon Memorial Fund greatly advanced our restoration efforts. The last of 120 acres of land earmarked for prairie planting at the north end of the conservancy was seeded in 2006.
To celebrate our tenth anniversary in 2005 and provide an important educational resource for our Kids for the Earth program, we published and distributed nearly 1,000 copies of a full-color, thirty-two page booklet entitled Geology, Cultural History and Ecology of the Pheasant Branch Conservancy and Watershed. View or print a PDF copy of the brochure.
Thanks to overwhelming generosity from many individuals and groups in Middleton and its surrounding communities, as well as the Dane County Conservation Fund, the Wisconsin Stewardship Fund, the City of Middleton and several foundations, we raised $3 million to purchase 19.7 acres of land adjacent to the conservancy from the Middleton-Cross Plains School District at the close of 2005. Although small in size, this parcel of land has great ecological value. It will provide the conservancy with new varieties of wildlife habitat and educational opportunities. Moreover, the tremendous infiltration capabilities of its soils will continue to protect water quality in Lake Mendota.
Our restoration and education efforts continue to grow. Through the years, burns have been done by FOPB volunteer groups as well as through the county burn crews, but in 2010 we burned almost the entire Dane County section of the Conservancy with the Wisconsin Partners for Fish and Wildlife. During the summers of 2009 and 2010, five college interns and 2 high school interns worked side-by-side with FOPB volunteers and county workers.
The Friends continue to be advocates for the Conservancy. More than 1,200 adults of voting age signed FOPB petitions opposing paved trails north from Century Ave to Orchid Heights Park. The signatures came from every district of the city. The Friends hoped to keep the Conservancy safe for more passive activities like bird-watching.
The Friends of Pheasant Branch have enjoyed being active and productive and are looking forward to an even busier future, all made possible by the Friends’ members and support!