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Reptile Amphibian Conservation Area
Established in 2015, while the Schlitz Audubon Conservation Plan was being created, our Reptile and Amphibian Conservation Area is 38.5 acres, or 21% of our 185-acre preserve, and provides important habitat for our ecosystem. It forms the core habitat for spring peepers, blue-spotted salamanders, Blanding’s turtles, and prairie crayfish. The area includes a permanent pond, a semi-permanent pond, and 17 vernal ponds. Our Woodland Loop contains portions of this area. With the implementation of the Conservation Plan, this area will also provide improved habitat for 20 priority breeding bird species.
Conservation Challenges of this Area
Considerable challenges lie ahead. Emerald ash borer is killing off 35% of all canopy and sub-canopy trees in the Reptile and Amphibian Conservation Area. With the death of ash, sunlight will penetrate into the ground layer.
Ongoing work to control invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle in the shrub layer will allow even more sunlight to reach the ground-layer. Early detection and rapid response efforts focused on the control of ground-layer invasives garlic mustard and dames rocket will be critical. With increased sunlight, they could come to dominate this conservation area and further reduce native biodiversity.
Repopulating with Native Species
The establishment and assessment of management stands in 2014 showed that the predominant native ground-layer plants in this area are common wood sedge, white avens, wild strawberry, calico aster, woodland violet, downy yellow violet, and fowl manna grass. With additional sunlight, these resilient native species will assert greater dominance and reduce the amount of bare ground and stormwater runoff. Additional native trees, shrubs, and ground-layer species will be restored through seeding and transplanting. Trees will include hackberry, red maple, and yellow birch. Shrub-layer plants will include leatherwood, ninebark, elderberry, and wild currant. Ground-layer species will include golden Alexanders, swamp lousewort, downey wood mint, and Michigan lily.
As we work to heal the wounds caused by deforestation, agriculture, and invasive species, we can contemplate restoration of longer duration vernal ponds that can support reproduction of additional amphibian species that once called this land home, including chorus frogs, leopard frogs, and spotted salamanders. Over the coming years, our volunteer land stewards will also be working to improve habitat to support Blanding’s turtle reproduction and provide overwintering habitat to support the restoration of Dekay’s snake, eastern milk snake, and northern red-bellied snake.
Restoration of the Reptile and Amphibian Conservation Area will provide a refuge for many declining species in Milwaukee County—species that bring a fuller understanding of our world and our role in caring for it.