A Legacy of Research and Ecological Restoration at the UW–Madison Arboretum

For February 7, 2018

Hi WN@TL Fans,

John Muir, our university’s leading light among its pantheon of drop-outs, spent much of his adult life working to save some of our nation’s most splendid places.  Among his greatest achievements was the creation in 1890 of Yosemite National Park.

Yet the status of Yosemite as a national park proved insufficient to prevent its Hetch Hetchy Valley from being dammed and turned into a reservoir to provide freshwater for San Francisco. The project was supported by Gifford Pinchot, but was adamantly opposed by Muir.  The battle to preserve the Hetch Hetchy raged over the last 15 years of Muir’s life. The dam was approved by Congress & President Wilson in 1913, and Muir died at the end of 1914.

In 1924 Aldo Leopold, a native of Iowa and an alum of the Yale School of Forestry endowed by Pinchot, came to Madison as the associate director of the US Forest Products Lab. The UW Arboretum was established in 1932 and in 1934 Leopold, now a UW professor of wildlife ecology and director of research at the Arb, gave a dedication address that displayed his talent for clarity both as a visionary and as a writer.  “Our idea, in a nutshell,” he said, “is to reconstruct…a sample of original Wisconsin—a sample of what Dane County looked like before our ancestors arrived here during the 1840s.”

Here was an early example, perhaps the earliest, of what came to be known as restoration ecology.

An aerial photo  from about 1932 of the new-born Arboretum is notable for what it does not show:  the Beltline. An aerial view (page v here) from about 2007 shows the highway and the development that borders the Arb. When the Beltline was built in the 1940s it dissected the pine forest planted by Leopold in the 1930’s.

The drive to preserve the pristine, as in the case of Muir, or to reconstruct the lost, as in the case of Leopold, comes with victories and disappointments.  The drive is fueled by scientists who research the land and who search for ways to understand it and, if need be, to restore it.

Today, 85 years after Leopold planted his pines, the work of the Arboretum continues the quest.  This Wednesday (February 7), Brad Herrick of the Arb will speak on “A Legacy of Research and Ecological Restoration at the UW–Madison Arboretum.”

Here’s how Brad describes his talk:

The UW Arboretum has such a long and storied history of ecological research and restoration that it is considered the birthplace of restoration ecology. Scientists such as Aldo Leopold; John Curtis MS’35, PhD’37; Henry Greene; Virginia Kline ’47, MS’75, PhD’76; Joy Zedler MS’66, PhD’68; and many others have contributed to its legacy. During his talk, Herrick will explore the early years of the Arboretum, the development of Curtis Prairie, as well as classic research projects and current research and restoration priorities.

About the speaker

Herrick earned his bachelor’s degree from Luther College and his master’s degree from UW–Green Bay. He has been the Arboretum’s ecologist for 10 years, overseeing its research program and assisting in developing long-term restoration and management plans for its wide variety of ecosystems. Herrick is also a plant ecologist with interests in wetlands, prairies, oak savannas, environmental monitoring, and — most recently — investigating the ecological impacts of the invasive jumping worm.


To find out more about the current work of the Arboretum, Brad will be inviting us to participate in the Arb’s annual Science Day next week, Thursday, February 15 from 9:00am to 11:30am at the Visitor Center.

Also next week for Valentine’s Day, WN@TL will be marking the 209th anniversary of the birth on February 12, 1809, of Charles Darwin.  John Logsdon from the University of Iowa is the guest speaker invited by the UW’s J.F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution.

He will be sharing his insights into “Sex, Cells, Evolution: The Molecular Origins of Meiosis & Its Sometimes Strange Natural History.”

Imagine: for humans to go forth & multiply, our biology requires something at the cellular level called reduction division. It’s hard to conceive.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Thanks again,

Tom Zinnen
UW-Madison and UW-Extension