Jim and Marci Hess own 46 acres of native habitat in The Driftless Area. Along with managing their own land, they are land stewards for a streambank restoration with Trout Unlimited. This is their background and journey into prairie, woodland, & savanna restoration.
I have been working in prairie restoration since 2000. I spend many hours researching techniques and products as well as the flora and fauna of tallgrass prairies. My ecological restoration education comes from talking with folks, reading scientific research papers, and experimenting. Being a skeptic, my wish would be to have all the facts wrapped up in a nice neat scientific paper but with nature, nothing is nice and neat! With the resources available to me, I do my best to stay up-to-date with the latest science. And certainly, I will share any piece of knowledge I have!
My formal education is in business with an emphasis in marketing. I am a few hours from a Biology major but did not continue with that study because I would not dissect 4-legged furries. Such a shame that computer animation could not be used.
Having grown up in Kansas, prairies were something near and dear but when I lived there, I was busy with my career and had little time for much else. When we moved to Wisconsin in 2000, I switched gears and began volunteering for Madison Audubon at Goose Pond. I started by collecting prairie seeds. Funny thing, most of the others I collected with learned the plants “backwards” too!! We knew what they looked like when the seeds were ready to collect but didn’t know the color of the flower when it was in bloom!! Each week, after collecting all day, I would go home and study my prairie plant books.
One thing leads to another and eventually I began studying the whole ecosystem — birds, mammals, soils, and insects. There is no way to separate the subjects within an ecosystem – they all depend on each other and are connected in many facets that I continue studying them all! It’s a most incredible system of interrelationships and fascinating dynamics.
Growing up in Kansas, I loved being outdoors and close to nature. In fact, after taking a high school aptitude test my guidance counselor suggested I should consider a career that involved these interests, such as being a forest ranger. However, my heart was set on going to the University of Kansas and they didn’t offer classes in these areas. Going to college in the 60’s was a learning experience in and of itself with the counter-cultural movement and the civil rights and war protests, but I managed to end up with a degree in business administration and then a master’s degree in political science a couple of years later.
Marci and I always dreamed of having our own land, but my chosen career of running public venue facilities (convention centers, performing arts facilities and arenas) always required living within the city limits of that facility. I had no regrets as I loved my job and there was never a dull moment. During the last ten years of my career at Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Marci and I started volunteering with the Madison Audubon Society collecting prairie plant seeds at Goose Pond, which were used to re-establish prairie habitat for birds and wildlife. That re-sparked our desire to buy some land where we could establish our own prairie and build our retirement home. With that goal in mind we continued our volunteer seed collecting activities and joined other prairie organizations to learn as much as we could about prairies and land management.
We have established a bluebird trail in our prairie and along our county road, which has 26 bluebird houses that I monitor on a weekly basis from April to September. I share my data with the Lafayette County bluebird association and then send my annual report to the state association. In 1979 there were only 22 bluebirds in the entire county. Last year my trail fledged 98 bluebirds. We have also added bee hives to the prairie to help pollinate the forbs and grasses, and provide us with some great honey (and a few bee stings, which I have been told is good for you – at least I keep saying this to myself after being stung).