The PPEs of Ecological Restoration

We were brush cutting yesterday; I was hot and sweaty and all I wanted to do was get that hard hat off! Then I began thinking about my friend who was recently hurt with a brush cutter; gave me a whole new appreciation for my hot, hard hat! 

The value of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) cannot be understated. It can save your life and it can maintain your quality of life.  Being maimed or lamed will certainly ruin they way you do things now and not worth the risk!

I think of PPE as 1) knowing the proper types to wear with certain equipment and 2) knowing how to take care of it. Maintenance of the equipment and keeping blades sharp is equally important but not the focus of this writing.

Below is a listing of the types of PPE necessary for the activities that I normally participate in and some additional information about the PPE.

Apron chaps
Apron chaps for chain saw use

Chain saw helmet
Helmet with shield and ear muffs for chain saw and brush cutting use


  • Hard hat with face shield and ear muffs
  • Chaps – these are made from cut-resistant material
  • Gloves
  • Sturdy, leather boots

Brush cutting:

  • Hard hat with face shield and ear muffs
  • Gloves
  • Sturdy, leather boots

The helmet with face shield for prescribed burns. This is shown without the shroud attached.

Prescribed burns

  • Hard hat with face shield and shroud – The face shield is invaluable and keeps the heat at bay incredibly well.
  • Fire-resistant pants and shirt
  • Sturdy, leather boots
  • Heavy, leather gloves

Maintenance of your PPE should not be an afterthought. At one time, I thought a hard hat was good until it wasn’t any longer. Then I learned that the “wasn’t any longer” could be when something hit your head and the hat cracked and so did your skull. This is not the place to be frugal; replace the hat even then it “looks” good!

USDA has a good article regarding maintenance and repair of chain saw chaps. There are several styles of chaps. I prefer the apron type because you can take them on and off as needed (when you’re not chain sawing no point in putting wear and tear on them).

Fire-resistant clothing can be very expensive and finding it in women’s sizes was a challenge until I discovered this site. No more excuses for me to not have the proper clothes!! Don’t get hung up on the brand name, but look for clothing that has a fire level rating. Level 1 and Level 2 are the most common ratings and sufficient for prescribed burns.

To Leave or Not to Leave?

That is the question we ask every time we build a brush pile and every time we prepare to burn it. Brush piles make great habitat for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and microorganisms! We burn to clean up the landscape a bit and with the goal of killing any seeds or berries from brush that we have cut. We don’t have a formula for deciding what to burn and how many to leave. Most often it depends on the placement of the piles but sometimes we make that decision when we’re building it. For example, we have kept all the brush piles at the edge of the prairie beside each of the trails into the woods. This edge pile serves as more than habitat. It also provides temporary cover for birds and other critters when predators are out and about.

When we burn, I can’t help but think of the soil microbes and invertebrates. These piles get extremely hot, sterilizing the ground beneath them and killing anything living in the soil. What happens next is weeds will begin to grow. On our land, we prefer to encourage the native plants to grow. To overcome this, we blow the ashes away from the pile with a leaf blower and plant seed the following spring.
To burn the piles we use a 3:1 diesel to gas ratio. We also use a 2 gallon stainless steel spray tank to start the fire and move it around the pile. We learned this technique from friends of ours. It works wonderfully! Below is a picture of the spray tank.

Burning brush piles is a good activity for the cold, winter season. It minimizes the number of “critters” that are harmed and it minimizes the risk of the fire spreading where you don’t want it when you do a prescribed burn.

Between a Rock and a Soft, Warm Place

Since I’m outdoors a lot, I spent a great deal of time thinking about living quarters, especially on these cold, winter days. I wonder how critters find their warm homes and are they as “snuggly” as I am in front of my fireplace or nestled in my bed? OK, so that’s anthropomorphizing just a bit, but it does pique my curiosity about habitats. What is a habitat? The Oxford American Dictionary defines habitat as “the natural home or environment of an animal, place, or other organism or a particular type of environment regarded as a home for organisms.” I decided one day to make a game of it. How many habitats can you find in this picture?

Or this picture?
I always think these “cavities” at the base of trees would be great homes but I have yet to “see” anything living there. Perhaps it’s great for overwintering arthropods and microorganisms?
 This would be a good spot to find a chickadee pressed into on a cold winter’s night. Or perhaps this woodpecker hole?
 One of the many wonderful snags we have standing in our woods. So many critters find them to not only be great habitat but a perfect smorgasbord, as demonstrated by the numerous woodpeckers holes.
Some woodpiles would not be a great habitat but this one is. Why? Because we won’t be moving it and/or burning it this winter. You can see that some wood-boring insect made them homes long before they toppled to the ground and we cut them up. What else could be living here?
And while the prairie, in and of itself, is habitat to many critters, namely our beautiful white-tailed deer, it also supports habitat within itself, such as this home. Perhaps a rabbit dug this? Maybe a skunk? It’s not large enough for a badger or a woodchuck.
Rock outcroppings are some of my favorite landscape features and they can be home to lots of critters – mammals, birds, reptiles, and invertebrates galore!! How many possible habitats are there on this fabulous geologic phenomenon?

Next time you take a walk, whether its on an urban street or a country lane or in a nearby park, think about all the life that is sustained and living nearby. How many places can you find that is a rock and a soft, warm place?

The Dirt on Westmeath Lane

Lafayette County, which is where Westmeath Lane is located in Wisconsin, is in the Driftless Area. It was named this because the glaciers did not roll over it, leaving picturesque hills and valleys.  Soils in the southern part of Wisconsin are different from other parts of Wisconsin, partially because of the lack of glacial drift and partially because it lies in a transition area where tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and hardwood forests blended together.
Soil is formed from weathering and other eroding processes of parent material and windblown materials. The parent material is from the Ordovician period (490 million years ago) and consists mainly of Galena dolomite along with some Niagara dolomite and Maquoketa shale; the windblown material is mostly loess and covers the majority of the county.
Soils are classified with their own taxonomy much the same as all living organisms. Yes, soil is a living, breathing entity! Although a Russian scientist developed the soil classification system in the 1870s, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the US accepted the principles under which these classifications are made. There are 6 categories of classification; they are as follows with the approximate number of units in each category:
            12 Order
                        63 Suborder
                                    319 Great Group
                                                2,484 Subgroup
                                                            ≈ 8,000 Family
                                                                        ≈ 19,000 Series
Westmeath Lane has 5 series of soils: Chaseburg, Dubuque, Gale, Palsgrove, and Stony & rocky land. Series are usually named after the places where they are located (towns, rivers, counties, etc.). I won’t go through a description of each of these here as more information can be obtained from the following link of the Lafayette County Soil Survey. Below is a scan of the soil survey for Westmeath Lane with our general area outlined in red marker that shows the soil types.
When we excavated for our house building, I took the following picture of the soil horizons. There are 5 horizons designated by capitol letters O, A, E, B, and C.  O is the organic layer at the very top and is generally found in woods. So, if you look at this picture, you can clearly see the A horizon, B horizon, and C horizon. There could be an E horizon, but I certainly can’t see it.  A is the topsoil, B is the reddish band because it has accumulated iron and aluminum oxides, C is the area below these and can contain structural features of the parent materials.
For more information on Lafayette County soils, check out the Soil Survey, Lafayette County Wisconsin that the US Dept. of Ag Soil Conservation Service created.
If you want to keep learning about soil, this is an excellent textbook:
The Nature and Properties of Soil by Nyle C. Brady and Ray R. Weil
Other excellent books are already listed in my Soil and Chocolate Cake blog.

Rope or Smoke?

I found a marijuana plant in my garden the other day, made a post on Facebook, and learned that it used to be a huge industry here in Wisconsin. That just piqued my curiosity, so I began researching it.
Jeremiah Rusk, governor, Civil War hero, and the first Secretary of Agriculture, began the fiber crop movement in Wisconsin in the late 1890s because the US faced a fiber shortage. For 40 years, this industry continued expanding and finally gave way to the hemp industry. Since 50,000 tons of binding were used yearly and since sisal and jute were imported, it just made sense to try to grow this domestically. Most hemp was used for naval purposed but it was also used to make burlap, canvas, and twine.
Wisconsin’s hemp industry began in 1908 in Waupun, Mendota, and Viroqua. By 1917 with the collapse of the stock market an organized effort began to promote and market hemp, thus the Wisconsin Hemp Order was formed. Unfortunately, the 1918 drought was a setback to these efforts. Additionally, no mechanical means of harvesting and processing hemp has been discovered and the labor-intensive harvesting methods were pricing it out of the market. Between cutting and shipping, hemp was handled 11 times.
By 1920s, the mills on the east side of the state continued operating. This was due to the efforts of Matt Rens of Rens Hemp Company, who became known as America’s Hemp King. When the Great Depression hit, prices for most things dropped and hemp was no exception; it reached a low of 3 centers per pound in 1932. Although there were a variety of specific uses for hemp, they were merely variations on twine and it was much easier to import the cheap tropical fibers.
In 1937, the recreational drug market was flourishing and marijuana prohibition was enacted in Congress. Since hemp fiber did not have the potential to be a psychotropic drug, Wisconsin was not the target of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics campaign. When Japan moved against the tropical fiber plantations, domestic hemp became more strategically important. The US built 42 mills at the price of $300,000 each with the majority in Wisconsin, making it the major site of War Hemp Industries. When the war ended, these mills became obsolete and were auctioned off.
The last crop of hemp was produced in 1957. Although the development of synthetic alternatives eroded the market, the ultimate demise was the prohibition of all cannabis.
I figure the plant must have come in on the hay that I’ve been using for mulch. We found this large square bale in the woods and surmised that it got there because the hay shooter continued shooting even though the truck was turning!! We found another large round one that must have been a bit out of control and rolled down the hill. Our good fortunate! We have great mulch and learned a bit of history.

Alternative Fuel Society

One of the great discoveries of Blanchardville was finding the Alternative Fuel Society (AFS), where we get to sample great varieties of “fuel” and socialize with wonderful people.  We keep the gatherings simple.  Bring any variety(s) of beer or wine; bring a glass; and bring a snack to pass. We deposit all “fuels” on the table so anyone can try whichever sounds good to them. We have some wonderful brew masters who bring homemade beers and/or wines, which are unique and delicious! We also have some great cooks who love to share their talents with us as well! If neither beer nor wine interests you, some folks have brought others types of brewed or fermented beverages to share. As we say, “it’s all good!”
Being new to the area, finding this group was a great way for us to meet other folks in the area. Some are “transplants,” like us, while others are natives. We have a diverse group of ages and interests and good conversation and laughter are always in abundant supply.
No invitation is necessary! If you’re interested in learning more, please e-mail me.