The landscape and geological features of this country (i.e. US of A) never cease to amaze me. The Driftless was no exception. After an hour on the road west of Madison, I thought to myself "You gotta be kidding me, this is NOT the Midwest, it's Tuscany!". It was Beautiful: An ecological matrix of farms, forests, grasslands,hills, and prairies. During our trip we got to talk to farmers and scholars about farming practices and land management of the area, as well as canoeing down the Kickapoo and Wisconsin Rivers. Fun stuff.
On the Driftless...
So what exactly is this "Driftless area"? Dr. Curt Maine gave us a nice lecture on the area, and although it is rich in history -especially geological history- I can summarize it as follows: The terms refers to an area which was not covered by glaciers during the last ice age. Because this area was ice-free, when the surrounding ice receded it left behind residues of rocks and boulders. After erosion, we are left with these huge formations, what we commonly call "hills". I am not good in geological vocabulary or even communicating how awesome this area is, that's why I found a video on it, lead by two scientists (of course): "Mysteries of the Driftless"
By the 1920's conventional forms of agriculture brought by the settlers had taken a toll on Coon Valley's watershed: erosion and overgrazing led to floods and destabilization of the soil. One of the world's first conservation project -if not the first- was done in early 1930's. The Soil Conservation Service (known today as Natural Resource Conservation Service) with the guidance of Aldo Leopold and the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, implemented a watershed restoration project that would revolutionize the world of Conservation Biology forever...
Similar to today, conspiracy theories were the first barrier for people to participate on watershed conservation. It was thought that government was there to take over the land. Ranchers and farmers were very skeptical of this government-led project. However, Leopold soon found support among the community and began collaborating by sharing ideas and observations to create watershed consciousness. People started signing up for the project and received grants and incentives. More and more farmers and ranchers joined the conservation effort when they saw how the land was healing around them. The most important change was the plowing practice. Contour plowing and fenced woodlots were adopted, which is more in tune with this landscape full of steep slopes and rivers. Soon enough, Coon Valley went from total destruction to a renewed area: fish and wildlife was readily seen, the stream flow was normal, less flood, and less erosion.
The Coon Valley Watershed restoration project is prime example of integrating multiple stakeholders into conservation practices for the Land. More Info HERE! Soils.org and AldoLeopold.org
There is much concern about frac sand mining in the Driftless, I am not familiar with what this entails. A lot of questions remain unanswered like:
- What is real impact on the land?
- Is it going to destroy the best remnants of prairie land in the Midwest?
- Will erosion once again be the biggest concern for the area?
- Will it crate a water issue?
- A tourism issue?
- What about quality of life?
- How can the community find a sustainable source of income?
Here is a source for the geological properties of frac sand.
Frac mining in Minnesota and Wisconsin: a periodic Star Tribune series on the sand mining boom.