Establishing a Soil Health Baseline for Prairie Restoration
Henry Westly ’21, Corvallis, Oregon
Major: Environmental Geology
Big Hill Park in Beloit, Wisconsin, is made up of two parcels. The first piece has been a park since the 1920s with some remnant areas appearing to have the vegetation that it did before European settlement. The second piece was added in 1997, after having been used for agriculture as the Kopplin farm since at least the 1930s. There is an ongoing restoration effort by the Welty Environmental Center to bring the Kopplin section from its current “old field” condition back to oak savannah. My project characterizes the current health of the soil in the Kopplin farm section and compares it to remnants not used for agriculture.
Prairie and oak savannah soils store much more carbon than soils used for agriculture. Intensive agriculture strips soils of their nutrients, including carbon. This carbon once released from storage can end up in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Soils from the Kopplin parcel were compared to original Big Hill Park undisturbed woodland remnants. This information serves as a benchmark to evaluate the success of the restoration effort in terms of soil health and carbon storage on the soil as well as guide the initial effort.
Spatial analysis shows similar soil characteristics between Kopplin and wooded remnant sections. Variation in compaction relates to current use. However, results suggest a difference in the nutrient levels between paired data points. There are four soil units in my study area, each with slightly differing features.