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Wilson State Nursery expands mission following reorganization
Vande Hey
Joe Vande Hey, Wilson State Nursery, DNR Reforestation Team Leader and Nursery Superintendent

With consolidation comes change for Boscobel’s Wilson State Nursery, though it’s more a matter of mission than production.

“We are broadening the scope of our mission,” explained Joe Vande Hey, who is now the Reforestation Team Leader and Nursery Superintendent.

The expanded focus means more regeneration and restoration work, according to Vande Hey. And that focus is no longer just on southern Wisconsin. It is the entire state.

“What we are growing now are key timber species and bushes that are good for wildlife habitat,” Vande Hey explained. “All of them are native to the state. We are working on a lot more restoration; so trees like swamp and white oak, white maple, and such. We did not focus on these trees before.”

In southern Wisconsin, the program is producing a great deal of red oak and walnut, two of the most economically valuable trees.

Restoration is an important focus as the state seeks to help fill in blanks in the landscape created by diseases like Emerald Ash Borer infestations or the butternut canker.

He also noted that failing to manage land and to replant key species is altering the landscape. Southern Wisconsin was a land of red oak and hickory, but without management to replace the fire that once cleared the overstory, they are disappearing from our landscape.

A little further north into central Wisconsin, you found more maple trees and a scattering of yellow birch populations. Into the upper reaches of the state, mixed age forests are the norm.

Managed Forest

The state offers tax credits to landowners who enter into Managed Forest agreements, Vande Hey noted. That can help offset the cost of forested lands, as opposed to agricultural acreage.

Late last year, the Department of Natural Resources announced the decision to consolidate seedling production at Wilson State Nursery in Boscobel. Hayward State Nursery and Griffith State Nursery, while no longer producing seedlings, are still being used for a variety of purposes, including seed cleaning and storage, seed orchards, herbicide and other trials, and research plots.

As a result of moving all seedling production to Wilson State Nursery and refocusing on broader reforestation efforts, the staffing structure was modified to reflect its new direction. The changes include going from three supervisors to one for the program, going from three Assistant Nursery Managers to one, and creating a new Regeneration Specialist position. The changes went into effect September 6, 2015.

The new Reforestation Team Leader/Nursery Superintendent is Joe Vande Hey. The new Assistant Nursery Manager for the Reforestation Program is Roger Bohringer. And the new Regeneration Specialist is Jeremiah Auer.

“We are not at full capacity (in the nursery), we are at about half our capacity of around 4 million conifers and hardwood trees here,” Vande Hey explained.

Those trees now have to ship over a longer period of time, so the crews need to make sure they are kept dormant as long as possible through proper storage and refrigeration.

Prison partnership

How they handle those trees in the field won’t take more time or people, he explained. But grading the trees, an expanded responsibility, does. To that end, the nursery has entered into a partnership with the Boscobel prison. The nursery sends truckloads of seedlings to the prison to be sorted and graded by WSPF inmates.

“Lifting three million trees is not a big deal, but grading them is time consuming,” Vande Hey said. Even with the prison partnership, this means a longer season for his seasonal crew.

But perhaps the biggest change of all is one that has been building for many years and led to the consolidation of nurseries and a broadening of their mission. The demand for seedling trees has diminished.

“The biggest challenge is convincing landowners to plant trees,” Vande Hey acknowledged. “But trees are a good long term investment and they are not a lot of work except at the outset when you plant them.”

They are our greatest renewable resource, the nursery superintendent quipped.

And with the help of the nursery, you can ensure that the native trees continue to grace the hillsides of Wisconsin and provide some income as well. After all, Vande Hey noted, the most valuable woods these days by board foot happen to be hardwoods, the very thing those of us in southern Wisconsin are being encouraged to plant.