For three years, the unusual consortium - known as the Wisconsin Buffer Initiative (WBI) - has pondered how best to combat ecological offenders such as phosphorus, nitrogen and the sediments that seep from agricultural lands into state waters.
At the heart of the discussion has been the statewide conservation potential of "riparian buffers," or strips of vegetated land that lie adjacent to water. Scientists have known for years that among other ecological benefits, buffers serve as effective natural filters that can absorb pollutants from farmland runoff.
But in order to strategically place them around this state, the first question the WBI sought to answer was: where in Wisconsin's diverse agricultural landscape would riparian buffers have the greatest impact for the lowest cost?
An interdisciplinary UW-Madison team of soil scientists, ecologists and agricultural engineers spent the last few years pondering the question. On Wednesday (Feb. 22), Pete Nowak, a UW-Madison professor of rural sociology, will present their scientific conclusions at a meeting of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board.
"We hope this project will reestablish Wisconsin as a leader in natural resource management," says Nowak, a soil and water conservationist who chaired the WBI process. "We're really trying to solve the significant problems of Wisconsin in a way that represents the essence of the Wisconsin Idea."
Among the recommendations that Nowak will present is the use of a new watershed ranking system developed by UW-Madison researchers. The new system divides the state into 1,600 hydrological units, each measuring about 18 square miles. Rather than focusing only on degraded areas, the innovative ranking tool prioritizes Wisconsin wate
Contact: Peter Nowak
University of Wisconsin-Madison