Sara Vacek

Refuge Biologist
Morris Wetland Wildlife District
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Sara Vacek works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service as the refuge biologist at Morris Wetland Management District. She coordinates the biology program at the district, including inventory and monitoring, research, and planning. Sara received a B.A. in Biology and Environmental Studies from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and an M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from South Dakota State University in Brookings. When she isn’t at work in the prairies and wetlands of Morris WMD, Sara enjoys spending time with her family, exploring public lands, gardening, and cooking.

Hatsad and Hegland WPA : Unit Management

Hastad and Hegland Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) protect nearly 1,500 acres of grassland and wetland habitats, including 990 acres of remnant prairie.  This complex is our highest priority for management due to it's size, the large area of remnant prairie it includes, and it's position within a large landscape of other permanently protected conservation lands.  The Fish and Wildlife Service purchased these WPAs in multiple tracts (1968-2016) and before becoming WPAs they experienced a variety of land uses, including hayland, pasture, cropland, and recreational land.  This land use history has a strong influence on the current condition of the site, and in turn influences our management planning.  The WPAs are subdivided into multiple management units, and have received a complex mix of management actions including tree control, grazing with cattle and goats, prescribed fire, wetland restoration, and prairie reconstruction. 

Hatsad and Hegland WPA : Wet Meadow Monitoring

Well-managed livestock grazing is a useful tool for managing native grasslands.  Though most grazing is geared toward management of upland prairie, the effects of livestock grazing in prairie wetlands are much less understood and investigated.  Many sites being managed with cattle grazing to achieve management goals in upland prairies may be sustaining unintended effects in wetlands that are also present in the site.  For example, wetland soils can undergo greater alteration from the physical disturbance of cattle than upland soils, which can potentially result in increased problems of invasive species.  Conversely, managers have observed that shallow wetlands in well-managed, private pastures often have less cover of invasive species than wetlands in grasslands that are predominantly managed with rest.  We started this project to examine the consequences of cattle grazing on native wet meadows that occur within prairies being managed with cattle grazing.  Our monitoring includes permanent vegetation plots at Hastad Waterfowl Production Area (among other sites), which has wet meadows in basins that range from high quality, native vegetation to basins with partial reed canary grass invasion.  To assess the effects of grazing, we use a paired plot study design in which one member of each pair is randomly assigned to an exclosure and excluded from grazing.

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