Sometimes habitat restoration can feel like two steps forward and one step back. Or even one step forward and two steps back. An annual plan can make all the difference in the effectiveness of the work, however. That’s what Levi Plath, the Conservancy’s land manager, has seen at Angel Bluff nature preserve in Buffalo County, where he along with interns and “For the Wild” volunteers have made a big difference in the past two years.
The steep 20-acre parcel of bluffland was donated to the Conservancy in 2008 by Stanley Ledebuhr, a retired Winona teacher. As a young man, he had bow-hunted and observed falcons on the property, and he eventually bought it. Ledebuhr realized the importance of protecting the land, especially after a neighbor died and a developer bought the adjacent land and cut all the trees down to build homes. Inspired by the conservation land gifts of Winona’s John Latsch, he donated the land, named in honor of his wife, to the Conservancy for permanent protection.
Angel Bluff is home to many native mammals, reptiles, wildflowers, pollinators, and birds, including the Peregrine falcon, a threatened bird specie in Wisconsin. Bur oak and shagbark hickory have long been a food source for many bluffland species, but when the Conservancy accepted the land donation, the regeneration of these trees was already being hampered by invasive species.
In the years immediately following the donation, resources for habitat restoration at Angel Bluff were not available, and invasives began to take over the both the woodlands and the prairie. In 2015, some timberstand work was done to encourage the growth of the native bur oak and shagbark hickory, but that was quickly filled in by buckthorn, vines, and other brush.
Funding for restoration of the land became available as a result of settlements for the CapX 2000 powerline and from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. According to Plath, the buckthorn was 8 feet tall and very thick by the time the Conservancy was granted the resources to tackle it. Other invasives that were rapidly spreading included honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet, bittersweet nightshade, leafy spurge, and eastern red cedar.
But funding wasn’t the only obstacle to restoring the native wildlife habitats on the bluff. The steep terrain and difficult access made the restoration work very challenging. Fortunately, there are people like Levi Plath who love such a challenge. Levi has worked on Angel Bluff restoration for going on three years, now, with the help of numerous interns and volunteers. The volunteers have included at-risk youth groups, Boy Scouts, board members, and dedicated individual conservationists. The 20-minute haul of equipment up the bluff to the work site would be enough to exhaust many, but Levi and his crews have persevered and the results of their efforts are beginning to show.
The removal of the invasives is now more than 50% complete, and Plath says the maintenance required to further discourage them will be easier if it’s kept up on an annual basis. All of this will give the native prairie and trees a chance to once again dominate the land and provide food and shelter for the wildlife.
When asked what signs of success he looks for when surveying the land, Plath said, “More prairie. More native species. And more funding to maintain it all.”
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Angel Bluff is one of more than twenty nature preserves protected for public use by Mississippi Valley Conservancy. Although its steep and rugged terrain are not welcoming to the casual hiker, it is available for hunting and recreation. The blufftop views of the Mississippi River are excellent, though only the most hearty and ambitious adventurers will likely have the opportunity to enjoy them. For more about the Conservancy’s nature preserves, including maps, directions, and use policies, visit
If you’re interested in joining our “For the Wild,” volunteer program to help with habitat restoration or other conservation activities, indoors or outdoors, visit .