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Wisconsin prairie to be named for botany Professor Hugh Iltis

September 17, 2007 By Jill Sakai

A prairie in Marquette County will soon be named for Hugh Iltis, a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor emeritus of botany and former director of the UW-Madison Herbarium.

Landowners David and Shelley Hamel will dedicate a prairie on their land to Iltis at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23, in recognition of his friendship and commitment to land stewardship. Guided walks of their 110-acre property, which contains a sandy prairie, savanna, and bog, will be led on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 1 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 23, following the 1 p.m. dedication.

“Hugh is really a dynamic guy, full of infectious enthusiasm,” says Shelley. She credits Iltis and his passion for conservation with inspiring them to “make an individual commitment to doing something.”

The Hamels’ commitment began when they purchased about 40 acres near Westfield, Wis.

“When we first bought the bog, we took a walk and found some really wonderful prairie plants, prairie smoke and pasque flowers, and we realized we had some pretty nice stuff,” Shelley says.

As they added to their property with subsequent purchases, they also discovered wild lupines and the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

“At that point it became imperative that we learn about this property and how best to manage it,” she says. “We’ve always been interested in wildflowers and in environmental issues. I think it’s in our blood … When we found out what we had, we felt it incumbent upon us to do something about it.”

With guidance and a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she and David have worked to restore the prairie, using prescribed burns and removing invasive species.

Eighty acres are now protected by an easement that will permanently preserve the land against development or plowing. Knowing the prairie is protected, Shelley says, “Now we can claim this for a person, an idea — now it makes sense to give this place a name.”

The Hamels chose Iltis, whom they had met through their shared interests in conservation, in honor of his passion for the environment. “He’s done so much for the people he’s inspired,” says Shelley.