Students present at Midwest Fire Conference

March 10, 2015
Ben Matthys
Martha Green

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Platteville was well represented at the 2015 Midwest Fire Conference, a regional conference held recently at the Grand River Conference Center in Dubuque, Iowa. The conference drew nearly 400 professionals, landowners, students and volunteers who shared an interest in managing and restoring prairie and oak savanna habitats across the Midwest.

The conference was sponsored by UW-Platteville’s Tree-Ring, Earth and Environmental Sciences Laboratory and the Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council, Big Rivers Forest Fire Management Compact, UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and Aldo Leopold Foundation.

At the conference, a UW-Platteville professor and student co-facilitated a participatory discussion about the challenges and advantages of using volunteers to help land managers with the controlled application of fire, or prescribed fire, to meet restoration objectives; another UW-Platteville student presented her research on the fire history of Castle Mound Pine Forest State Natural Area; and an entire class attended conference sessions to draw information for the management and restoration of Memorial Park on the UW-Platteville campus.

The participatory discussion, “No such thing as a free lunch? Using volunteers to achieve prescribed fire goals,” was facilitated by Dr. Yari Ben Johnson, assistant professor of agriculture and the director of reclamation, environment and conservation at UW-Platteville, and Amy Delyea-Petska, a senior reclamation, environment and conservation major at UW-Platteville from Eau Claire, Wis.

Approximately 45 people attended the presentation, including Iowa Department of Natural Resources personnel, federal employees, private contractors, students and volunteers.

During their presentation, Johnson and Delyea-Petska engaged participants in discussing the challenges of having volunteers help with prescribed fire, including scheduling volunteers on a short notice when weather conditions permitted burning, finding appropriate but affordable training for volunteers and keeping volunteers engaged throughout the year when the burn season lasts only a couple of weeks. Johnson and Delyea-Petska guided participants to come up with and share helpful solutions to these problems.

“During the presentation, I drew on my experiences coordinating volunteers to conduct prescribed fire while working for the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program and leading the Reclamation Club at UW-Platteville, a college organization that regularly volunteers on prescribed fires in the Driftless Area,” said Johnson. “When I worked for the Plant Conservation Program, I helped coordinate, train and lead volunteers. Now, as the advisor for the Reclamation Club, we are the volunteers. I can see things from both perspectives.”

“It was a great experience to be able to speak to and learn from so many talented and knowledgeable people from all over the Midwest,” said Delyea-Petska.

Delyea-Petska is the current administrator of the Platteville Community Arboretum, where she regularly enlists volunteers to achieve management goals. She secured the position by working with the Platteville Community Arboretum last summer as an intern supported by UW-Platteville’s Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement program, a UW-Platteville initiative and funding source for campus-wide coordination, integration and leadership of community-based scholarship of engagement projects and internships that involve students, faculty, staff and community partners.

Martha Green, a senior geography major at UW-Platteville, presented further advances in her research on the fire history of Castle Mound Pine Forest State Natural Area, located near Black River Falls. Green’s record, derived from tree rings, indicates that wildfire burned across her study area nearly once every five years from 1800 up to 1923 and was critical for sustaining the pine forest for which the park is known.

UW-Platteville students in a biogeography course taught by Dr. Evan Larson, assistant professor of geography at UW-Platteville, attended the conference and gathered information they will use in a PACCE project establishing baseline ecological conditions in Memorial Park to help inform restoration following a tornado that tore through Platteville in June.

For more information about the conference, go to:

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. The presentations at the 2015 Midwest Fire Conference and the planned PACCE project align with three of the priorities, including providing an outstanding education, fostering a community of achievement and respect and enriching the tri-state region. 

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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UIC: Strategic Plan in Action

Strategic Plan in Action

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Strategic Plan is centered around the following priorities:

  • Provide an outstanding education
  • Foster a community of achievement and respect
  • Control our own destiny
  • Enrich the tri-state region

Read more about how the university is executing this plan, as well as find examples of its success on the strategic plan website.

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