Henry Greene Award Winner John Shillinglaw


John Shillinglaw and the Johnny Lupine Seed Technique

The Karner blue butterfly is a federally endangered species that requires wild lupine, its only larval food source, to survive. Its historic range is from New York to Minnesota, but today only isolated populations remain. The largest populations are in Wisconsin, mainly in the central Wisconsin sand counties.

Enter John Shillinglaw, who in 1985 purchased a farm in Waushara County near the Mecan River largely because of his interest in trout fishing. Add several years and more acreage, and now you have a retired ophthalmologist turned amateur restoration biologist who has been called “a legend among those who appreciate dry prairies and all the species of fauna and flora that live in those communities,” by Robert J. Hess, Karner Blue Butterfly coordinator, Wisconsin DNR.

Maybe that’s because his work restoring old farm fields to their original dry prairie habitat, a complex process taking years and lots of lupine seeds, overturned the assumption of experts that corridors of open habitat or habitat cleared of trees are required to aid in the dispersal of the weak-flying Karner blue butterfly.

Working with his son, Craig, he published a study in “Proceedings of the 21st North American Prairie Conference” that showed Karner blues can fly greater distances than assumed and over “unsuitable” habitat. The study also noted that the butterflies could locate small lupine stands and colonize them and found that populations increased 10-fold after their restoration efforts.

Mark Martin, retired from the Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources, points out that “this information can be used to establish larger populations with less cost and effort.”

Mike Engel at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin Private Lands Office calls John “the inventor of the Johnny lupine seed technique,” referring to his collecting bags of lupine seeds from roadside prairie remnants and spreading them on his land.

He has also convinced many of his neighbors to allow him to spread lupine seeds on their land. Driving around the countryside surrounding his property, one notes that he’s constantly on the lookout for potential dry prairies in need of lupine seeds.

John is committed to keeping his land as a flourishing habitat for native plants and wildlife and has established a permanent conservation easement with the North Central Conservancy Trust.

He has joined the US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and is in a second 10-year partner program. His property is now divided into multiple units with different management strategies to support Karner blue butterflies and grassland birds.

John has published a study of his work on habitat establishment for grassland birds in “Passenger Pigeon.” Surveys for the study showed an increase in the grassland bird species, an increase in the number of species fledging young, and an increase in the total number of breeding birds over time.

John is currently working with the Wisconsin DNR to incorporate his property into the statewide Karner Recovery Program. “Adding his acreage to the program should give us the final large Karner population needed to demonstrate recovery for the Morainal Sands Recovery Unit of the Wisconsin Karner range,” says Hess.

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.