"If suburbia were landscaped
with meadows, prairies, thickets or forests,
or combinations of these, then the water
would sparkle, fish would be good to eat
again, birds would sing and human spirits would soar." –
Love of nature and the plants
and wildlife it supports led Lorrie Otto
on a lifetime mission to protect biological
diversity and to fight whatever threatened
Otto became concerned in
the 1960s about the number of dead birds
around her property north of Milwaukee.
She noticed robins having convulsions.
The cause was DDT, which was widely used
to control mosquitoes and the pest that
causes Dutch elm disease. Otto's tenacity
brought hearings on the pesticide to Wisconsin.
She sought and organized scientists, attorneys
and witnesses from the United States, Canada
and Sweden to present evidence against
DDT. It led to a ban, first in Wisconsin
in 1970, and nationwide two years later.
first battle on behalf of nature was
decades earlier. She had stopped mowing
a large area of her front yard in Bayside
after noticing rosettes of wildflowers
struggling to survive. Without warning,
village officials mowed her wildflower meadow.
Otto saw an opportunity to address antiquated
weed laws that encourage sheared, monotonous
landscapes. She gave village officials
a tour of her yard, describing each plant
that had been destroyed.
When she learned
of plans to develop a 20-acre woodland
nearby known as Fairy Chasm, Otto worked
for 10 years to save this wildlife haven of
rare plants. Eventually, she succeeded
in bringing it under Nature Conservancy
protection. When she learned at a conference
that prairie wildflowers and the bird and
insect life they supported were at risk
of extinction, Otto began encouraging suburban
homeowners to maintain biological diversity
and wildlife habitat. She taught natural
landscaping classes at nature centers,
colleges and technical schools, businesses
and museums in the Milwaukee area.
an Otto lecture in 1977, a group of nine
women began meeting monthly to share
information about natural landscaping.
They called themselves the Wild Ones. Otto
became their philosophical compass. The
organization has chapters throughout North
A nationally recognized speaker
and author, Otto influenced the re-establishment
of native roadsides in areas of Wisconsin.
She planted environmental gardens at
local schools. She has worked to control
foreign invasive plants and whitetail deer,
threats to biodiversity and native vegetation
in the Milwaukee area.
Thanks to Lorrie Otto, hundreds of schools,
businesses and private yards across the
country are naturally landscaped. The
Schlitz Audubon Center's annual natural
yards tour now bears her name.
• Helped lead efforts banning DDT in Wisconsin
and the nation
• Protected and promoted native wildflowers
• Taught natural landscaping classes
• Inspired formation of The Wild Ones
(Publication of this fact sheet made possible
with assistance from Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin.)
For further information on
Lorrie Otto, read her Hall
of Fame monograph.
For further information on
Lorrie Otto's association with Wild Ones
go to the "Prairie Queen" page on the Wild
One web site.
Click here to go to the Wild
Ones home page.
"Godmother of Natural
– Naturalist Lorrie Otto"
Wildlife by Bret Rappaport
"Rainy Day Gardens"
by Maryalice Koehne
Rainy Day gardens: http://www.ahs.org/040329_TAG/rainy_day_gardens.pdf
"Wild About Nature" interview from the Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel. Longtime
Bayside gardener Lorrie Otto is pulling
up her roots and moving to the state of
Fight for the Robins" radio interview. Listen as Lorrie Otto
is interviewed by Dick Gordon.
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