The Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, a grassland landscape of more than 50,000 acres in southwestern Wisconsin, contains significant remnants of the tallgrass prairies and savannas once abundant across southern Wisconsin. Among these are patches of high-quality prairie sod sheltering rare and declining plants and animals. Populations of 14 grassland birds found in the area, including bobolink, dickcissel and Henslow's sparrow, have declined worldwide as suitable grassland habitat has been lost and fragmented.
Because the area represents a prime opportunity to protect prairie remnants and species that depend upon them, Military Ridge is one of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' highest priorities for landscape-scale grassland protection and management in the state.
The Nature Conservancy's involvement at Military Ridge began modestly in 1964 when we received a donation of three acres. Since then, the Conservancy has helped protect 1,975 acres in the Military Ridge area. We are part of a broad-based coalition working to conserve native prairie and savanna remnants, keep a significant portion of the landscape open and planted in grass and protect water quality in streams at Military Ridge. Partners in this effort include the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Pheasants Forever, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Blue Mounds Area Project, The Prairie Enthusiasts and Southwest Badger Resource Conservation and Development Council.
At Military Ridge, the Conservancy works with willing sellers and generous donors to protect grassland habitat and establish nature preserves that are open to the public, including Barneveld Prairie and Thomson Memorial Prairie. In addition, the Conservancy secured a $1 million grant from the state and matched that amount with generous private donations to acquire 276 acres that were transferred to The Prairie Enthusiasts, a private organization protecting and managing native prairie and savanna in the Upper Midwest.
The Conservancy also shares information with area landowners about the ecological significance of the natural resources at Military Ridge and about government programs, some with financial incentives, available to help them conserve and manage their land. We also restore degraded prairies and savannas through a combination of planting, prescribed burning and invasive species control.
Conserving and restoring native prairie and grasslands at Military Ridge will also help protect water quality in the Pecatonica River and several high-quality trout streams in the area.
The work at Military Ridge is important locally and on a much wider scale. Lessons learned in the area will be shared through the Conservancy's Great Rivers Partnership to advance the Conservancy's national and global efforts to protect the Earth's critically important freshwater resources.