The Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area (MRPHA) is a 95,000+ acre grassland landscape in Dane and Iowa counties in southwest Wisconsin. The area provides habitat for 14 rare and declining grassland bird species and contains more than 60 prairie remnants, representing one of the highest concentrations of native grasslands in the Midwest. The agricultural history of the area has helped keep the landscape much as it was when the first settlers saw it and has made it possible for plants and animals like grassland birds, which have disappeared in more developed parts of the Midwest, to survive.
The MRPHA has been identified as the highest priority for landscape-scale grassland protection and management in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and represents one of the best opportunities in the Midwest to protect prairie remnants and area sensitive species, such as grassland birds.
Who We Are
The Nature Conservancy is a leading global conservation organization working around the world to protect the land and water on which all life depends.
The Conservancy has been working to protect wild places and wildlife in the MRPHA since 1964 when we received a donation of three acres of land from Stacy and Mildred Collins in honor of their father, Christian W. Thousand, who farmed the nearby land for many years. This was the first land donation ever made to The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.
Our Conservation Goals
Develop/coordinate multi-partner grassland landscape project that conserves native prairie communities surrounded by lands that remain open and covered with grass in some form, including lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, lightly grazed pastures, hay fields mowed after July 15, prairie, or savanna. Grassland birds, in particular, need open ridgetops and large areas of treeless grassland to survive.
- Restore, protect and maintain high quality examples of prairie communities and their associated native plants and animals.
- Protect water quality of streams within the project area.
How We Accomplish Our Goals
Work with a coalition of partners—which includes the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever, Blue Mounds Area Project, The Prairie Enthusiasts, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, and Southwest Badger Resource, Conservation and Development Council—to provide landowners who want to maintain or convert their agricultural lands to grassland for cultural, aesthetic, recreational, or ecological reasons with options to do so.
- Help ensure that the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is an effective program and that eligible landowners in the project area are aware of the program, its benefits, and how to sign up. CREP is a $240 million federal/state program, administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, that provides landowners with financial incentives to keep their land planted in grass for 15-year periods of time or sell permanent easements to protect the grass cover in perpetuity.
- Land acquisition from willing sellers and generous donors and use of conservation easements (voluntary legal agreements that protect the conservation value of a piece of land by permanently limiting its present and future uses while keeping it in private ownership).
- Education and outreach to landowners about the ecological significance of the natural resources in the MRPHA and the various programs available to them to help conserve the area.
Conservancy Natural Areas in the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area
- Barneveld Prairie, Brigham Township, Iowa County, 1,172 acres
- Thomson Memorial Prairie, Blue Mounds Township, Dane County, 622 acres
As of March 4, 2014, the Conservancy has helped protect a total of 2,322 acres in the Military Ridge at these two preserves and at other places like Mounds View Prairie. This figure includes lands owned and managed by the Conservancy, conservation easements, government co-ops and assists.
How You Can See Our Work
Nature Conservancy preserves are open for hiking, hunting, birding, nature study, photography and other types of recreation.
The Military Ridge area is also a great place for bicycling. One of Wisconsin Nature Conservancy Director Mary Jean Huston’s favorite bike routes is the Bob-o-Link Blast. Grab your bike and your binoculars for a day of biking and bird-watching in this spectacular part of southwest Wisconsin.
Note that hunting for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and pheasant is allowed at Military Ridge preserves during the regular posted seasons, with no prior permission from the Conservancy required. Dogs are allowed off-leash for pheasant hunting during pheasant season. Dogs must be on-leash the rest of the year, especially during the breeding bird season. Click here to go to the DNR's hunting season date website.
If you have any questions about The Nature Conservancy’s work at the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, please call Steve Richter at (608) 251-8140 or stop by our office in Madison.
See how people are making a difference for grasslands, birds and wildlife in southwest Wisconsin.
The Military Ridge area is a great place for bicycling. Grab your bike and your binoculars for a day of biking and bird-watching along the Bob-o-Link Blast bike route. Download a bike map.