Purple flowers bloom in a field of waving grasses with trees in the background.
OAK OPENING TNC protected 170 acres in the Mukwonago River watershed in southeast Wisconsin that includes shoreline along Pickerel Lake and remnant oak openings, a globally rare habitat. © Brian Miner/TNC


The Nature Conservancy protects land in Southeast Wisconsin

Acquisition will connect two State Natural Areas, increasing their climate resilience.

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The Nature Conservancy today announced that it has acquired 170 acres in southeast Wisconsin near Mukwonago, creating a vital connection between Lulu Lake and Pickerel Lake Fen State Natural Areas.

“Anytime we can create a connection between protected natural areas, we're really benefiting the resilience of that area,” says Sarah Gatzke, TNC’s Director of Water Conservation. “The greater the diversity of available habitat and ability to move freely, the better for native species. Especially when you're thinking about being able to adapt to a changing climate, that’s essential.”

Protection of the Pickerel-Lulu Connector property is part of TNC’s effort to help protect the health and climate resilience of the Mukwonago River watershed, a natural treasure in the southern Kettle Moraine about 35 minutes from Milwaukee. The Mukwonago River is the most diverse and intact small river system in southern Wisconsin, with nearly 60 species of fish, including unique and rare populations of warm water forage fish and coldwater game fish. There are also 15 species of mussels and numerous rare and uncommon amphibians and reptiles.

Sections of the new preserve will be open to nature-based outdoor activities in the coming year.

Working with local farmers, prime agricultural land within the preserve will continue to be farmed using conservation practices to prevent soil and nutrient runoff, while more sensitive areas will be restored to native prairie.

There are 15 lakes in the watershed and nearly 50 miles of perennial streams. Sections of the Mukwonago River are listed as Outstanding and Exceptional Resource Waters by the State of Wisconsin. The watershed is also home to many unique wetland and upland plant communities including fens, bogs, sedge meadows and globally rare oak openings. The newly added tract includes remnant oak openings that have been heavily encroached on by brush, which will be removed as part of restoration efforts.

This largely intact system also helps reduce flooding in the area while providing clean water for drinking, recreation and wildlife habitat.

The Pickerel-Lulu Connector Tract is mostly upland with 720 feet of shoreline on Pickerel Lake. The surrounding area provides critical nesting habitat for listed species including northern harrier, dickcissel, bobolink and eastern meadowlark, as well as spawning habitat for fish and other aquatic species including rare mussels.

“We are thrilled to make this much-needed connection between two beautiful and important natural areas in the Mukwonago River watershed—places conserved by TNC, the DNR and local neighbor groups over more several decades,” says Elizabeth Koehler, TNC’s Wisconsin State Director. “Projects like these are crucial to everything from biodiversity and climate adaptation to flood resilience and water quality. And we couldn’t do this work without the support of our members, partners and the community.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.