Nature Conservancy Buys Land at Chiwaukee Prairie
Acquisitions prepare the way for wetland restoration
Madison, WI | May 14, 2018
The Nature Conservancy has protected 45 acres of land west of the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area in Kenosha County that is vital to the flow of water that maintains the health of the globally important wetlands.
The properties, which were purchased from two separate landowners, contain 13.8 acres of existing wetlands and at least 6 acres of potentially-restorable wetland habitat. They are now part of a critical 135-acre groundwater recharge area for the adjacent State Natural Area. The Conservancy previously purchased the other 90 acres in two separate acquisitions in 2016 and 2014.
“We’re excited about these two recent purchases,” says Mary Jean Huston, who directs the Conservancy’s work in Wisconsin. “They connect two pieces of land we already own and prepare the way for a significant restoration project that will improve water flow to wetlands in the State Natural Area and provide additional wetland and prairie habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.”
“Groundwater modeling done by the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that development of this land could have resulted in a significant drop in groundwater levels, which would threaten some exceptional wetlands and rare native plants at Chiwaukee Prairie,” said Nick Miller, Nature Conservancy Science Director in Wisconsin. “So we’re excited to have the opportunity to not only protect this land, but eventually restore the water-holding capacity it had before it was converted to agricultural land.”
“We plan to improve or restore about 63 acres of wetland habitat and another 71 acres of former prairie and oak savanna on the higher ground,” says Stephanie Judge, Conservancy land protection specialist who is leading the restoration effort. “We’ll take the first step this winter when the ground is frozen and start removing the invasive trees and shrubs. Eventually we’ll fill the ditches and remove the drainage tiles, which were installed in the 1960s and 70s so the land could be farmed, to restore the natural flow of groundwater from our lands east to the State Natural Area.”
Once restoration is complete, the site will offer substantial habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators through reestablishment of native prairie cover. The restored site, which will feature a mix of grassy habitats intermixed with shallow wetlands, will also provide additional habitat for shorebirds including greater yellow legs, sandpipers, plovers, dowagers and godwits.
“The Village applauds the efforts of The Nature Conservancy and other groups that are protecting and restoring the wetlands and natural areas in our community,” says Jean Werbie-Harris, Village of Pleasant Prairie Community Development Director. “Not only is Chiwaukee Prairie a haven for naturalists and residents seeking relaxing leisure activities, but a valuable location to conduct research. We are fortunate to have such a priceless natural resource in Southeastern Wisconsin and we support efforts to protect it.”
Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area is part of the Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain. This 4,500-acre landscape represents the highest quality remaining coastal area in southeast Wisconsin and in all of Illinois, and was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance in 2015. The Lake Plain provides habitat for more than 1,230 plants and animals, including the eastern prairie fringed orchid, piping plover and other rare species.
The Lake Plain, including the recently acquired land, is a high priority stopover site for migratory land birds, in particular the migratory shore birds and waterfowl that move up and down the shore of Lake Michigan through the densely-populated area that includes the cities of Milwaukee, Kenosha, Waukegan and Chicago.
“By protecting these diverse wetland habitats, The Nature Conservancy has ensured that hundreds to thousands of migrating birds will have suitable places to stop, rest and forage along the shore as they migrate every spring and fall,” said Kim Grveles, Avian Ecologist, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Suitable stopping places at Chiwaukee Prairie include wet muddy fields with invertebrate prey for shorebirds, marshes and shallow ponds for puddle ducks and rare terns, and undisturbed, near-shore waters of Lake Michigan for diving ducks, grebes, loons, and many other water birds.”
The Lake Plain is also home to one of the largest and most well-studied populations of the Blanding’s turtle, which is a rare species in Wisconsin and an endangered species in Illinois.
The Conservancy has applied for funding for the acquisitions from the Wisconsin’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and the Environmental Protection Agency through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Funding has been received from the Bobolink Foundation and Caerus Foundation to supplement acquisition and assist with restoration. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is providing technical expertise for the restoration.
The Nature Conservancy and its partners at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Village of Pleasant Prairie, and the Lake County Forest Preserve District, the Department of Natural Resources in Illinois and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have protected thousands of nearly contiguous acres in the globally-significant Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain for the benefit of people and nature.
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 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.