Nature Conservancy Buys Land at Chiwaukee Prairie
Acquisition will protect health of globally important wetlands
Madison, WI | January 18, 2017
The Nature Conservancy has protected just over 58 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 property, which the Conservancy purchased from a Wisconsin development corporation is a critical groundwater recharge area for the adjacent State Natural Area. Proposed development of the land into mixed use residential and commercial space would have threatened Chiwaukee Prairie’s hydrology and eliminated one of the largest expanses of plant and wildlife habitat remaining in this rapidly-urbanizing area along the coastal corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago.
“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.”
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 protection of these 58 acres is critical to maintaining healthy, biologically diverse wetlands in Chiwaukee Prairie and demonstrates The Nature Conservancy’s commitment to conserving this globally-recognized coastal area,” said Debbie Maurer, Manager of Ecological Restoration for the Lake County Forest Preserves in Illinois.
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. One example is the piping plover, which is endangered in Wisconsin and the U.S., but recently made a comeback on Lake Michigan in Green Bay.
“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. According to Gary Glowacki, wildlife biologist with the Lake County Forest Preserves in Illinois, who is doing research on Blanding’s turtles at Chiwaukee, the land just acquired by the Conservancy will offer important buffer habitat for this species. Blanding’s turtles depend on both wetland and open upland habitat for survival. Females will travel up to three miles to lay eggs in dry, well-drained soils.
The land acquired by the Conservancy contains 11 acres of existing wetland and more than 20 acres of potentially-restorable wetland habitat. The organization has plans to restore the wetlands by removing drainage tiles installed for agriculture, control invasive brush and trees and restore the remainder of the land to prairie and oak savanna.
The Conservancy received funding for the acquisition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has applied for additional funding from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
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 and Department of Natural Resources in Illinois 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 unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 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.