By Barb Barzen

Following a decade of supporting restoration work at many of Wisconsin’s 673 State Natural Areas, the Natural Resources Foundation has worked with DNR staff to re-tool the Foundation’s strategy for nurturing these sites over the coming decade. We want to support the best of the best sites statewide and ensure that donors can invest in sites that are near and dear to them.

State Natural Areas contain the highest-quality remnants of Wisconsin’s native landscapes and provide safe havens for most of the state’s species of concern and rare ecological communities. Many are embedded within state parks, forests and wildlife areas. Whether you enjoy hiking, botanizing, birding, or just being in the outdoors, you can do no better than to explore State Natural Areas.

To set Foundation priorities, we first divided the state into five basic regions.

Palfrey's Glen (photo by Josh Mayer)

Parfrey’s Glen (photo by Josh Mayer)

Then, we used Conservation Opportunity Areas identified in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan as our framework for setting site priorities. State Natural Areas Program staff identified the most urgent needs at State Natural Areas that lie within these Conservation Opportunity Areas, and ranked those sites according to need.

The result is a list of 54 State Natural Areas, encompassing 13,400 acres, which will be the Foundation’s focus through 2016. In celebration of the beauty and benefits of State Natural Areas, we’ll feature a new State Natural Area adventure each month this year on our blog.

Saw tooth sunflower at Chiwaukee Prairie

Saw-tooth sunflower at Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area (Photo by Josh Mayer)

The Foundation now looks to support the prescribed burning, invasive species control, planting, and other management activities needed to restore and maintain the integrity of these sites. With help from our members and grantors, we are committed to providing $400,000 over the next two years to help do this work.

Nearly every dollar the Foundation provides to DNR’s State Natural Areas Program is matched by state tax revenue (for Natural Heritage Conservation Program activities) and by government grants obtained by SNA program staff for managing these properties. Reaching our new two-year goal will put more than $1 million of sorely needed resources to work for Wisconsin’s most threatened species and ecological communities.

According to Matt Zine, DNR’s statewide State Natural Areas specialist, the new strategy presents a great opportunity to make a real difference at State Natural Areas facing a crossroads. These are sites where invasive species populations are still small enough to be managed, or where rare species are still hanging on that can be helped by management. Crews want to get in there right away so they can control invasive species and conduct prescribed burns to help rare species hang on and perhaps even expand.

Cedarburg Bog

Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area (Photo by Josh Mayer)

To help meet these needs, DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program (formerly Bureau of Endangered Resources) has increased and reorganized staff this past year. They have gone from having a single full-time State Natural Areas biologist in southern Wisconsin to having eight regional ecologists coordinating field crews and volunteers to get management and monitoring work accomplished.

Foundation efforts to support State Natural Areas began in earnest in 2004 with the launch of a 10-year campaign to help manage these important properties. David Clutter, our Lands Program director at the time, helped to form Friends groups for three SNAs and secured a three-year federal grant to develop the WisConservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program that provided 46 young professionals with valuable experience helping DNR and several nonprofit partners manage SNAs.

These programs, plus cash contributions, totaled $1,349,000 in support for managing State Natural Areas from 2004-2014.

red-tailed hawk at Quincy Bluff

Red-tailed hawk at Quincy Bluff State Natural Area (Photo by Josh Mayer)

Foundation members and donors should be proud of the significant impact we have collectively made, and will continue to make, on Wisconsin’s native landscapes. Together, we are ensuring these places will remain critical refuges for rare species and special places for future generations to connect with our rich cultural and ecological heritage.

Donations can be made directly through WisConservation.org.