The Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund supports habitat management and ecological restoration projects on state-owned or managed lands in Wisconsin, including state natural areas, parks, trails, wildlife and fisheries areas, recreation areas, and forests.

Projects are proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and a grant review committee of stakeholders reviews and ranks the projects. The final distributions are approved by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s board of directors.

2023: Waterloo Wildlife Area and Prairie

Jefferson County, $19,800

  • Waterloo Wildlife Area and Prairie’s history of invasive species encroachment, ditching and agriculture has shrunk its remnant prairie over time. Wet prairies such as the one at Waterloo are quite rare, and this particularly high-quality one has been identified as top priority for restoration and expansion. The site is also home to species of conservation concern such as rope dodder, small white lady’s-slipper, false asphodel, and upland sandpiper.
  • Brush and invasive species control (such as treating reed canary grass) will expand the remnant prairie and protect the diverse native species at the site, while also improving the site for hiking and hunting. Similarly, controlling and eventually converting a giant ragweed field will provide better habitat for wildlife and improve hunting experiences. The site is stocked with pheasants each fall, and also provides deer, turkey, small game, and waterfowl hunting opportunities.

2023: Leola and Buena Vista Wildlife Areas

Portage County, $21,313

  • Leola and Buena Vista Wildlife Areas are home to many grassland bird species of greatest conservation need, such as Henslow’s sparrow, American kestrel, short-eared owl, and more. Additionally, a large proportion of Wisconsin’s state-threatened greater prairie-chicken population inhabits this landscape.
  • Removing woody vegetation encroaching on grasslands is the most important action we can take to protect our state’s greater prairie-chickens. This project will improve 350 acres of grassland habitat for greater prairie-chickens, other important grassland birds, and several rare butterflies. The work will mainly include  mowing and removing invasive species and brush, including removal of a large stand of willow to create an open space connecting two grassland habitats.

2023: Baraboo Hills

Sauk County, $21,313

  • For thousands of years, the Baraboo Hills have supported both game and rare plants and animals. They are also one of only a few places in Southern Wisconsin where we can improve our rapidly-declining oak ecosystems on a large scale. Funds will manage oak savanna, oak woodland, bedrock glade and remnant prairie habitat at Devil’s Lake State Park, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, Natural Bridge State Park, and associated state natural areas. These sites house rusty patched bumble bee, whippoorwill, cerulean warbler, roundstem foxglove, and other important species for conservation.
  • Thanks to donations to the Cherish Fund, maple trees that have out-competed young oak trees at several sites in the Baraboo Hills will be removed. Controlling invasive species like maples will help increase the abundance and diversity of native plants across all the sites. Not only will this enhance habitat, it will also improve hiking, birding, and hunting experiences for all who explore the Baraboo Hills. It will also enhance remnant bedrock glade prairies (a State and Globally imperiled natural community) by removing woody and herbaceous invasive species and introducing prescribed fire.

2022: Cranberry Creek Native American Mound Group Protection and Ecological Restoration

Juneau County, $18,800

  • Cranberry Creek Mound Group State Natural Area preserves one of the most significant archeological sites in Wisconsin and one of the largest and best preserved mound complexes in the Upper Midwest. This 675-acre site contains examples of conical, linear, oval, and effigy mounts built by Native Americans of the Woodland period, around 100-800 A.D.
  • The project will restore the native plant community in and around part of the Northern Mounds Group for protection of the mounds with a compatible historic Oak/Pine Barrens. Lack of fire and succession leads to forest replacing formerly open landscape, and tree presence on and close to the mounds leads to damage from windthrow. The work will be primarily brush and tree clearing along with native plant establishment and enhancement. The brush clearing will be followed up by chemical treatments in the summer and seeding in the fall and winter. The open understory and native grass and forb component of an Oak/Pine Barrens would fit well in mound maintenance and management as outlined in the WDNR Burials, Earthworks, and Mounds Preservation Policy and Plan, which calls for tree and brush removal on and very near the mounds.

2022: Pool 4 – Pierce County Islands Wildlife Area Restoration

Pierce County, $28,931.92

  • The 958-acre Pierce County Islands Wildlife Area sits on the Mississippi River. Pierce County donated land to the state in 1968, and later more acreage was purchased to bring the total acreage to what it is today. The property includes islands and wetland habitats along the Mississippi River as well as a no-entry refuge for waterfowl.
  • The restoration project will restore habitat and recreational access to the degraded backwaters of upper Lake Pepin and ultimately improve habitat for over-wintering fish and floodplain forests, restore healthy aquatic vegetation by improving water clarity, and provide food and nesting habitat for waterfowl and other wetland birds.

2021: White River Fisheries Area

Bayfield County, $5,000

  • The South Fork of the White River is a headwater tributary to the White River in the Lake Superior basin. The entire stream lies within the White River Fishery Area, established in 1961 to ensure public access to this unique resource and protect the watershed.
  • The South Fork of the White River Riparian Restoration Project funded by the Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund will restore 45 acres of riparian habitat by removing invasive glossy buckthorn along the streambank and floodplain. This will improve habitat for brook trout, restore plant diversity, and improve large tree regeneration along the stream, supporting fish and wildlife populations, while improving angler access.

2021: Lulu Lake State Natural Area

Walworth and Waukesha Counties, $26,698.36

  • Located just outside of Milwaukee, Lulu Lake State Natural Area is made up of exceptionally high quality and diverse wetland and upland communities nestled on glacial topography. The mosaic of bogs, fens, sedge meadows, and prairies found here provide critical habitat for numerous plant and wildlife species, and have rightly been recognized for their significance, including with designation as a Wisconsin Wetland Gem. Its namesake, the slow, no-wake Lulu Lake, is a 95-acre, 40-foot-deep drainage kettle lake fed by the headwaters of the highly diverse Mukwonago River. The clear waters found here support a diversity of species, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Together Lulu Lake and its surroundings are home to natural communities that have been nearly eliminated from the rest of southeastern Wisconsin, including globally imperiled oak savanna.
  • The Lulu Lake Savanna Enhancement Project will restore and improve connectivity across more than 200 acres of oak savanna and old field and prairie habitats. The project will restore agricultural fields to prairie, diversify prairies through interseeding, maintain fire breaks, complete a 100-acre prescribed fire, and control invasive species such as buckthorn, honeysuckle, spotted knapweed, and Japanese hedge parsley. This work will improve connectivity between grassland and prairie edges and savanna habitat, enhance habitat for pollinators, birds, and numerous other wildlife and native plants, while improving access for hunters, fishers, birders, and hikers.

2019: Lawrence Creek Fish and Wildlife Area

Adams County, $12,000

  • The Lawrence Creek State Natural Area, located within the Lawrence Creek Fish and Wildlife Area, is home to a wide variety of game, non-game, and Species of Greatest Conservation Need, including American woodcock, whip-poor-will, blue-winged warbler, and a variety of reptiles and butterflies.
  • Across 278 acres of oak savanna, barrens, and sedge meadow surrounding the Lawrence Creek headwaters, crews removed and applied herbicide to invasive species and collected seeds for future plantings. The crew also laid down 1.75 miles of fire breaks and piled wood to reduce fuels for future burning. This work will improve hunting opportunities and enhance the site’s beauty and accessibility for outdoor recreation, including fishing on the Class 1 trout stream.

2017: Bluff Creek and Clover Valley Fen State Natural Areas in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest

Walworth County, $10,000

  • The Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit contains more than 22,000 acres of glacial hills, kettles, lakes, prairies, and forests.
  • 552 acres of ecological restoration of trout streams, open prairie, and sedge meadow by reducing woody brush and invasive plant growth in the oak woodlands via burning, mowing and herbicide application;
  • Enhancing habitat for game species as well as threatened or endangered species, improving fishing opportunities, and increasing accessibility along the Ice Age Trail.

2017: Tyrone Tract of the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area

Dunn County, $10,000

  • The Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area contains the largest concentration of remaining prairies and savannas in Wisconsin, as well as the largest contiguous floodplain forest in the Midwest.
  • The addition of the Tyrone Tract in 2017 makes the Lower Chippewa River SNA one of the largest and most bio-diverse areas of habitat for our state’s wildlife – possibly containing the highest concentration of rare animal and bird species in Wisconsin.
  • 185 acres of native prairie and oak savanna was restored via invasive species removal, controlled burning, and removal of understory brush and trees. Volunteer workdays hosted by the Lower Chippewa River Alliance leveraged the dollars on the ground.
  • This restoration effort dramatically opened up the floodplain savanna habitat, providing enough light for a diversity of native grasses and forbs to grow. The field crew documented red-headed woodpeckers – a Species of Special Concern in Wisconsin – in the restored habitat, and Wild lupine, previously undocumented at the site, after the prescribed fire.
  • This project helped restore native habitat for Species of Greatest Conservation Need such as the lark sparrow and northern long-eared bat, as well as for highly-prized game species including white-tailed deer, bear, turkey, and waterfowl