Federal habitat restoration grant of US$972,000 will be invested to restore more than 4,700 acres of prairie, savanna and oak woodland habitat in Driftless Area of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa

MADISON, Wisconsin , September 14, 2011 (press release) – Private and public landowners in what is known as the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northeaster Iowa will be able to restore more than 4,700 acres of prairie, savanna and oak woodland habitat thanks to a $972,000 federal grant awarded to a multi-state partnership.

The grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grants Competitive Program is aimed at restoring habitat to benefit up to 79 Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Through the grant, private landowners will be able restore 1,600 acres and another 3,150 acres of publicly-owned land will also benefit from restoration. The grant will also support acquisition and permanent protection of 140 acres in Wisconsin and Iowa.

“This grant will help us work collaboratively with private landowners to protect species and habitat in the Driftless Area,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. “Wisconsin’s Driftless Area is home to many unique plant and animal species with great need, and through these joint efforts we will continue our work to preserve these important natural resources.”

Species of greatest conservation need include those that are listed as either endangered or threatened, as well as some that are not yet listed but show signs of decline. In many cases, habitat loss is a major factor for their decline. Taking action to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered or threatened is a proactive approach that is less costly and helps avoid regulation.

The largest portion of Wisconsin's share of the funding will be directed toward the DNR Landowner Incentive Program that provides assistance to private landowners through a competitive grant process. Available only for use on private lands (including lands owned by land trusts) within the Driftless Area, $115,000 in assistance grants are earmarked for projects that benefit at-risk wildlife species, and include management objectives such as prescribed burning, invasive species control, tree removal and restoring native vegetation.

The cost-share program can reimburse a landowner for up to 75 percent of the cost for the on-ground practices involved in the management of the project, and the landowner is required to contribute a minimum of 25 percent in match. The Landowner Incentive Program is currently accepting pre-proposals for projects within the Driftless Area with funds to be distributed in early spring of 2012.

The Driftless Area, found in portions of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and a small portion of Illinois, is marked by deep river valleys and rugged, steep topography. Across the region, Driftless Area habitat has changed greatly during the past 150 years, with less than two percent of intact savanna and one percent of prairies remaining. Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, located in the southwest of the state, is roughly 24,000 square miles and consists of two ecologically important landscapes, the Southwest Savanna and Western Coulee and Ridges.

Other Wisconsin plans for the funding include:

Provide technical support to private landowners on habitat restoration, management and long-term protection of bluff prairie, oak savanna, and/or oak woodland habitat.
Conduct landowner training workshops on managing and protecting habitat for species of greatest conservation need.
Conduct one-on-one visits to private lands to offer specific management recommendations and to assist with setting restoration goals.
Work with landowners to develop management plans that focus on habitat of species of greatest conservation need.
Work with landowners to monitor species of greatest conservation need response to habitat management actions.
The Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy will use matching funds to develop a 50-acre demonstration area for biomass-compatible native habitat restoration on its property. This will demonstrate to private landowners throughout the Driftless Area opportunities available to utilize wood and other by-products from oak savanna restoration projects for energy crops.

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