top of page

Driftless Area Conservation

The Driftless Area is Wisconsin’s ancient land and contains a unique unglaciated part of our state. Rare species are numerous owing to the diversity and quality of habitats, seldom found elsewhere in the state. Important natures features include, complexes of natural communities found in and around large rivers, large patches of southern forest, prairie and savanna, thousands of springs, cliffs and rocky talus slopes, relict stands of conifers persisting from a distant age, and the hill and valley landforms.


Large Rivers: The large rivers have the most diverse aquatic species compostion of any water body. Almost all of our fish species, including several that are only found in large rivers, most of our rare freshwater mussel species, and the associated wetlands and floodplain forest species makes the large river systems critical for conservation. The status of our conservation efforts is found in the following pdf.





Driftless Area Prairies and Savannas:

The group of natural communities comprising our prairies and savannas are rated as high for Wisconsin responsibility. The bur oak savannas, especially, and our goat prairies are found predominately in Wisconsin. The states to our south and west have examples of these natural communities, but they are small and ever shrinking. Wisconsin has the best remaining opportunities on earth to protect and manage these natural features.


The Driftless Area and a few places in the Central Sands offer the best and only opportunities for large scale restoration. Our greatest remaining conservation challenge is probably these Driftless area natural communities. The Northwoods has tremendous acreage protected in some form or another. Interest groups focusing on Door County have seen outstanding protection progress while working in an extreme real estate market. Statewide waterfowl and wetlands groups have seen great success in protecting the best of our wetlands. Most successful has been the timber products industry by lobbying for and attaining tax breaks or outright purchase of industrial lands for the primary purpose of keeping natural product flow to their mills.


Prairies and savannas have their advocates, but they are small. Most often, these groups are run by concern citizens with a love for prairies and savannas, and do not have deep pocket books or political clout. Conservation has come in many forms, wealthy contributors of land or funds, lobbying for political leverage, and basic volunteer work. Many groups have been successful by having plans with stated goals. A goal for the state could read: By 2050, the State of Wisconsin will have protected and managed 100,000 acres of prairie and savanna.


To this end, Great Nature Wisconsin LLC presents the best places to achieve the goal. See the Driftless Areas Focal Sites page for locations with little protection or recognition containing natural features indicating a high level of success with the right motivation. Sites are briefly introduced with an icon connecting to a pdf for your use. 


Paragraphs on these pdfs along with maps indicate places with some level of present protection and management that needs additional consideration. Finally, the small scale locations and miscellaneous types are simple introductory sentences with maps or bulleted lists.


Large prairie/savanna opportunities.





Midsized prairie/savanna opportunities.






Long-term savanna restoration opportunities.





Dritless Area Forests:  This analysis focuses on protecting floristically rich sugar maple-basswood forest and older patches of oak/hickory forest. however, protection alone is not enough, we must effectively combat successive waves of invasive species, and include major ecological gradients such as slope, aspect, soil texture, and soil moisture in our projects.




Springs and Cold Streams: Long-term warming of the climate may affect these natural features more than any other in the Driftless area. The best suggestion for land protection is to identify the potential impacts of climate change to cold-water streams and allocating management resources to those cold-water habitats most likely to realize success.


Many successful projects will require consistent spring flows to maintain cold water as long as possible in the streams. Small springs and seep areas may disappear. The features in some areas will assure continued spring flow due to deep layers of shale. Places such as the Sandy Creek Valley in northwestern Grant County have numerous shale influenced springs flows. Places such as these should have continued spring flows, although the volume and temperature may change.


Cliffs, Caves, Talus and Conifer Relicts: Relict stands of conifers are scattered across parts of the Driftless Area. Many of the more intact sites support disjunct populations of “northern” species. These small natural features harbor an inordinate number of rare species compared to their size. As the climate changes many more southern conifers may replace our northern species.  Almost all relicts are associated with bedrock exposures (cliffs, talus slopes). Species associated with these northern outliers or variants may be important for their genetic variation.





Miscellaneous Communities: The Driftless Area outside the large floodplains has relatively few wetlands of significance.  The two largest and most significant tamarack bog relicts, Big Swamp and Tamarack Creek are mostly protected. Sedge Meadows and wet prairies are limited to the old drift area in the far northern part of the region. A few of these are worthy of conservation consideration. In addition, very small parcels may be quite important for developing a generational sense of place. Some of the places are listed as general ideas and other, especially geological formations are given TRS locations.





bottom of page