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MADISON – The nation’s first statewide natural area protection program turns 60 this year and wears it well, Wisconsin’s top land official says.
Six hundred fifty-three designated State Natural Areas preserve 358,000 acres of prairies, forests, and wetlands that are among the best of their kind left in Wisconsin and are a vital refuge for endangered plants and animals, says Kurt Thiede, administrator of the Department of Natural Resources’ land-related programs.
“The 60th anniversary is a time to celebrate with citizens and partners and to recognize the hard work done so far,” Thiede says. In addition to DNR, 51 other agencies, organizations, local governments, land trusts and private citizens have designated State Natural Areas on their own lands, and such sites account for one-third of all State Natural Areas.
“We led the nation in recognizing the importance of safeguarding these natural treasures for future generations and for wildlife,” Thiede says. “Ninety percent of our endangered plant species and 75 percent of our endangered wildlife species live on State Natural Areas. And these sites preserve some of the best of Wisconsin’s natural landscapes for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”
Most of these areas are open for public access including fishing, hiking, cross country skiing, hunting and trapping and allow people to pursue these activities in some of the state’s most unique and special natural places, Thiede says.
State Natural Areas are the topic of this month’s featured web page highlighting another important milestone in 2012, the 40th anniversary of the state’s endangered resources law. Find this month’s feature on DNR’s website by typing in the keyword “ER 40.” Preceding months’ features can be found by clicking on the numbers on the right hand corner of the web page.
Legislation passed in 1951 and work began in 1952 to establish the State Natural Areas program. Parfrey’s Glen in Sauk County was the first site designated as a State Natural Area. Sites receiving these designations are protected in perpetuity through a special kind of agreement, according to Thomas Meyer, a conservation biologist with DNR State Natural Areas program.
Lands and waters with the State Natural Areas designation are among the best remaining examples of the varied natural communities represented in Wisconsin at statehood, from the rolling prairies and oak savannas in the south, to the barrens and sand hills in central Wisconsin, to the pine forests and boggy wetlands in the north, Meyer says.
The State Natural Areas Program owes much of its recent success to working in close partnership with other conservation organizations, Meyer says. “Funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grant Program has allowed even the smallest of Wisconsin’s land trusts to buy natural areas in their neck of the woods,” Meyer says.