BRC Begins Identifying Priority Conservation Areas

During the past twelve years, the Bayfield Regional Conservancy has been building a strong reputation within its region as a leader in conservation and as of October, 2009, has successfully conserved approximately 2, 340 acres at 46 sites through conservation easements, acquisitions and partnerships.

As BRC continues to grow and evolve as an organization, it is imperative that its resources be used effectively and efficiently to ensure continued high quality conservation into the future.

With population and development pressures ever increasing, the need to proactively conserve areas of high conservation interest is at its greatest.  To meet these challenges, BRC has committed to the development of comprehensive Strategic Conservation Plans (SCP) throughout its service area beginning with the Lake Superior’s Bayfield Peninsula.  The project was made possible through a DNR River Planning Grant and a Land Trust Alliance Strategic Conservation Planning Grant (Mott Foundation).

The purpose of Site Conservation Planning is to gather known conservation data and analyze it, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify Priority Conservation Areas (PCA) where proactive conservation programs will be implemented.  PCAs are defined as areas where several high quality conservation values (e.g. wildlife habitat, water quality, rare species, scenic features, and wetlands) overlap, creating a “hot spot” for conservation.  The Plan did not identify specific parcels that warrant conservation or parcels that do not warrant protection; rather it is intended to guide a pro-active land protection program targeting the landscape scale PCAs.  Areas that are not identified by the plan will not be excluded from consideration for protection by BRC initiatives.

In total, 55 key data layer sets were used in the analysis including DNR natural heritage element occurrences, DNR trout streams, DNR outstanding and excellent resource waters, Bayfield County zoning, NRCS statewide important soils, DNR conservation opportunity areas, DNR priority wetlands, rivers and lakes, among others. 

Once draft sites were identified, the analysis and results were distributed to partner organizations and natural resource professionals familiar with Bayfield County’s natural resources for their feedback.  Once received, the feedback was compiled and incorporated into the final plan.

Priority Conservation Areas
The analysis resulted in the identification of seven Priority Conservation Areas:
    Bayfield Peninsula Southeast Watershed. The watershed includes beaches, large patches of intact forest, pristine rivers and wetlands, such as the forests of Mount Ashwabay and watersheds, bays, coastal wetlands and estuaries of Sioux, Raspberry and Onion Rivers; Frog, Pike’s and Whittlesey Creeks.  The area is important for its incredible diversity of habitats, migratory birds, fish spawning sites and high quality trout streams.
    Fish Creek Watershed. Fish Creek Watershed spans a rich array of habitats: hardwood swamps, the Moquah barrens and grasslands, rural and forestry communities, before emptying into the head of Chequamegon Bay.  Fish Creek’s sloughs host herons, terns, ducks, geese, swans, grebes, and gulls as well as fish and wildlife.  Its critical habitats include fish spawning and nursery areas, rare plant communities, and a diversity of aquatic plants, waterfowl, and fish.
    Iron River Watershed.  An area that is biologically rich, the Iron River Watershed includes a diversity of habitats from the unique sand barrens of the upper watershed to the productive wetland areas of its lower reaches and the Iron Lake and Muskeg Creek areas.  Its important conservation values include coastal wetlands, rare habitats, fish nursery areas, and abundant wildlife.
    Marengo River Watershed. The Marengo originates in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest north of Clam Lake and curves through lakes, wetlands, forest and high hills in the Gogebic Range before it joins the Brunsweiler, and eventually empties into the Bad River and Lake Superior.  Protecting the steep, unstable shorelines of the Marengo is important for maintaining water quality in the Brunsweiler and Bad Rivers.  The Watershed’s conservation values include important habitat areas, rare species, cold water trout streams, species of conservation concern, and a migrating sea lamprey spawning area in its lower reaches.
    South Shore Streams.  The area’s bays, drowned river mouths, and uplands provide critical habitat for migrating birds, spawning habitat for fish and harbor rare plants, birds and insects.  It includes Bark Bay and River, Cranberry River, Siskiwit Lake, River and Bay, Lost Creeks I and II and Lost Creek Bog, Flag River and Sand River.  The Area provides valuable corridors for a vast number of species by connecting headwater reaches with rare coastal estuaries.  South Shore Streams’ spawning beds produce trout and salmon.
    Upper Namekagon River Watershed.  The Upper Namekagon is known for its scenic beauty and habitat including rare boreal forest of global importance.  The area provides quality habitat for migratory birds and plants and animals of conservation concern, and includes wild lakes and quality forests.  Additionally, the Namekagon is a National Scenic River.
    White River-Bibon Swamp.  Originating from spring fed lakes of the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest, the White River flows through the Great Bibon Swamp, Wisconsin’s second largest wetland at 10,000 acres.  The watershed encompasses wet conifer swamps, bogs, and extensive forests and supports a highly productive cold water fishery.  It is home to rare and threatened plants, animals, migratory birds, brook and brown trouts, salmon and priority wetlands.

Threats to our Conservation Priorities
Conversion of land from agriculture and forestry land-use to residential and commercial use is the greatest threat facing the natural resources of the Bayfield Peninsula.  The impacts of this threat include habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, habitat degradation, increased non-point source pollutants and loss of agricultural land.  Non point source pollution is a significant threat to the areas water resources and aquatic habitats through increased sedimentation, turbidity, habitat degradation and fish contamination. 

What can we do?
BRC’s goal is to protect, enhance, and restore the natural heritage values, water resources and working lands capacity of the Bayfield Peninsula in its Priority Conservation Areas.  Our activities will include land acquisition, conservation easements, landowner management agreements and promoting best land management practices as well as implementing a program of targeted landowner outreach.  Outreach programs will include workshops on conservation options and best management practices for forestry and agriculture. 

BRC will additionally promote policies and funding mechanisms that conserve natural resources and support the economic growth at the local level.  This includes encouraging the establishment of local farmland preservation programs with sustainable funding mechanisms and reaching out to key decision makers such as Town Boards and Comprehensive Planning Committees to raise awareness of BRC and to convey the findings of our planning efforts.

Our next steps will include determining the specific sites we should begin focusing on in our PCAs and to raise additional funds to hire the staff required to implement the plan.  It is clear that in order to be more proactive and successful in our efforts, BRC is compelled to hire a full-time conservation staff person.

Future Plans
BRC has just ramped up efforts to identify its priority areas in Douglas County (thanks to a DNR river planning grant) and will be seeking funding for Sawyer and Ashland Counties during the coming year.

To download a PDF of the full plan please click HERE

To download a PDF of the Executive Summary please click HERE