Volunteers help restore wildlife habitat on public lands in St. Croix valley

Group works with Fish and Wildlife Service to improve natural habitat in western Wisconsin.




5 minute read

Deer Park Waterfowl Production Area. (Photo by Mark Ritzinger)
Tim Nixon

Note: This is the first in a series by contributor Tim Nixon of Hudson, focused on stewardship work by citizen volunteers in the St. Croix River watershed, demonstrating the power of people using science and patience. Nixon is the founder of the sustainability platform at Thomson Reuters, and an ongoing contributor to Reuters. He is CEO and co-founder of Signal Climate Analytics. Nixon also serves on the board of the Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District, Minnesota Audubon, and Friends of Willow River and Kinnickinnic State Parks.

Based in the New Richmond, Wisc. area, the Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District restores and manages thousands of acres of public land which all contribute to the St. Croix River watershed.

Map of St. Croix Wetland Management District. Click to view larger. (St. Croix 360)

Only a 45-minute drive from downtown Minneapolis, it offers breathtaking examples of restored oak savanna, native prairie, and vast wetlands. And of course with that, we find rich levels of biodiversity in this somewhat secret haven right in the Twin Cities metropolitan neighborhood. One of the crown jewels of the preservation work, Oak Ridge Waterfowl Production Area (PDF), is also the site of skirmish between the Ojibwe and Dakota in 1842.

In this interview with Brian Headlee, President of the Friends group, we hear and see some of what this terrific work going on.

If you had to share just one thing about the work done by the Friends of the SCWMD, with what story would you start?

The prime accomplishment of the FSCWMD is that it allows folks the opportunity to learn about what there is to do and explore in restored and biodiverse natural areas so close to home!

Monarch butterfly at the SCWMD seed farm. (Photo by Mark Ritzinger)

The group’s activities have become annual events and span a broad range of interests making the eight-county area of the district a place to go and visit for everyone regardless of their personal interests. It demonstrates that is offers something for everyone!

For example, this is a list of some of many partners with whom we work:

Volunteer stewards.
(Photo courtesy Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District)
  • Star Prairie Land Preservation Trust
  • St. Croix Valley Chapter of Prairie Enthusiasts
  • Willow River Rod & Gun Club
  • Dunn County Fish & Game Association
  • National Wild Turkey Federation
  • Wisconsin Wild Turkey Federation
  • St. Croix Valley Bird Club
  • Star Prairie Fish & Game Association
  • St. Croix River Association
  • Scouting BSA – North Star Council
  • New Richmond High School and FFA
  • City of New Richmond Parks Department
  • Upper Willow River Rehabilitation District
  • St. Croix County Land & Water Conservation & Parks Departments
  • Wisconsin DNR

I’ve heard you can walk for miles on public land which is being restored to native habitats, is this true?

It is true! The management of the WPA areas in the District allows folks to visit a vast number of habitat types and learn about the flora and fauna of those areas. It demonstrates, that with proper management, the types of habitat and terrain can be molded to be all it can be and even more in some cases.

Photos by Mark Ritzinger

How has the land conservation and restoration work changed the level of biodiversity in the region?

As mentioned above, working with the diverse types of habitat spread over the district, the areas under management have been redefined to the best type of habitat allowable by their physical parameters. The fact that our particular glacial land span the spectrum of types, it isn’t hard to find some type of habitat that with restoration could provide the best place for a particular plant and animal population to thrive.

Monarch eggs on milkweed observed during monarch survey. (Photo courtesy Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District)

What is one of your favorite memories of experiencing the restored habitats there? Did it surprise you?

Being able to go to a particular WPA and knowing what work had been done there and then following the effect that work had changed the local animal and plant composition. Having been exposed to the “before and after” landscape was dramatic but not surprising. But of course there are always surprises, like this lovely fellow the other day:

Snowy owl. (Photo by Mark Ritzinger)

Going forward, will there be a new emphasis on additional land restoration with new targets?

I think the work will continue as usual on the landscape because the work been shown to be productive! When a “new” situation presents itself, the science and expertise of the SCWMD will direct that work in the right direction. The staff of the SCWMD are the top rate and know what needs to be done. Here is an example of a prairie seeding and restoration underway:

Seeding at the SCWMD seed farm. (Photo courtesy Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District)

What are some of the ways for the public to experience your work?

Getting involved with the FSCWMD on a level of “hands on” activities will show how much fun and how important the work can be.  We welcome volunteers and we have done a good job in reaching out to any partner that can help us and we can help them in bringing their interests and focal points to fruition along with getting our interest outcomes finalized also. After all, outcomes like this scene below benefit us all in so many ways!

SCWMD seed farm. (Photo by Mark Ritzinger)


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Volunteers help restore wildlife habitat on public lands in St. Croix valley