In 2018 Landmark embarked on an ambitious endeavor to develop a strategic conservation focus that will result in the protection of targeted areas rich in biodiversity and resilient to climate change. We believe that conserving larger, intact tracts of land will aid terrestrial and aquatic species in adapting to habitats that are evolving at an increasingly rapid pace. Working with partners and agencies, including The Nature Conservancy science staff, we overlaid our conservation priorities with areas having the greatest potential for resilience to climate change. Our process emphasizes the ecological connectivity of natural landscapes and habitat in and around Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs), and further incorporates climate science.
This effort resulted in the established 17 focus areas in our service area that meet our conservation objective of Ecological Resiliency in the face of a changing climate. Of those, we have selected three areas in which we will prioritize new landowner outreach: the Lake Superior South Shore Streams, the Upper Eau Claire River and Barrens, and the St. Croix River Watershed. We will continue to consider high-quality projects outside of these focus areas as our capacity allows.
The resiliency of these areas is attributed to their physical geography. That is to say, the geology, soils, mineralogy, slope, aspect and temperature all create the physical diversity of place to host the resulting ecological diversity. These are the places that over thousands of years have hosted rich species diversity and will continue to do so even with a changing climate, although the composition of that diversity may change. The physical geography of each focus area has a unique history, and thus is uniquely resilient and ecologically diverse.
In the St. Croix River Watershed, our initial outreach areas include the St. Croix River, Upper Namekagon River, Namekagon and Totagatic Rivers, Yellow River and Straight Lake Area. As the last ice melted from the Wisconsin Glaciation, sediments from the ice poured down the spillway of what is now the St. Croix River. This left behind pockets of wetlands, organic deposits and channels of well-drained sands and gravels that now interact with the ground and surface waters to create ecological diversity. The Straight Lake Area is a great place to see glacial transported boulders and collapsed moraines, yielding nooks and crannies for ecological diversity to develop.
The Upper Eau Claire River and Barrens focus area is also a result of meltwater and deposited sediments from the Wisconsin Glaciation. Here erosion worked on sandstone bedrock and metamorphic rock creating waterfalls; a broad flat floodplain was created with the Eau Claire River eventually carving a channel into the sediment; and ice dams created backwaters and wetlands. The headwaters of the Eau Claire River reside in the DNR designated Central Sand Plains Ecological Landscape and the surrounding habitat is of barrens, mixed deciduous and conifer forest and forested wetlands. We are pleased to announce new funding from Earth Cloud Fund of Headwaters Foundation for Justice that will support land protection efforts in this area.
Being the coldest and deepest lake of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior is the backdrop for the South Shore Streams focus area. This area has cool temperatures off the lake, deep clay tills, and cool ravines that host boreal forest – some of the only places in Wisconsin with these attributes outside of Door County. Migratory birds stopover along these shores to rest and feast on insects that hatch in synch with their journey. The Bayfield Sandstone of the Bayfield Peninsula rises above the clay plain, providing sources of springs and seeps that flow to Lake Superior.
The next step is to evaluate land within these focus areas that meet our Landmark objectives for protection of Ecological Resilience in the face of a changing climate. As Landmark moves into this exciting step, we will focus on four attributes: resiliency, climate flow, parcel size, and proximity to protected lands. We are guided by our partners within the focus areas to learn of the locally cherished conservation values to protect within this framework, creating opportunities of leverage for project success.