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Natural Areas

The Regional Natural Areas Plan seeks to identify and protect what remains of the Region’s landscape as it existed pre-European settlement and identifies other areas vital to maintaining endangered, threatened, and rare plant and animal species.

Regional Natural Areas Plan

The Regional Natural Areas and Critical Species Habitat Protection and Management Plan was adopted by the Commission as an amendment to the Regional Park and Open Space Plan in September 1997. The planning effort was undertaken to identify the most significant remaining natural areas—irreplaceable, biodiverse remnants of the pre-European landscape—as well as other areas vital to maintaining endangered, threatened, and rare plant and animal species in the Region.

Promoting biodiversity, the plan represents an important additional element of the evolving comprehensive plan for Southeastern Wisconsin. It also provides an important supplement to the open space preservation recommendations of the regional land use, and park and open space plans. As amended through 2010, the plan identifies a total of 494 natural areas and 271 critical species habitat sites. As noted below, we are currently updating the plan.

  • Natural areas are defined as tracts of land or water so little modified by human activity, or which have sufficiently recovered from the effects of such activity, that they contain intact native plant and animal communities believed to be representative of the pre-European-settlement landscape.
  • Critical species habitats are defined as additional tracts of land or water that support endangered, threatened, or rare plant or animal species.


Plan Update Currently Underway

In order to accurately reflect ongoing changes to the landscape and new discoveries, the Natural Areas Plan is currently in the process of being updated and amended under the direction of the Commission’s Technical Advisory Committee for the Protection and Management of Natural Areas.

The following major focus areas are being addressed by the plan update:

  1. Updating the site inventory and mapping
  2. Modernizing data curation
  3. Creating site profiles to improve communication
  4. Addressing a wide variety of issues and concerns with the critical species habitat concept
  5. Revising and deploying an aquatic areas assessment scheme for surface waters