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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Lower Chippewa River (No. 342)



Buffalo, Dunn, and Pepin Counties. T24N-R12W, Sections 1, 2. T25N-R13W, Sections 7, 30, 31. T26N-R10W, Sections 3-6. T26N-R11W, Sections 1, 2, 5, 11. T26N-R13W, Sections 11, 14. 3,537 acres.



The Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area features the largest concentration of remaining prairies and savannas in the state. At the time of European settlement Wisconsin had over 7.7 million acres of native prairie but today only about 8,000 acres remain. This extensive project contains over 2,000 acres of prairie, which equals 25% of all known remaining prairie in the entire state. Lying along and interspersed within the river channels are islands of floodplain savanna and forest while the surrounding hillsides contain prairie and savanna. The largest contiguous floodplain forest in the Midwest is located just south of Durand within this natural area. A large diversity of birds thrive in these extensive forests including many forest interior species. Additionally, seventy percent of all the fish species in the state find suitable habitat in the Chippewa and Red Cedar Rivers including the rare paddlefish, blue sucker, crystal darter, and goldeye. The Chippewa River is one of three places in the world home to an endangered mayfly. Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2002.


Driving directions

From Durand, the site lies north and south along the Chippewa River. The project encompasses 15,000 acres with many scattered sites. Look for State Natural Area signs or contact any DNR office and request the present locations of sites accessible to the public.


Lower Chippewa River is owned by:

  • WDNR
  • The Nature Conservancy


The DNR's state natural areas program is comprised of lands owned by the state, private conservation organizations, municipalities, other governmental agencies, educational institutions and private individuals. While the majority of SNAs are open to the public, access may vary according to individual ownership policies. Public use restrictions may apply due to public safety, or to protect endangered or threatened species or unique natural features. Lands may be temporarily closed due to specific management activities. Users are encouraged to contact the landowner for more specific details.

The data shown on these maps have been obtained from various sources, and are of varying age, reliability, and resolution. The data may contain errors or omissions and should not be interpreted as a legal representation of legal ownership boundaries.


Site objectives

Manage the site as a reserve for sand prairie, oak opening, and floodplain forest reserve, as a sand prairie and oak opening restoration site, as an aquatic reserve and wetland protection site, as an aquatic species protection site, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed fire will determine the structure of the site's natural communities. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native prairies and oak openings.

Management approach

The ecological characteristics of the prairie and savanna will be primarily shaped by an intensive fire management program. The native sand prairie species are managed actively through tree/shrub control using tree harvest, brushing and especially fire to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Occasional fire-tolerant woody species such as oaks, hickories, and native shrubs such as hazelnut may be retained at low densities. The native dominant savanna tree species (primarily oaks) form the basis for an oak savanna restoration. Some thinning of the canopy, understory manipulation and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire may be needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Augmentation of the ground layer will only add species that historically would have been found on the site, using seeds or plugs from local genetic material; this usually occurs in the early stages of restoration. The floodplain forest is managed passively. The old field that is currently planted to conifers will eventually be restored to sand prairie. Open fields in the floodplain will be planted to floodplain forest trees, or developed into native wetlands in lower hydric soil areas. Other allowable activities throughout the site include control of invasive plants and animals, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress wildfires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event can occur if the volume of woody material inhibits fire prescriptions.

Site-specific considerations

  • Although removal of hazardous trees from over and near field roads is an allowed activity, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance should be minimized to the extent possible.


Management objectives and prescriptions


Very few State Natural Areas have public facilities, but nearly all are open for a variety of recreational activities as indicated below. Generally, there are no picnic areas, restrooms, or other developments. Parking lots or designated parking areas are noted on individual SNA pages and maps. Trails, if present, are typically undesignated footpaths. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map and/or under the "Access" tab. A compass and topographic map or a GPS unit are useful tools for exploring larger, isolated SNAs.

Hunting and trapping

This SNA has multiple landowners: Opportunities for hunting and trapping depend on the land owner. In general, most DNR-owned land allows hunting and trapping. Partner-owned land may have other rules (for example, university-owned lands do not allow hunting or trapping). Please contact them directly to find out about their rules for hunting and trapping. You can find a link to other owner websites under the "Resource links" heading above. More details regarding allowable uses on the non-DNR land may be found under the "Access" tab above, if available.

Allowable activities: DNR-owned land

In general, the activities listed below are allowed on all DNR-owned SNA lands. Exceptions to this list of public uses, such as SNAs closed to hunting, are noted under the "Access" tab above and posted with signs on site.

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Hunting
  • Trapping

Prohibited activities: all SNAs

  • Camping and campfires
  • Collecting of animals (other than legally harvested species), non-edible fungi, rocks, minerals, fossils, archaeological artifacts, soil, downed wood, or any other natural material, alive or dead. Collecting for scientific research requires a permit issued by the DNR
  • Collecting of plants including seeds, roots or other non-edible parts of herbaceous plants such as wildflowers or grasses
  • Geocaching
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use

For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR]

Last revised: Thursday, October 11, 2018