The Chiwaukee Prairie – Illinois Beach Lake Plain: 50+ Years of Conservation and Partnerships to Protect Coastal Wetlands

When you picture the stretch of land between Chicago and Milwaukee, you likely imagine an endless stretch of interstate, traffic jams, and road construction as well as the blinking of nameless suburbs and manufacturing warehouses as you whiz by. But tucked between this bustling corridor and Lake Michigan lies a Wetland of International Importance. Spanning the Wisconsin-Illinois border, the Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain Ramsar Site features high-quality coastal dune and swale habitat across a 4,500-acre landscape stretching more than 15 miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Kenosha, Wisconsin, south to Waukegan, Illinois. The site contains six globally rare and representative wetland community types including wet-mesic prairie, calcareous fen, Great Lakes dune, sedge meadow, and emergent marsh. A result of its unique geology and hydrology, driven by historic glaciation, wind and wave action, Lake Michigan water levels, and groundwater inflows, the Lake Plain is a patterned mosaic of wetlands and associated upland prairies and savannas make it an incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem. The Lake Plain provides habitat for hundreds of native plant and animal species, including 63 state-protected and two federally-listed species.

Sharon Fandel, WDNR

Recorded November 20, 2020.

Sharon Fandel is a regional field ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Conservation program covering an eight-county area in southeastern Wisconsin. As one of nine field ecologists in the state, she is responsible for coordinating the management of DNR-owned State Natural Areas, monitoring the state’s rare species and natural communities, and providing guidance to other department programs and external partners.