The four-state Driftless Area is a stunningly beautiful 24,000-square-mile landscape island once surrounded but never touched, by giant sheets of glacial ice. This ancient landscape has evolved over thousands of years to reveal rocky bluffs, ridge-tops flanked with steep hillsides, and more than 600 cold water springs and creeks flowing quickly through the valleys. Many rare species of birds, fish, plant and other wildlife have taken refuge and survived in this area.This unique region, found in portions of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin is home to hundreds of threatened and endangered state and federal animal and plant species. A large number of species of greatest concern for each of the four states can be found here. A major portion of the Driftless Area falls in Wisconsin, where all or part of 23 counties are part of the region.
The Driftless Area also serves as a rest/feeding stop for many bird species during migration season. The Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries provide vital migration corridors for more than half of North America’s bird species, forming the largest contiguous area of fish and wildlife habitat remaining in the Central United States.
The region also features soils particularly vulnerable to erosion. Sediment in runoff threatens the cold water streams and diverse habitats. Forestland converted to intensive agriculture further increases the risk to this delicate ecosystem.
How Does DALCI Work?
NRCS and its partners plan to restore, improve protect fish and wildlife habitat for the unique and diverse species found in the Driftless Area’s working lands, forest, streams and prairies. Using a landscape approach to habitat improvement, the initiative will address the following four natural resource objectives.
- Manage working lands for increased perennial cover
- Manage woodlands for increased diversity
- Restore working lands to prairie and manage existing grasslands and oak savanna habitats for improved bird and pollinator habitat
- Restore cold water trout streams and adjacent riparian areas of the region
Producers and landowners use combination of practices such as prescribed grazing, brush management, fencing, water facilities, conservation cover, forage and biomass planting, buffer strips, conservation crop rotations, and forage harvest management, to improve the habitat for grassland species. Producers and landowners interested in improving woodland areas use forest stand improvement practices. Remnant prairie/oak savanna and adjacent grasslands will be improved using brush management, herbaceous weed control, prescribed burning and firebreaks. Producers and landowners interested in improving trout habitat in cold water streams can use practices such as streambank and shoreline protection, fencing, filter strips, fish passages, obstruction removal, stream crossings, and upland and wetland wildlife habitat management.
Eligible producers and landowners can use NRCS’ technical and financial assistance to implement these practices through a variety of programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
How does DALCI Benefit Producers?
Through DALCI, NRCS helps producers use voluntary conservation practices to conserve the Driftless Area’s natural resources ensuring economic viability of cropland, pastureland, and forestland. This collaborative stewardship provides a five-year funding source for participants. By taking immediate action, landowners and producers can reverse the decline for at-risk species and habitats, resulting in the overall health of the watersheds and their natural resources.
How does DALCI Benefit the Public?
Treating this area on a landscape scale will maintain and improve its rich biodiversity. The benefits of these conservation approaches will help to restore the diversity, health and productivity of the area. Cleaner, cooler water, less erosion, and more wildlife habitat will help bring economic and social well-being to producers and others.
NRCS is committed to working cooperatively with agricultural producers, partner organizations and state and local agencies to develop comprehensive landscape solutions to address the unique natural resource issues of the Driftless Area.
In addition to providing input for priority watershed selection criteria and the processes used to implement DALCI, partners will have a crucial role in encouraging and supporting producer participation. Partners can help implement this initiative in the following ways:
- Provide information and conduct education and outreach activities
- Form agreements to provide staffing for technical assistance and education activities
- Join the State Technical Committee to provide input for future focus areas and watershed selection
- Submit proposals for CIG, or partnering with a group submitting a proposal
- Target their organization’s programs toward the Initiative’s watersheds
- Assist with monitoring, evaluation, and assessment