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  ©Richard Baumer
The Nature Conservancy Celebrates First Acquisition in Paw Paw River Project

MATTAWAN, Mich.—October 23, 2003—Generations of southwest Michigan residents will soon be able to enjoy 139 acres of globally threatened habitat due to the diligent efforts of the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy will join with local officials, residents and landowners Saturday to celebrate the upcoming land acquisition that will be the Chapter's first in the Paw Paw River Project. The Paw Paw Prairie Fen is located in the east branch of the river, nestled within its headwaters. The tract features a high-quality prairie fen, a globally threatened wetland habitat that is fed by groundwater. This fen harbors a rich diversity of both wetland and prairie species, including several state endangered and threatened plants and animals.

The Conservancy has signed a purchase agreement with current property-holders Bob and Dave Hillsburg, who own Johnson Poured Walls Concrete Company. The brothers had originally slated the property for a subdivision, but over the course of the permitting process, discovered the ecological value of the property and then contacted The Nature Conservancy to negotiate a sale. The Hillsburg brothers agreed to sell the 139-acre parcel for approximately half of its appraised value, but they have doubled their appreciation of its natural value.

"Though we were initially disappointed to find this land would be difficult to develop, we are satisfied with the final outcome we've reached," said property owner David Hillsburg. "It was a pleasant experience working with The Nature Conservancy, and my brother and I feel good about this sale."

The Paw Paw River is a very ecologically important Michigan river, and this acquisition will lay the groundwork for the Michigan Chapter's Paw Paw River Project. This project will focus on protecting the entire Paw Paw, from the unique wetlands—such as fens—along its headwaters to the rare Great Lakes marshes found where the river mouth meets Lake Michigan. The federally endangered Mitchell's satyr butterfly and state-endangered reptiles like the eastern masassauga rattlesnake and Blanding's turtle are just a sample of the wildlife species that are dependent on the Paw Paw River.

Saturday's event will give local officials, residents and landowners an opportunity to view this pristine preserve and to learn more about the Conservancy's Paw Paw River Project. Continuing the momentum created by this purchase, Michigan Chapter staff will be contacting landowners on the east and north branches of the river, as well as at the mouth, to pursue more acquisition and conservation easement opportunities. The chapter will also continue stewardship in the area, on the newly acquired property as well as some private lands, to combat the threat of invasive species.

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The Nature Conservancy counts at least 1 million members worldwide, including more than 32,000 in Michigan. The Conservancy and its members have protected more than 80 million acres on Earth, including more than 73,000 acres in Michigan. The Nature Conservancy embraces a non-confrontational, market-based approach for accomplishing its science-driven mission.

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Alex Rossman
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