The Huron River headwaters begin in this wooded swamp.
The Huron River headwaters begin in this wooded swamp.

The Huron River’s health depends on the substantial natural areas that remain throughout the watershed – about 44% of it is still forest, wetland, and fields.

HRWC’s Natural Area Assessment and Protection Project

The goal of the project is to protect the Huron’s remaining and vital natural areas, which are identified in our Bioreserve Map here. Through this project, we are:

  • helping local communities, conservancies, and state and county agencies to prioritize limited funding to preserve the best natural areas first;
  • working with local governments to develop policies to protect natural areas;
  •  providing information to natural area landowners to help them manage and maintain their natural areas; and
  • organizing volunteer teams to perform field assessments on these natural areas. If you like to get outdoors and learn about ecology, join us!

Natural Areas “Bioreserve Map”

Bioreserve Map for Webster Township

The Bioreserve Map identifies the natural areas across the Huron River watershed. We created the map using aerial photographs taken over five counties (Oakland, Livingston, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Monroe), and drawing boundaries around what could be identified as woodland, wetland, or open field. This resulted in 1,700 sites, totaling 247,000 acres, which is approximately one-quarter the total area of the watershed. HRWC collaborated with students from the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan to develop a computerized model to rank each of those sites as high, medium, or low priority for protection. Ranks were based on available GIS data including size and connectivity of the area, presence of water features related to water quality and supply, diversity of geology and topography (as proxies for potential biodiversity), and overlap with historical high quality vegetation types.

Report: Identifying And Ranking Natural Areas in the Huron River Watershed

Natural Areas Field Assessments

To gather more information about these sites and further identify those of the highest quality, we created the rapid ecological field assessment method. HRWC adapted the method from assessments performed by professional ecologists at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI), making it general enough that volunteers with a half-day of training can complete it, but detailed enough to glean meaningful information about the ecological quality of the site. Volunteer teams walk the site and fill out separate forms for wetlands, forests, grasslands, and creeks. The forms include questions about the kinds of plants growing on the site as well as vegetation structure (e.g. tree size distribution, percent cover of native vs. invasive plants), soils, and signs of human disturbance. The information from the forms is then added to a database, which computes scores for ecological integrity and levels of human disturbance for each site.

Results from the field assessments are shared with property owners, land conservancies, and local communities to aid in planning and preservation efforts.

Here is an example of the report that we create for each assessment. We send the report to the property owner, the community, and the local conservancy.

Free Assessments for Landowners

If you have large areas of forest, wetland, or prairie on a 10+ acre property, HRWC is offering you a free field assessment.

Natural areas are important in protecting the water quality of our lakes, rivers, and streams because they provide opportunities to trap and infiltrate polluted runoff before it gets into our waterways.If you have large areas of forest, wetland, or prairie on a 10+ acre property, the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) is offering you a free field assessment.

Over 400 landowners throughout the Huron River watershed have already learned about the natural areas on their properties through HRWC’s free field assessments. These landowners share our vision of a future with clean and plentiful water for people and nature. You can help by signing up for a field assessment.

It’s very easy to participate! All you need to do is give us permission to visit your land for 2-3 hours. We will schedule a team of 2-4 highly-trained HRWC volunteers to walk through the woods and wetlands on your property. The team will gather information about forest structure, wetland types, invasive species cover, signs of disturbance, plant and animal species on the site, and other ecological data that can help determine the ecological quality of your property. You are welcome to join the assessment if you’d like, but it is not necessary.

  • HRWC will provide you with a detailed report of our field assessment.
  • An assessment will give you a base knowledge about  what natural features exist on your land and the water quality benefits they provide.
  • You will get valuable information for making decisions about maintaining your land, such as how to manage invasive species.
  • You can learn about options that could provide tax incentives for conserving ecologically valuable areas.
  • The report may provide data that can help you obtain funding for preservation.

Data gathered from the field assessment, combined with other watershed data, will help us make informed decisions for our programs. Please consider this request to do an assessment. By participating, you will give us access to valuable information.

Once the field work is done, we will enter the data into an ecological database and generate a report. We will mail this report to you within two weeks. The data is also shared with your local land conservancy.

Here is an example of the report that we create for your property. We send the report to you, your community, and your local conservancy.

Contact Kris Olsson to find out how you can be involved. Phone: 734-769-5123, Email:

Communities and Conservancies: Partner with HRWC

HRWC is seeking partnerships with local governments, conservancies, and parks departments to actively pursue strategies to permanently protect high quality natural areas. HRWC will work with partners in recruiting volunteers to assess sites, holding training sessions, and developing ordinances and policies to protect natural areas.

Contact Kris Olsson to find out more about how you can be involved. Phone: 734-769-5123, Email:

A volunteer team assesses a bioreserve site.
A volunteer team assesses a natural area (bioreserve) site.

Sign up to be a Natural Area Assessment volunteer!

All plants identified at our assessment sites so far

  • Wetland Plants-– Species are organized in this set by those most frequently found to least frequently found.
  • Local Grassland Plants-– Each species is organized in this set by those found most frequently to least frequently.
  • Forest Plants-– Plants are organized in this set by most frequent to least frequent.