Even though the Harbor District is in the very heart of Milwaukee and has been the center of economic activity for centuries, there is still a healthy community of organisms that live here. From mammals like deer, coyotes, gray and red fox, muskrats, beavers, groundhogs, squirrels, and bats all the way down to dragonflies, insects, and barely visible invertebrates in the water, a rich ecology is thriving just out of sight. The Harbor District has identified ways to improve habitat so that more things besides humans can find a home here, through rebuilding ecological functioning of the landscape. We do this by considering the needs of organisms for food, reproduction, shelter, and movement. Finding opportunities to re-introduce native plants and reserving space for animals is at the heart of this implementation, while also encouraging everyone to remember that nature is right here if you just stop to look and listen.

Harbor District has partnered with the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee Public Museum to learn more about the wildlife present. In 2019, we conducted surveys of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bats, and mammals. We found over sixty different species!
A great way to help collect information on wildlife and plants in the Harbor District is to use the smartphone app iNaturalist. It connects you with experts who can identify the species you find and keeps a log of everything you have observed.
Even within our developed urban landscape, many different kinds of animals make a home or roam through. We can improve the Harbor District’s ability to support wildlife by considering their needs and incorporating native plants and trees, connections between green spaces, and softening armored shorelines.
The Harbor District Terrestrial Habitat Plan (2020) identifies current and potential habitat areas and a vision for improving the ability of the Harbor District to support a rich and diverse biotic community.
Milwaukee’s waterways, including the inner harbor at the heart of the Harbor District, bear the legacy of decades of pollution and contamination from past industries, dumping of sanitary waste, and other degradation. In fact, the EPA has characterized our estuary as one of the most “impaired” around the Great Lakes and designated it an “Area of Concern.” Harbor District, Inc. is active in efforts to clean up the contamination, repair ecological function, and make other improvements that will allow us to remove the Area of Concern designation.

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