John Nolen Award Winner Matt Millen


Matt Millen - Historic Preservation Translates to Land Restoration

Roofing is Matt Millen’s “day job.” Matt and his family have been in the business for five generations. Millen Roofing specializes in traditional materials for historic structures.

As strange as it may seem, this background exemplifies the foundation upon which ecological restoration is based — expertise in the craft, dedication to workmanship, use of the highest quality, most appropriate materials and working with a team of experts in a variety of fields to achieve a product that is historically correct and beautiful to behold.

Jeb Barzen, International Crane Foundation director of field ecology, has worked closely with Matt over the years and recalls that restoration efforts began when he purchased his original property in 1985.

Beyond land purchase, which has continued to this day, Matt began active management in 1993 with the first prescribed burn. Since then, 75-120 acres of restoration areas have received prescribed burn management almost every year.

“The total land holding under management for Matt’s property now stands at approximately 300 acres and is still expanding. In terms of scale, this restoration project is one of the largest restoration efforts in southern Wisconsin and it is one of the best examples of private land restoration in our region,” says Barzen.

Early on, Matt worked with the Blufflands Project of the Wisconsin Private Lands Office, clearing cedar from his bluff top to encourage the return of more native species to the remnant prairie located there.

Since then Matt has restored most of his land to diverse prairie and removed tree lines for grassland birds. He has recently started a swamp white oak savanna restoration in an effort to restore this rare and unique habitat.

Matt is actively engaged in prairie issues and has contacted a broad array of experts. He has nurtured collaborations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NCRS), the Wisconsin DNR, The Prairie Enthusiasts, the International Crane Foundation and the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

“The net result of this work history is that Matt’s land forms a cornerstone for restoration of the broad continuum in the driftless area extending from bluff savanna to sand terrace prairie to floodplain forest/savanna to active river channel. This restoration effort, when combined with efforts of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, represents the best restoration project in scale and in quality for this important and vanishing biome,” says Barzen.

“Matt’s behavior has exemplified adaptive management and flexibility to adjust to new concepts as they become understood. He has a vision for the restoration of his land and is willing to work with others to accomplish that vision at a scale that rarely occurs, especially with private lands.”

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.