Scientists are in possession of treasure trove of information about Wisconsin’s historic landscape. This rich data set, which gives a broad snapshot of the state’s terrain – including trees, vegetation, soils and wetlands – before extensive human settlement, is derived from surveyors’ notes taken between 1830 and 1866, when the U.S. Government Land Office surveyed and mapped the area that would become Wisconsin.

This information was digitized in the 1990s and has been used for a variety of purposes over the years by forest ecologists, wildlife biologists, ecosystem restoration practitioners, planners, historians and others. But it’s tough to parse.

“This data set is available on the DNR data site, but we often need to respond to and assist users. It could be used by so many more people if it were more easily accessible online,” says forest and wildlife ecology professor David Mladenoff, who led the original, multi-year effort to digitize the surveyors’ notes and get the data online.

Now, with the support of a mini-grant from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, Mladenoff is spearheading a collaborative effort to make the database more user-friendly. The focus of the small, one-year project is to gather feedback from current and potential database users at community forums.

“Our project will gather information from workshops around the state on what citizens, agencies, researchers, consultants and others need to make more and easier use of the data,” says Mladenoff. “Then, armed with this information, we can seek funding to design and implement a user-friendly web site.”

Howard Veregin, the state’s cartographer, is a strategic partner in the project, with connections to many around the state who need good land information. The University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, which is helping to store and archive the data, is another.

Mladenoff is excited for the day when this “second phase” of the project will finally be completed. “This information will have many uses once it’s easily available to the entire state,” he says.

For more information about the project and the dates of upcoming forums, visit: