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Pine and Popple Wild Rivers

Wild Rivers Designation

The entire 89-mile length of the Pine River and the 62 miles of its major tributary, the Popple River, were designated by the Wisconsin Legislature as State Wild Rivers in 1965 to be protected from development and kept in a natural, free-flowing condition. Being among Wisconsin's more remote river systems, the Pine and Popple Wild Rivers offer a true wild experience. The area is rugged and undeveloped. Access is limited and often difficult.

Both the Pine River and Popple River are born in the vast forests and swamps of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Within the forest boundary, approximately 80% of the upper 56 miles of the Pine River and 58% of the upper 50 miles of the Popple River are in federal ownership.

Midway along their courses, the rivers leave the national forest and enter the Pine and Popple Wild Rivers project area managed by the DNR. The DNR's project area includes the lower 12 miles of the Popple River and the lower 33 miles of the Pine River, ending with the Pine at the Menominee River. At present, approximately 80% of the 12,000-acre project area is in public ownership, either the state or Florence County. The remainder is comprised of small privately owned tracts or property owned by We Energies.

Stewardship of the wild rivers is shared by all landowners along the river — small private landowners, commercial timber companies and county, state, and federal governments. Also included are lands owned by We Energies in conjunction with their hydroelectric operations at the Pine River and Kingsford dams, which predates wild river designation.


Management on state-owned land along the rivers is designed to show as few traces of human intervention as possible. Except for limited walk-in canoe launch sites, developments are kept back from the river's edge. A "protection zone," managed to maintain and enhance a wild and natural condition, extends 150 feet back from the river's edge or to the visual horizon, whichever is greater. Lands more than 150 feet from the rivers are managed for forestry production, wildlife and public recreational purposes. Except for road crossings, motorized vehicle access is restricted to designated areas outside of the protection zone. Through agreements with Florence County and the U.S. Forest Service, lands under their ownership along the Pine and Popple Wild Rivers are managed under similar philosophies.

The shorelines of the Pine and Popple Wild Rivers are further protected from development impacts by Florence County's Wild River Ordinance. This ordinance regulates activities on lands within 400 feet of a wild river or the visual horizon, whichever is greater.

Integrated Property Management Meetings (IPMM's) are held annually by staff for all properties owned and managed by the DNR. The meetings enable staff with property management responsibilities to accomplish multiple objectives — debriefing on the previous year's accomplishments, consideration of work planned for the upcoming year and providing the opportunity for public feedback on planned management actions.  

The Wild Rivers Legacy Forest

In 2006, the DNR, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Forestry LLC and Forest Investment Associates cooperatively acquired the "Wild Rivers Legacy Forest," comprised of 64,473 acres of forest, more than 48 lakes and ponds and over 70 miles of rivers and streams in Florence, Forest and Marinette counties. This transaction added 2,580 acres along the Pine and Popple Wild Rivers and a 3,030-acre wild lakes complex. Additionally, an innovative working forest conservation easement on adjacent property owned by CFFIA (LLC) will permanently keep the majority of this land open to the public for recreation and ensure that the forests remain healthy and diverse through applied sustainable forestry principles. Although open for some types of public use, this easement area is still private property; if you are unsure about permissible activities, please contact the property owners.

The Savage-Robago Wild Lakes Complex

Savage, Robago, Mud and Dorothy Lakes are undeveloped lakes in a wilderness setting with unimproved carry-in access. These lakes are important to eagles, osprey and loons, as well as other waterfowl and marsh birds, but fishery values are limited due to occasional winterkill. The DNR will manage the lakes and associated uplands for their natural and recreation values using the same management approach as the Wild Rivers property.