HeartLands Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit focused on land conservation in southwestern Illinois, has announced the acquisition of two key natural areas next to the Shawnee National Forest in Jackson County, Ill.

The two properties, totaling 79 acres, are located within the floodplain of the Mississippi and Big Muddy rivers. Working with numerous partners, HeartLands identified these properties as high priorities for protection because of their locations and their significant natural features.

One such feature is a restored wetland that adjoins more than 800 acres of US Forest Service wetlands. It is home to native reptiles and amphibians, as well as otters, beavers, muskrats and rice rats. Another feature is a second-growth hardwood forest located on Fountain Bluff. Fountain Bluff is a 2,500-acre upland forest next to the Mississippi River. The forest includes a mixture of beech and oak trees that provide habitat for bats, deer and turkeys.

“These latest acquisitions are a part of our ongoing partnership with the US Forest Service and Ducks Unlimited to protect and restore floodplain functions in the Mississippi River Watershed in Southern Illinois,” said William Boardman, land conservation chair for HeartLands Conservancy. “We are particularly grateful to the previous land owners for their long-standing care of these important natural areas.”

HeartLands received funding assistance from two foundations — Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Grand Victoria Foundation — to complete the purchase. ”The foundation is pleased to assist HeartLands and its partners in purchasing lands that will ultimately expand one of Illinois’ most treasured natural areas — the Shawnee National Forest — and in protecting and restoring native habitat along the Mississippi River,” said Dennis O’Brien, executive director of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.