This IBA encompasses the George W. Mead State Wildlife Area as well as a portion of the adjacent Big Eau Pleine Reservoir to the north. This large central Wisconsin property contains a variety of habitats, including extensive grasslands, black spruce-tamarack bogs, shallow and deep-water marshes, and upland deciduous forest. Dikes along the Little Eau Pleine River have created a system of flowages, and a much larger flowage, the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, is located just to the north. The wildlife area receives numerous visitors throughout the year. The newly-constructed Stanton W. Mead Education and Visitor Center, a model ?green? building, is expected to accommodate between 5,000 and 6,000 school children each year for educational programs. Ongoing monitoring and research programs here also make Mead a unique resource for Wisconsin citizens, as well as for central Wisconsin birdlife.
Some 286 bird species have been recorded at Mead, second only to Horicon Marsh among state wildlife areas. The varied habitats support numerous priority species, including Trumpeter Swan, Osprey, American Bittern, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Brown Thrasher, Golden-winged Warbler, and Le Conte?s Sparrow. Mead is one of four sites that contain core habitat for Greater Prairie-Chicken, and supports a significant proportion of the remaining Greater Prairie-Chicken population in Wisconsin. Other grassland birds that breed here include Northern Harrier, Sedge Wren, Clay-colored Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow?s Sparrow, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark. Conifer bogs support small numbers of northern species such as Blue-headed Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Nashville Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, and Lincoln?s Sparrow. Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Double-crested Cormorant nest in a rookery on the Berkhahn Flowage. During migration, swans, geese and ducks use the flowages and Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, as do more than 27 species of shorebirds when lowered water levels expose mudflats. Short-eared Owl and Long-eared Owl are present during migration and early winter, as are numerous diurnal raptors and Snow Bunting. Rare species recorded at Mead include Ross?s Goose, Plegadis ibis, Swainson?s Hawk, Black-necked Stilt, King Rail, Lark Bunting and Lazuli Bunting.
Mead is managed for wildlife conservation, recreation, and education. There is active private support and involvement in monitoring and educational activities by the Friends of Mead-McMillan, Inc., and the site is highly valued by local citizens. Mead is a key property in the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area Partnership, a landscape-level project aimed at creating and maintaining enough habitat to sustain populations of Greater Prairie-Chicken and other grassland-dependent bird species. Creating and maintaining enough open habitat and permanent grass cover to support the Greater Prairie-Chicken population is a management priority. Currently, 4,100 acres of sedge meadow and upland grassland are maintained through prescribed burns, cutting, mowing, herbicide application, and tree removal, with an additional 1,000 acres to be developed to enhance nesting cover near booming grounds (Warnke 2005). Ongoing research here also focuses on nesting Trumpeter Swans and Osprey. Relatively minor threats to birdlife here include some encroachment of invasive plants, cowbird parasitism, predation (including from feral or free-ranging cats), and high levels of recreational use. This site would benefit from additional breeding bird survey efforts to better document populations of priority species.