This IBA encompasses a large portion of the upper Kickapoo River watershed, including the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Wildcat Mountain State Park. The site contains one of the most intact blocks of forest land in Wisconsin?s Driftless Area, excepting floodplain forests, and also harbors many noteworthy geological and archaeological features. The topography is angular and steep, with exposed bedrock in many locations. Many slopes are covered with oak and hickory, while cooler, north-facing slopes are forested with maple, basswood and oak. In the ravines and on cliffs, northern species including hemlock, white pine, and yellow birch can be found. There also is a floodplain forest of silver maple, green ash, and American elm. Forests are dominant features but the site also hosts a diversity of other habitat types including oak savanna, grasslands, spring seeps, southern sedge meadow, shrub-carr, alder thickets, hardwood swamps, and cliffs. The cliff areas and talus slopes provide habitat for a set of unique plants, many only found in Wisconsin within cool and moist microclimates. The cliffs provide critical habitat for one of the few populations of the federally threatened northern monkshood, as well as the state-endangered Lapland azalea, and other plants associated with cliffs, including the state-threatened cliff cudweed, a Wisconsin endemic found nowhere else on earth (WDNR 2006).
This IBA contains core habitat for the Cerulean Warbler, with as much as 10,000 acres available for this species. This site contains some of the best habitat that remains in the state for southern forest interior birds, and also hosts populations of shrub and grassland species. Wisconsin State Natural Area surveys and Breeding Bird Atlas work found a lengthy list of breeding birds, including such high conservation priority species as Worm-eating Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Kentucky Warbler, Whip-poor-will, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Veery, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Meadowlark, and Bobolink. Approximately 25% of the state?s Golden Eagles overwinter here. Migrant landbirds occur here in significant numbers, with an estimated 10,000 birds using the area annually.
Currently, the public lands within this site are managed largely for conservation of wildlife and natural communities and for recreation. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve has a Master Plan which guides management. They also have an education program, based out of a recently completed Visitor Center, which offers environmental programs for both adults and children (KVR 2007). Both the Kickapoo Reserve and Wildcat Mountain State Park offer a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, camping, hunting and fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Over the past century and a half, the area has been changed by farming, timber cutting, and road-building. Recently, pressure for residential development (mostly for second homes) is increasing in this area; this has the potential to fragment habitat as large blocks are divided into smaller parcels. Problematic invasive species include garlic mustard, buckthorn, and prickly-ash in forested habitats and reed canary grass in grassland habitats. Other threats include the impending problem of limited oak regeneration across southern Wisconsin, over-browsing by deer, and unsustainable timber management, particularly on private lands. Several of the priority forest species that occur at this site are area-sensitive. Large forest blocks must be maintained intact and unfragmented for these species to persist and thrive. Connectivity between forest blocks should be improved and sustainable forest management encouraged, particularly on private lands. The use of prescribed fire to regenerate oak should be explored and encouraged where possible.