This IBA straddles the Wisconsin River in Sauk and Columbia counties west of Portage, at the southern edge of the ?sand counties?. It includes 5 large tracts: Leopold Memorial Reserve?owned by the nonprofit Aldo Leopold Foundation (ALF), Sand County Foundation, and several private landowners; Pine Island Wildlife Area (WDNR); Lower Baraboo River Waterfowl Production Area (USFWS and NRCS); Phill and Joan Pines tract (private); and Lower Baraboo River Floodplain Forest (private and USFWS). This broad sandy floodplain originated from the outflow of Glacial Lake Wisconsin when it broke through its morainal dam at present-day Wisconsin Dells to flow around the east end of the Baraboo Hills. It is characterized by islands and shores in various stages of succession from open sand to barrens and mature floodplain forest. Farther from the river are extensive, mostly high-quality marshes and sedge meadows, lowland and upland forests, restored savannas, and agricultural fields. The IBA has a wild character with few human habitations, yet much of it is intensively managed and researched for wildlife conservation.

Ornithological Summary

This IBA harbors most of the breeding bird species representative of the natural floodplain and adjacent upland of this central Wisconsin landscape; ?missing? species characteristic of more extensive wetlands, grasslands, barrens and forests stand a good chance of appearing in future years as management enhances and expands habitats. Wet-mesic and wet forests on sand terraces and old river channels support high populations of forest interior and floodplain species such as Barred Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, and American Redstart. This floodplain forest is distinct from that of the Lower Wisconsin River IBA, for the forests here are on sandier sediments in a cooler landscape, and so tend naturally to have smaller trees (hence fewer Cerulean Warblers), more oaks (hence more Eastern Wood-Pewee and Scarlet Tanager), more white pines (hence the Blue-headed Vireo), and fewer pools and sloughs (hence Prothonotary Warblers are sporadic, only in wet years). However, the IBA?s Lower Baraboo River Floodplain Forest grows on finer sediments and supports those species more typical of the Lower Wisconsin; together these tracts of the Leopold-Pine Island IBA represent the ecotone between the Central Sands and Western Coulee and Ridges Ecological Landscapes. Where particularly deep sands discourage forest growth, savanna-like barrens have developed or persisted in the absence of fire. In several sites, such as the Pine Island proper and the Leopold Memorial Reserve, barrens and savannas are being restored through cutting and fire, providing habitat for Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Orchard Oriole, Mourning Warbler and others. Grassland acreage is increasing as croplands are converted to warm-season wildlife cover, dry to wet prairie plantings, and alfalfa and mixed hay. Some tracts are extensive and well developed, and have large numbers of grassland specialists such as Sedge Wren, Henslow's Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark. Grasslands that have scattered shrubs or grade into woodier habitats support species such as Willow Flycatcher, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher, and occasionally Bell's Vireo. The complexes of high quality sedge meadows, sedge marshes, small deeper marshes and shallow man-made ponds are replete with species such as Blue-winged Teal, Sandhill Crane, rails, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat and Swamp Sparrow. The large marshes developing at the impoundment of the Lower Baraboo River WPA host Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Least Bittern, Black Tern, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and many others. Live and dead shrubs remaining from pre-impoundment days harbor nests of Green Heron, Eastern Kingbird and Willow Flycatcher. Bald Eagles have nested in a large pine and Osprey on a powerline pylon. The wide sandy islands and shallows on this stretch of the river, and its undeveloped shorelines, minimal human use and nearby foraging areas make it a significant autumn staging area for Sandhill Cranes. This site also harbors large numbers of migrating waterfowl in both fall and spring.

Conservation Issues

Nearly all of this IBA is well managed for conservation. Cooperative research, monitoring and education among various public and private agencies and landowners have been ongoing in this IBA for decades. The Leopold Memorial Reserve is very actively managed for conservation, education and research (ALF 2007), and staff also work with the Phill Pines family to manage that tract for conservation. The Pine Island Wildlife Area is managed for a variety of native and non-native habitats to benefit waterfowl, and wildlife of grassland, marsh, meadow, shrub carr, and of young to mature floodplain forest; as well as native barrens communities. The Lower Baraboo River WPA is managed for shallow marsh, meadow and upland grassland to benefit waterfowl, other breeding and migratory birds and other wildlife. The Lower Baraboo River Floodplain Forest includes a 22?acre State Natural Area donated by The Nature Conservancy to USFWS, and many small privately owned tracts managed primarily for timber production and hunting. The main issues affecting bird conservation at this IBA include: succession of open habitats to woody cover (e.g., barrens to forest, sedge meadow to shrub carr, grassland to shrubs and woods); fragmentation of open and forest habitats by succession and logging; exotic invasives, especially garlic mustard, reed canary grass, and common buckthorn; residential development; and recreational disturbance to birds. Management should strive to maintain the diverse landscape characteristic of this wide floodplain at the ecotone between the Central Sand Hills, Central Sand Plains, and Western Coulee and Ridges Ecological Landscapes. Active management?including cutting, uprooting, herbicide application and burning?must continue.

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