This IBA encompasses White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, Puchyan Prairie State Natural Area and Snake Creek Fen State Natural Area. Past attempts at ditching and draining for agriculture were unsuccessful, and the complex natural communities and valuable wildlife habitat found here remained. This site hosts the most extensive sedge meadows in southern Wisconsin as well as wet prairie and open bog habitats. Several dikes at White River Marsh Wildlife Area impound water into flowages. Uplands are managed as oak barrens and savanna. Oak forest, prairie pasture, planted grasslands, and some croplands also are found here.

Ornithological Summary

White River Marsh is considered a core sedge meadow habitat, harboring such sedge meadow rarities as Le Conte?s Sparrow and Yellow Rail at its southernmost location in the state (Howe 2006). Also found here are excellent numbers of Henslow?s Sparrow and Sedge Wren as well as American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Swamp Sparrow, and Bobolink. Oak savanna and woodland areas support Red-headed Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, and Field Sparrow, among others. This site is a significant concentration area for waterfowl and waterbirds in both spring and fall and a major Sandhill Crane staging area, with thousands of cranes using the area in the fall.

Conservation Issues

Sedge meadows are vulnerable to altered hydrology, woody invasion, and exotic species. Draining causes rapid succession to shrubland, while flooding can convert a sedge meadow to open marsh. Woody plants can overtake sedge meadows in the absence of fire. Reed canary grass, purple loosestrife, glossy and common buckthorns, honeysuckle, phragmites, and spotted knapweed are among the most problematic invasive species. Disturbances such as excessive grazing can affect plant species diversity, compact soil, and facilitate invasion by exotics (WDNR 2005). White River Marsh has been identified as a priority site for grassland birds, particularly for sedge meadow and wet prairie species and represents one of the best opportunities in the Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape to manage for these habitats (Sample and Mossman 1997; WDNR 2005). This site presents the opportunity to manage for a complex of open habitats including sedge meadow, wet prairie, savanna, and surrogate grasslands. Large blocks of habitat should be maintained intact and managed with prescribed fire to prevent woody invasion. Natural hydrology of fluctuating water levels should be maintained or restored for sedge meadows, and uplands and shorelines monitored and managed to prevent erosion, sedimentation, and runoff from surrounding agricultural lands. Sensitive areas should be protected from disturbance, and communities and species monitored to ensure that management is maintaining native diversity. This is especially important for secretive, poorly monitored, or difficult to detect species such as Yellow Rail, Le Conte?s Sparrow, and Henslow?s Sparrow.

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