A Booming Success For The Prairie Chicken In Wisconsin

January 5, 2010

Prairie Chicken Photo By Doug Dance

Greater Prairie-chicken. Photo by Doug Dance/www.dougdancenaturephotography.com

Portage County, WI—Today, The Conservation Fund announced the preservation of two tracts of prime grassland habitat—totaling 883 acres—that lie adjacent to the Buena Vista Wildlife Area in the state’s last stronghold of the famed Greater Prairie-Chicken. The Conservation Fund purchased the land from Blue Top Farms, Inc. and plans to transfer ownership to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to manage as habitat for a variety of grassland birds.

“We’re thankful to our partners—Dane County Conservation League, Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development Council, Portage County Land Preservation Fund and the Wisconsin DNR – for their involvement in this project,” said Peg Kohring, Midwest director of The Conservation Fund. “No one group alone could acquire the property, but by working together we have made this a huge success.”

Populations of Greater Prairie-Chickens have declined to near extinction over the past century due to the conversion of grassland to forestland and farmland. They once inhabited every county in Wisconsin but are now found in only six counties in the central part of the state. Some habitat within those counties already is preserved through four DNR-owned wildlife management areas, including the Buena Vista Wildlife Area, but these protected lands are scattered and unconnected, leaving the prairie-chicken isolated, vulnerable and unable to move safely between protected areas to mate.

The plight of the prairie chicken has brought together landowners, public agencies and conservation groups in a widespread effort to protect grassland habitat. In 2005, DNR identified and designated the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area—with the intention of protecting an additional 15,000 acres of grassland habitat that needed to be preserved to foster a healthy population of prairie chickens. This coalition of groups – the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area Partnership – is working to develop conservation opportunities for private landowners in between the state-protected areas, creating a corridor that will increase the prairie chicken’s breeding range.

The prairie chicken is a favorite among nature lovers, perhaps because of its quirky mating dance. To attract the attention of a female prairie chicken, a male rapidly stomps his feet and moves in a circle while emitting an eerie “booming” sound and inflating the bright orange air sacs on the sides of his neck. The annual Central Wisconsin Prairie Chicken Festival gives visitors from all over the country a chance to witness the unusual courting ritual while raising awareness of conservation efforts and providing a boon to the local economy.

“On behalf of Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Council Inc. and the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area Partnership we are humbled by the consideration of Blue Top Farms Inc. and the Zakrzewski family to convey nearly 900 acres to the citizens of Portage County and the state of Wisconsin,” said Sharon Schwab, coordinator of the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area Partnership. “This acreage, located within the Buena Vista Wildlife Area, provides much-needed habitat—not only for Wisconsin’s Greater Prairie-Chickens but also for thousands of migratory grassland birds, from the depths of Argentina to the northern tiers of Canada that use these lands as a stopover to rest or to nest. This is a gift for generations. We need more landowners like the Zakrzewskis to step forward and do great deeds like this for grassland wildlife.”

RC&D provided funding for this acquisition through a Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grant. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, the Dane County Conservation League and the Portage County Land Preservation Fund also contributed funding.

“The Dane County Conservation League is proud to have played a part in preserving a beautiful piece of property for future generations,” said David Pulda, League president. “This section lies within the League’s 4,400 acres of prairie chicken habitat that we lease to the state of Wisconsin for others to hike, hunt and enjoy some of what Wisconsin has to offer. The League has been involved in preserving habitat in Wisconsin since 1933, with our first donation being Wisconsin’s first public hunting grounds, the Deansville Marsh. A special thanks to the family, the DNR and friends of Portage County for allowing this piece to be preserved.”


About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we combine a passion for conservation with an entrepreneurial spirit to protect your favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of our work is our deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Top-ranked, we have protected more than 7 million acres across America.


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