Land conservation project in Dane County moves forward

Dane County plans to award Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance more than $900K

Participants in a waterfowl ID course from last November search for birds at Nine Springs. Caitlyn Schuchhardt/Badgerland Bird Alliance

A land restoration project is one step closer to completion after Dane County announced a grant to the Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance. 

The county plans to award the bird conservation group more than $900,000 to help acquire 348 acres of grassland, woods and prairie in the Town of Christiana. The group, formerly known as Madison Audubon, plans to restore the land to a wildlife sanctuary.

 “(The grant) means everything,” said Matt Reetz, executive director of Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance.  

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The Dane County Conservation Fund aims to protect natural and cultural resources. Laura Hicklin, director of Dane County Land and Water Resources Department, applauds the proposed grant.

“This project falls within our initiative to protect and enhance grassland habitat,” Hicklin said.

Parts of the prairie have already been restored

According to the group, the land includes rolling vistas and grasslands that provide habitat for wildlife, including birds such as bobolink and dickcissel, and the native milkweed for monarch habitat.

“If you get up to the top of one of the hills, you can see pretty much in all directions. It’s gorgeous,” Reetz said.

The land is a part of what was originally the Koshkonong Prairie. Before European settlement, it stretched for tens of thousands of acres.  

The property, which includes two historical homes, has been owned by the Gunnulson family for nearly two centuries. They have already restored parts of the prairie with the help of the bird alliance. According to Reetz, the family is excited to see the land conserved and protected.

“We can celebrate the return to prairie and of course, making habitats for all sorts of different wildlife,” Reetz said.  

Land restoration is key to the alliance’s mission. So far, they have restored and provided stewardship for more than 2,600 acres of habitat throughout southern Wisconsin.

Hicklin said open space is essential, especially in Wisconsin’s fastest-growing county.

“Not only for people’s recreation and their physical and mental health, but for all the ecosystem services our properties provide, in terms of flood control and nutrient reduction and habitat diversity,” Hicklin said.  

Land conservation will be “increasingly important in the future” as climate change intensifies and they see threats to the landscape, Reetz said.

“Protecting and conserving land is going to be vital, not just for the benefit of wildlife, but for the benefit of Wisconsinites,” Reetz said.

What’s next?

The estimated project cost for the acquisition is $2,404,120. Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance was awarded a Knowles Nelson Stewardship grant for nearly $1.5 million and is seeking a Dane County Conservation Fund grant for the remaining balance. The Dane County Park Commission recently recommended granting up to $912,900 in county matching funds.

A resolution to approve the funding was introduced to the Dane County Board earlier this month. It is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.

Land acquisition will likely be complete by August.

As the land is restored, there will be opportunities to hike and bird watch.  

“It’s going to create such a beautiful and large expansive habitat that will be important for areas sensitive grassland birds,” Reetz said.