Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area

The Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area (IBA) straddles the Wisconsin River in Sauk and Columbia counties west of Portage, WI. A 16,000-acre mosaic of marsh, grassland, floodplain and upland forest, and farmland, it includes five large tracts managed by federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private individuals and families.

Although the IBA appears “wild,” much of it is intensively managed and researched for wildlife conservation, especially birds. The site harbors most of the breeding-bird species that naturally inhabit floodplains and adjacent uplands in central Wisconsin. These include many declining grassland birds such as the red-headed woodpecker, bobolink, and meadowlark, which are benefiting from prairie and savanna restoration in the IBA.

“Missing” species characteristic of more extensive wetlands, grasslands, sand barrens, and forests stand a good chance of appearing here in the future as management efforts proceed.


The IBA includes five large tracts of land cared for cooperatively by the following partners:

  • The historic Leopold Shack and Farm and surrounding lands, managed by the Aldo Leopold Foundation
  • Pine Island State Wildlife Area, managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR)
  • Lower Baraboo River Waterfowl Production Area, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • Phill and Joan Pines tract, managed by Jim Pines in cooperation with the Leopold Foundation
  • Baraboo River Floodplain Forest, managed as a State Natural Area by the WDNR

Other partners include:

  • Wisconsin Waterfowl Association
  • International Crane Foundation

What is an Important Bird Area?

The Important Bird Area program is an international effort to identify, protect, and manage sites that contain globally important habitat for birds. Initiated in Europe by BirdLife International in 1981, the program now exists in dozens of countries and nearly every U.S. state.

Achieving designation as an IBA requires supporting scientific data, particularly on bird species diversity and abundance in the proposed area. The data and documentation are reviewed by a panel of bird and habitat experts, providing a scientifically defensible way to identify priority areas and best allocate limited resources to bird conservation.


Sandhill cranes are just one of many bird species that frequent the Leopold-Pine Island IBA. Photo by Robert Rolley, 2015.

Once an IBA has been identified, voluntary conservation strategies are developed to preserve and manage the site for the species it supports. In Wisconsin, the IBA program is being implemented as part of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI), a statewide coalition working collaboratively to advance bird conservation.

History of Leopold-Pine Island IBA

The development of the Leopold-Pine Island IBA began in 2004. Recognizing the need to conserve bird species across the landscape and not just on individual properties, that year the Aldo Leopold Foundation and several partners proposed expanding a recently nominated IBA – the Pine Island State Wildlife Area – to include several adjacent public and private tracts of bird habitat.

A lack of bird data for these additional parcels necessitated the launch of bird survey to inventory breeding and migrating birds across the entire proposed IBA. The new survey data ultimately supported the proposed boundary expansion, and the area was approved as a single IBA in December 2005. The partners began meeting regularly in 2007 to discuss the bird survey results, tour the properties, and discuss future activities.

Leopold-Pine Island IBA as a Model

Today, a diverse group of stakeholders continues to voluntarily manage the IBA as a landscape while respecting the goals of each individual property owner. The bird surveys initiated in 2005 are a key piece: They not only inform our ongoing monitoring efforts, but also help us target our stewardship practices to the most critical areas – something that few other IBAs enjoy.

For these reasons, we believe the Leopold-Pine Island IBA can serve as a model for other IBAs and important resource management areas. Our bird survey protocol alone has been recognized as a possible model for identifying future IBAs. On top of this, we strive to demonstrate how best to set goals, evaluate outcomes, and work collaboratively to manage areas with multiple owners.