DNR board adds 655 acres to Rock County wildlife areas
MADISON The state Natural Resources Board added 655 acres of Rock County wildlife habitat Wednesday by accepting two land donations and recommending a $540,000 purchase.
About 360 acres were added to the Avon Bottoms Wildlife Area, located 16 miles southwest of Janesville
The board also accepted a donation from the Rock River Valley Chapter of Pheasants Forever of 295 acres in two parcels in the town of Center.
The 360 acres added to Avon Bottoms includes 165 acres purchased from Paul and Helen Schilling of Brodhead and 199 acres donated by the National Heritage Land Trust.
The Schilling tract fronts Beloit Newark Road and backs up to channels of the Sugar River. It will offer parking and improved public access to the wildlife area that borders it to the south and west. The tract is a mix of cropland, woodland and wetland.
The purchase is funded by State Stewardship bonds and is subject to approval by Gov. Scott Walker.
The 199-acre donation from the National Heritage Land Trust is a few miles southeast of the Schilling tract, south of Highway 81 and Carroll Road.
Previous owner Raymond Matteson placed a wetland reserve easement on the property in exchange for a payment the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service. The conservation service will seed the property to native grasses next spring when it will be transferred to the DNR and opened for public recreation, said Caleb Pourchot, a National Heritage Land Trust conservation specialist.
"This is adjacent to (a 348-acre) tract we purchased in 2008. All the properties are part of the Avon Bottoms Wildlife Area, which is an amazing natural resource, especially for birds," Pourchot said.
The property has an appraised value up to $278,000, according to the DNR.
Mike Foy, who manages DNR lands in Rock and Green counties, called the Avon Bottoms one of the most diverse properties he manages and noted it is becoming a treasured natural resource for the area.
"It's part of a corridor that runs down the lower Sugar River, which is a highly-braided stream with many channels and oxbows. It's been designated one of 100 wetland gems by the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. It offers habitat to many endangered and threatened species and is partly floodplain forest which is a declining natural community in our state," he said.
Richard Steffes, the DNR's real estate director, said that parts of the Avon Bottoms are so wild that helicopters were needed to locate some lost Boy Scouts there a few years ago.
Avon Town Chairman Michael Moore opposed the acquisitions, saying the state already owns about 25 percent of the rural township's area and doesn't provide enough aid to keep town roads repaired.
"There's eight miles of roads that border DNR land which cost more than $20,000 to maintain, yet we get $8,000 in state aid for them," Moore said.
Townships with small tax bases are challenged to keep roads maintained under state funding formulas, said William Bruins, a DNR board member.
"In approving the acquisitions, we're adding to this problem," he said.
State Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, state land acquisitions impact townships by putting more traffic onto town roads that don't receive sufficient state funding.
Formulas for DNR payments to local governments in lieu of taxes changed this year in an effort to make them fairer.
"We'll see how effective it is," Steffes said.
Pheasants Forever continues to raise money to acquire 700 acres from H&L Farms near the Schilling property to add to Avon Bottoms Natural Wildlife Area.
Town of Center
The 295 acres donated by the Rock River Valley Chapter of Pheasants Forever is two parcels.
The Costello parcel is four miles north of Footville between Dohs and Coon Island roads.
The Dooley parcel is about two miles west of Footville, bordered on the south by Spring Valley Road, on the west by Tollefson Road on the north by Dorner Road and on the east by Coon Island Road.
DNR Wildlife Specialist Brian Buenzow, who was releasing 280 pheasants on the Dooley property Wednesday, said both parcels have been part of the Evansville-Footville leased public hunting grounds and have been restored to good wildlife habitat by Pheasants Forever.
"Mary Lou Dooley donated the land to the Pheasants Forever (in 2008), and if those leased public hunting lands ever needed anything, we spent pheasant stamp money to fund it," he said.
Pheasants Forever used the Dooley property to leverage grant money to acquire the Costello parcel which like the National Heritage Land Trust property, has a wetland reserve easement on it acquired by the National Resource Conservation Service. The conservation service also had purchased the water and crop production rights, said Buenzow, who also is a Pheasants Forever member.
A small gravel parking lot will be installed at the southeast end of Dohs Road to give access to the Dooley parcel. A gravel parking lot is planned for the Costello parcel.
"The thing of beauty is property that's been through the wetland restoration program, has had hundreds of dollars spent on it to develop grassland or wetland habitat making it a turnkey wildlife property," Buenzow said.
Pheasants Forever will continue to maintain grassland areas of the parcels by planting, burning, brushing and mowing, saving the DNR the expense, Foy said.
The two parcels like others in the Evansville-Footville area provide nesting and winter cover for pheasants, waterfowl and other birds, said Doug Fendry, Pheasants Forever's regional wildlife director.