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Management of Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area

To most people, the name Horicon Marsh is synonymous with Canada geese. Although the marsh is renowned for and abundant with these birds, it was neither originally established for geese nor was the population always this plentiful.

During the 1800s, ducks were very abundant on the marsh, but the Canada goose was rather uncommon. At Horicon Marsh, the state and federal management units were established as waterfowl nesting and migratory resting areas, during the 1920s and 1940s respectively. The state end of the marsh was restored at the urging of duck hunters while the National Wildlife Refuge was created as a nesting area for the redhead duck. Today, Horicon is still among the largest nesting area for this bird in the eastern United States. Every year, about 2,000 to 3,000 redheads use Horicon. Mallard and blue-winged teal are the most abundant nesting waterfowl, and during the spring and fall migration most all of the ducks common to Wisconsin can be sighted here.

Horicon was not managed for Canada geese until the late 1940s and early 1950s. With the growth in the total population of geese and the attractiveness of the Horicon area, these birds have been coming here in the numbers we now see for only the past 25 years or so. It was the restoration of the marsh in combination with the intensive agriculture in the surrounding area that lured the geese to east-central Wisconsin.

The reason for emphasizing waterfowl in the establishment and management of the marsh is that these birds are carefully regulated by state and federal laws because of the hunting season. In addition, most of our state and federal wildlife properties were purchased and developed with funds contributed by hunters. This money is collected through hunting license fees, state and federal duck stamps, and excise taxes on firearms and ammunition.

To manage these properties, wildlife managers provide and enhance habitat for waterfowl and other game species. These projects aim at developing nesting cover, controlling water levels to encourage natural food plants in wetlands, and controlling competition from exotic species, such as carp and purple loosestrife, that affect the habitat quality and compete with native species. Special projects are also conducted to help in the recovery of threatened and endangered species.

The net benefit of this kind of management program is that the very habitat that is targeted for game species, like ducks and geese, is also available for all other non-game species that use wetlands and uplands. The following should serve as an example.

In Wisconsin, we find about 25 kinds of ducks and four species of geese that may visit this state. Of these, all but the sea ducks — oldsquaws and scoters — can be found on Horicon Marsh. Therefore, our waterfowl consist of no more than two dozen species of birds for which we primarily manage the marsh. Yet, over the years some 300 species of birds have been recorded on Horicon Marsh, with over half nesting here. A checklist of the birds of the marsh [PDF] is available from the state and federal headquarters.

In addition to the great variety of birds, the marsh is also home to many different kinds of mammals, fish, frogs, turtles, snakes and countless varieties of insects and plants. Therefore, Horicon Marsh should not be thought of as a Canada goose marsh, but as a wetland ecosystem that is important to all of the plants and animals to be found here.

As such, the expanding forms of management programs are working to protect the biodiversity of this marsh and address land use practices in the surrounding uplands of the local watershed, which affect the long-term health and integrity of the marsh.

So, if you come here to see the geese, keep in mind that there are many other kinds of birds and other animals to be found throughout the year. If all you saw on your visit to the marsh was the geese, there still remains a great variety of wildlife yet to be discovered. This makes for a good reason to return to the marsh at other times of the year and really discover the importance of our wetlands and wildlife areas to all wildlife.