Pine Island Wildlife Area
Pine Island Wildlife Area is a 5,499-acre property located west of Portage on Levee Road off Highway 33. The property consists of approximately 1,200 acres of wetland habitats, 1,000 acres of grasslands, 1,500 acres of oak/savanna habitats and 1,900 acres of wooded habitat.
Pine Island Wildlife Area lies in the floodplains of the Wisconsin and Baraboo rivers and includes several islands of the Wisconsin River. The name for the wildlife area was taken from a large island in the Wisconsin River, which is referred to as "Pine Island." Prior to settling of the area and agricultural development, the island had a significant stand of white pine. The white pine was removed in the early 1900s by settlers for construction of barns.
The floodplain area between the two rivers was originally farmed by early settlers and a hand dug ditch remains in a wetland portion of the area. Between 1890 and 1900, a levee was constructed by the Corps of Engineers on the south and north side of the Wisconsin River for flood control purposes to protect the city of Portage and the farmlands along the river. The levee on the south side of the Wisconsin River runs the entire length of the wildlife area just north of Levee Road. Department of Natural Resources personnel have the responsibility to maintain the levee.
A private businessman from Portage, Ross Bennett, was influential in promoting the idea for establishing a wildlife area along the Wisconsin River west of Portage. The area was considered a wildlife area project because of its use by Canada geese. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, several hundred Canada geese consistently used the area. In 1952, the Pine Island Wildlife Area was established.
Today, the use of the property by Canada geese is not nearly as prevalent as it was in the mid-1900s. However, the wildlife area is home to many endangered species of reptiles, birds and insects, as well as many more commonly seen animals such as white-tail deer and wild turkey. It was recently established as an Important Bird Area because of its extensive grasslands.
Pine Island Wildlife Area is included in the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area .
Historically, the primary management objective for Pine Island Wildlife Area was to provide hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities. As lands were acquired, marginal farm fields were converted to the prairie to complement the existing native prairie community and provide additional wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities. As use by Canada geese declined, the waterfowl refuge and goose food plots were eliminated.
Current management objectives focus on protecting the watersheds of the Baraboo and Wisconsin rivers and managing for presettlement vegetation types. This includes maintaining existing prairies, savannas and wetlands and seeking opportunities to increase these cover types. The property is managed on a landscape scale, creating smooth transitions between cover types. Phasing out planted red pines to allow for the conversion to oak savanna in some locations is another important management objective.
The property is monitored for invasive species such as spotted knapweed and garlic mustard. Biotic control for spotted knapweed is currently occurring. Prairie and savanna areas are managed and maintained through prescribed burning, mowing and herbicide use to limit brush encroachment and encourage vigorous grassland. Wetlands are managed through limited disturbance to prevent the spread of reed canary grass. Woodlands are managed in a manner that limits the spread of oak wilt and encourages regeneration of floodplain forests. Small fields along the Baraboo River will be converted back to floodplain forest in the coming years.
Please note that camping is NOT allowed on the property. This includes the islands and sandbars of the Wisconsin River.
The Pine Island Wildlife Area offers many recreational opportunities:
- Cross country skiing (no designated trail);
- Dog training and trialing
- Hiking (no designated trail);
- Hunting (especially noted for geese, ducks, turkeys [Zone 1], squirrels, pheasant [2 p.m. closure rules apply], mourning doves on 16 acres of sunflowers, deer and furbearers;
- Wild edibles/gathering; and
- Wildlife viewing.
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If you are interested in exploring this property further, you can access an interactive map.
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