Division of Conservation Planning
Midwest Region

Fairfield Marsh Conservation Partnership Environmental AssessmentCover of Fairfield Marsh Conservation Partnership EA

Environmental Assessment Completed
Project Background
Need for Effort

Environmental Assessment Completed

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) has released the final Environmental Assessment for the Fairfield Marsh Conservation Partnership. Copies were mailed to everyone who requested to be on the Service's mailing list for the project, and an electronic version of the document is also available through this Web site.

The environmental assessment (EA) identified Alternative E as the preferred alternative, and the Regional Director agreed with that selection when he signed the Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI.

Under Alternative E, the Service will encourage a cooperative effort among landowners, local communities and governments to protect and restore the watershed of the lower Baraboo River. A national wildlife refuge will not be one of the tools used to accomplish this goal. The restoration and management of fish and wildlife habitat within the former Fairfield Marsh remains a Service priority, however private landowners will bear a greater responsibility for accomplishing conservation goals.

Copies of the final environmental assessment are available through this Web page or by calling the Service at 612/713-5429. Deaf/hard of hearing individuals may reach us through the Federal Information Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339.

Project Background

In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed establishing a national wildlife refuge in south central Wisconsin. A draft environmental assessment for the proposed Aldo Leopold National Wildlife Refuge was released in October 1999 evaluating three alternatives for establishing a refuge as well as a "no action" alternative.

A group that included local landowners, elected officials, and representatives of conservation organizations proposed another alternative -- a community-based conservation effort in the historic Fairfield Marsh area -- and asked the Service to postpone the decision on the proposed refuge pending study of their idea. The Service agreed, and in September 2000 the group known as Farming And Conservation Together (FACT) issued a report on their concept.

The Service revised the draft environmental assessment to include a new alternative that described the agency's possible contributions toward a community-based conservation effort and selected it as the preferred alternative. The proposal was renamed the Fairfield Marsh Conservation Partnership to reflect the new preferred alternative.

The revised draft environmental assessment was released in February 2001. The document evaluated three proposals for establishing a national wildlife refuge, one "no action" alternative, and the community-based conservation proposal (Alternative E in the revised environmental assessment). Alternative E does not include the landowner option to sell land for a national wildlife refuge, although it does include a recommendation by FACT for retaining the landowner option to sell land for federal waterfowl production areas. Alternative E proposes partially funding a coordinator position for 1 year and encourages the county and township boards to protect the rural character of the lower Baraboo River watershed through local zoning.

Need for Conservation Effort

The need for wildlife habitat conservation solutions is evidenced by the fact that Wisconsin has lost 99 percent of its original, pre-settlement prairies and oak savannas, resulting in severely declining populations of grassland songbirds such as the bobolink, eastern meadowlark, and the northern harrier (marsh hawk).

The State has also lost nearly 50 percent of its original wetlands from housing developments, highway construction, agricultural drainage, and groundwater reductions. Sauk County alone has lost about 95 percent of its pre-settlement wetlands.

There is a greater understanding today of the valuable role that wetlands play in ecology by providing a host of direct benefits to humans. These benefits include acting as natural filters for pollution and reducing the extent of flooding. If restored, the wet meadow and open water habitat of the Fairfield Marsh would provide feeding and nesting habitat for waterfowl such as mallard, blue-winged teal, and gadwall. Wading birds such as great blue herons and egrets would gain sufficient areas to rest and feed. Migratory birds dependent on grasslands would also benefit from restored upland habitats. The majority of land in this country is privately-owned. Therefore, conservation of wildlife resources on private lands is critical.

The Service will be only one partner in any future conservation effort in the Fairfield Marsh region. It will take the long-term commitment of local organizations, the FACT committee, elected officials, all governments, and primarily the landowners themselves to make the concept of community-based habitat protection and restoration a reality.

Last updated: January 13, 2011
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