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Military Ridge Prairie IBA. Photo credit Eric Preston.

The Driftless Region

The Driftless Area is a region in Minnesota, Wisconsin, northwestern Illinois, and northeastern Iowa of the American Midwest that was never glaciated. The rugged terrain is due both to the lack of glacial deposits, or drift, and to the incision of the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries into bedrock. In Wisconsin, the Driftless Area has two distinct sub-regions the highly dissected ridge and valley landscape of the north, and the broad open landscape of the south. The Southern Driftless Grasslands partnership works primarily in this southern part of the Driftless Area. Ecologists refer to this as the Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape.

SDG service area map.

Southwestern Wisconsin – specifically, the Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape –has been recognized for more than 30 years as one of the best landscape-scale grassland ecosystem conservation opportunities in the Upper Midwest. The area stands out for its distinct combination of resources - unplowed prairie remnants, concentrations of rare grassland plants and animals, and spring-fed streams - all set within an expansive rural farming region of open fields, pastures, croplands, grassland fields enrolled in conservation programs, oak savannas, and small communities. Our corner of Wisconsin is the last and best stronghold for grassland birds in Wisconsin. Populations of grassland birds are in serious decline across their ranges, a fact most startlingly brought home by the recent 3 Billion Birds report, which showed that grassland birds have suffered an overall 53% population loss since 1970. One species, the Eastern Meadowlark, has declined overall by 75% nationwide. Wisconsin has experienced similar declines. The long-term sustainability of rare grassland birds including Upland Sandpiper, Henslow’s Sparrow, and Bobolink depends upon the conservation of large, open grassland landscapes.

The Southern Driftless Grasslands landscape is recognized for its importance to grassland birds in many ways, including the inclusion of two grassland Important Bird Areas (IBA) within its boundary. 

Driftless grassland bird conservation areas map.

An Important Bird Area (IBA) recognizes that a landscape provides essential habitat to one or more species of breeding or non-breeding birds. The IBA program was initiated in Europe in the mid-1980’s by BirdLife International. To date, some 11,000 IBAs have been identified in 200 countries. Currently, about 47 USA states have IBA programs, with some 2,400 sites identified. In Wisconsin there are 88 key sites that are critical to the protection of bird populations in our state.

IBAs support grassland bird species that are:

  • species of conservation concern (e.g., endangered or threatened species)

  • species that are vulnerable because they are not widely distributed

  • species that are vulnerable because their populations are concentrated in one general habitat type

  • species that are vulnerable because they congregate together for breeding, feeding, or migration

While this recognition assists managers in decision making and large scale conservation planning, the recognition of a site as an IBA does not confer any legal status or regulatory requirements whatsoever. The IBA Program takes a cooperative approach and relies on voluntary, grassroots participation to meet its goals. For landowners and managers, it can serve as an umbrella for guiding actions and management planning.  


In the Southern Driftless Grasslands geography are the Pecatonica River Prairie IBA and the Military Ridge York Prairie IBA. These two areas are focus areas of partner efforts to expand habitat suitable for grassland birds in the region. 

In The News

Interested in cost-share for habitat management on your land? Costs and benefits of operating a pasture-grazed dairy? And, tips for managing for healthy cattle and Bobolinks? Watch these short videos to learn more!

March 2024
PBS Wisconsin Garden Expo Presentation

Interested in Citizen Science? Learn about two local projects to get involved in. If you are passionate about oak trees and the diversity of our native prairies, this is for you.

Cornell University Land Trust
Bird Conservation Initiative Small Grant Program


SDG Project Manager, Cindy Becker, reflects on the outreach and communications efforts of the past years supported in part by Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative Small Grant Program

Spring 2021

Land Trust Alliance Saving Land


Partnership Power: A spotlight on federal agencies coming together with the shared goal of conservation.

June 29, 2019

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Prairie restoration efforts in southwestern Wisconsin are a bright spot for native plants, birds, and animals.


Pheasants Forever

"Teamwork makes the dream work," and that is precisely what SDG is doing in southwestern Wisconsin.

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