Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

Village of Sauk City

Community Achievements

Habitat Creation, Protection, and Monitoring

A. Comply with Wisconsin's "Smart Growth" law for land use planning and resource management. This criterion is an option only for applications submitted before July 1, 2017.

The Sauk Prairie Comprehensive Plan includes references to natural resources, eagles, and wildlife. The Plan emphasizes the importance of the area’s natural values to the community’s identity, economic vitality, and quality of life. Eagles are given special attention in the Plan, as are the Wisconsin River and adjacent natural areas. Plans to preserve the natural aspects of the community go hand in glove with preserving bird habitat. No changes to the Comprehensive Plan have been made during the past year.

B. Describe organized bird monitoring or data obtained from researchers or volunteers in the local park system. (Exclusions: Programs that receive credit under 4C: Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, Swift Night Out)

Two well-used night-time roost sites for bald eagles exist directly across the river from the villages. Since the winter of 1988-89, Ferry Bluff Eagle Council volunteers have conducted roost counts from December through February. Every other Sunday afternoon, volunteers are stationed at ten roost sites the group monitors in the area, from Sauk Prairie southwest to Lone Rock and northwest to Leland. This includes the Sugarloaf and Blackhawk roosts within sight of the villages.

Over the years, the pattern has been for eagles to use the Lone Rock roost heavily early in the winter and the town roosts heavily late in the winter, with occasional counts of over 100 eagles in the Sugarloaf Roost. The maximum counted during the winter of 2016-17 was 148, a low count compared to our high of over 40, but not unusual.

Results of roost counts are disseminated to roost counters, DNR biologists, and a variety of interested people via email after each count. Results of each count are also published in both local weekly papers.

Information gleaned from these counts, coupled with information obtained from a radio tracking study conducted by Ferry Bluff Eagle Council and some 40 volunteers from 2000-2004, have been instrumental in guiding land use planning and development, developing conservation easements for both town roosts, and understanding how eagles use the local landscape.

The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council also repeated the eagle tourism survey they conducted during winters of 1994 and 2004. This survey found that the estimated tourism income to the Sauk Prairie area was $694,105 during the eagle season of 2014-2015. This is a 46% decrease from the 1994 survey and a 38% decrease from the 2004 survey in inflation adjusted dollars. Reasons for this decrease are three fold: 1) people seem to be spending less, 2) the average distance travelled to get to Sauk Prairie is reduced and 3) few visitors are coming from larger metro areas. Despite this decrease, eagles watchers surveyed remain enthusiastic about the experience with 89% of respondents saying they came to Sauk Prairie specifically for eagle watching and 100% saying they would recommend it to others. Although the survey does not directly improve habitat, the economic value of eagles provides incentive for habitat preservation.

C. Provide evidence (e.g., official designation of natural areas, easements, etc.) that existing bird habitat within community limits has legal protection. (Exclusions: Leash laws; prohibitions against disturbing nests and wildlife; areas consisting primarily of mowed grass)

Lower Wisconsin Riverway

Much of the land directly across the river from the two towns and parts of river frontage within the villages, particularly Derleth Park, are part of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. Maps we originally attached show that the Department of Natural Resources owns river frontage property across from Prairie du Sac and across from the southern half of Sauk City. The mission of the Riverway is “to protect and preserve the scenic beauty and natural values of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway through administration of a permit program to control land use and development This survey found that the estimated tourism income to the Sauk Prairie area was $694,105 during the eagle season of 2014-2015. This nearly a 50% decrease from the 2004 and 1994 surveys in inflation adjusted dollars. Reasons for this decrease are three fold: 1) people seem to be spending less, 2) the average distance travelled to get to Sauk Prairie is reduced and 3) few visitors are coming from larger metro areas. Despite this decrease, eagles watchers surveyed remain enthusiastic about the experience with 89% of respondents saying they came to Sauk Prairie specifically for eagle watching and 100% saying they would recommend it to others. Riverway statutes and administrative rules support this mission, with the result of preserving and enhancing bird habitat.

The undeveloped shoreline along the stretch of river that flows through town is especially important for wintering eagles, since they spend approximately 90% of their days in the area perched in trees near the river. The Blackhawk and Sugarloaf eagle roosts also fall within the Riverway boundary.

One of the main natural areas within village properties is the August Derleth Park area that lies along the river and straddles the boundary between the villages. Much of the river frontage in this natural area is part of the Riverway. Derleth Park is the focus of both past and future bird habitat restoration work, mostly done by volunteer organizations with permission from the villages.

Conservation Easements

During the 1990s, Ferry Bluff Eagle Council brokered two conservation easements that protect the Sugarloaf and Blackhawk roosts. One easement prevents development of a 40-acre property that includes Blackhawk Roost and surrounding agricultural fields. The other easement places restrictions on landscaping, building placement, and other aspects of a development that is adjacent to the Sugarloaf Roost. In that case, Ferry Bluff Eagle Council worked with the developer of a 40-acre piece adjacent to the roost to go from the planned 72 homes to 12 homes, sell 10 acres of river frontage to the DNR, and sell agreed-upon deed restrictions to Ferry Bluff Eagle Council for $36,000.

Floodplain Zoning

Maps attached to our original application, which have not changed, show areas within the villages that are protected from development by floodplain zoning. Trails and picnic shelters are allowed in these areas, but no buildings will be constructed. Maps also show areas that are designated as conservation lands. Derleth Park and VFW Park by the river are the largest of these sites. All of these areas will remain green space and serve as excellent habitat for migrating and breeding birds.

F. Show that your community offers the public information on how they can control and remove invasive species in order to improve or maintain bird habitat.

A newly invasive tree has become prevalent in Derleth Park near the river and near the new hospital, the princess tree. Two individuals have led the effort to eradicate princess trees from these public areas. The group Sauk Prairie River PAL also continues to do river clean-ups that include invasive plants.

G. Document that there is a segment of the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail or a designated Important Bird Area within or adjacent to your community.

The eastern boundary of both villages abuts the Lower Wisconsin River Important Bird Area, which encompasses most of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. Though IBA designation does not ascribe legal protection or requirements, it does indicate the importance of this area to birds and means that DNR and other state-level conservationists are involved in monitoring and managing the area. Conservation planning for this IBA remains in progress.

Community Forest Management

F. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

In 2007/2008, the Village of Sauk City contracted Bluestem Forestry Consulting Inc. to complete a street and park tree inventory and develop an urban forestry management plan. The inventory results and a summary of recommendations were attached with our original application and have not changed. The plan is being followed.

Limiting or Removing Threats to Birds

A. Describe your community’s educational program to control free-roaming cats and/or the manner in which you actively publicize the Cats Indoors! initiative.

The Sauk Prairie Bird Club is distributing 200 Cats Indoors! brochures throughout public contact venues in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac.

Public Education

C. Demonstrate that your community is represented in at least one citizen science bird monitoring program (e.g., the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, Swift Night Out).

Christmas Bird Count

Sauk City has held a Christmas Bird Count for approximately 60 years and was one of the first sites in the state to be included in the nation-wide count. The report for the 1950 Christmas Bird Count describes areas west and north of Sauk City being covered by two observers listing 20 species and 367 individuals. Now, many bird enthusiasts from the villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac and surrounding areas participate in the Sauk City CBC covering thirteen routes.

D. Describe your community-sponsored annual bird festival. This must be a multi-day event or a truly exceptional one-day event.

Bald Eagle Watching Days is an annual celebration of wintering bald eagles in the Sauk Prairie Area. Held mid-January, Eagle Days 2017 marked our 30th anniversary. Each year, Ferry Bluff Eagle Council sponsors a wildlife educator or raptor show at a local elementary school on Friday afternoon of the event weekend, and a Friday evening program is offered that is attended by families and other local residents.

The Saturday event consists of programs every hour on topics including the recovery of the Bald Eagle in Wisconsin, habitat protection, raptor show, and a popular children’s show by David Stokes with snakes, mice, frogs and pelts. The day’s activities take place throughout the community. The River Arts Center is home base for the event, with the shows, kids’ activities, guided bus tours, local environmental nonprofits, and a pancake breakfast. Eagle watching bus tours visit three eagle watching hot spots and are guided by Ferry Bluff Eagle Council volunteers and DNR ornithologist Pat Manthey. Eagle Overlook on the Wisconsin River is staffed by local volunteers & Department of Natural Resources – Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation employees, who assist eagle watchers with using spotting scopes & spotting eagles, while sharing the story, biology & habitat needs of bald eagles.

The event is co-hosted by the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, WI DNR Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Tripp Memorial Museum. A large crowd annually watches the release of rehabilitated eagles by Raptor Education Group, Inc.

Every Saturday in January and February, Ferry Bluff Eagle Council offers guided eagle watching bus tours, leaving at 10:00 a.m. from the Cedarberry Inn. Attendees drive as much as four hours to participate in the tours and spend 60-90 minutes spotting eagles and hearing a great deal of information. Over the eight or so years the Saturday tours have run, attendance has increased, reaching 211 people during the winter of 2017.

E. Illustrate a program that involves schools, garden clubs, or other organizations in bird conservation activities.

The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council is a local, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and maintaining the habitat of bald eagles in the Sauk Prairie area. It is comprised of a Board of Directors and four committees -- Education, Habitat & Research, Membership and Eagle Days. Along with the annual winter celebration of bald eagles, FBEC works with landowners to protect the winter habitat of bald eagles, conducts bi-weekly roost counts described above, provides educational materials for schools and community centers and sponsors a wildlife educator at the elementary school as part of Eagle Watching Days. FBEC has won the Governor’s Tourism award, Audubon’s Joseph Hickey award, and was recognized in 2012 by the villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac for 25 years of Bald Eagle Watching Days. During the winter and spring of 2017, their education programs reached 5,500 people.

Advanced Biology students at Sauk Prairie High School are required to do 30 hours of environment-related community service during the course of a school year. Many of these students devote those hours to assisting local conservation efforts, much of which involves habitat restoration work and outreach activities that benefit area wildlife.

The Sauk Prairie River Project Association Limited focuses on connecting the community with the Wisconsin River and stewarding the river and associated natural areas. Though birds are not the organization’s primary focus, activities they engage people in benefit bird habitat. Sauk Prairie River PAL also maintains an educational kiosk at Derleth Park and has provided the use of two panels of the kiosk to Bird City information.

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD)

B. Document and describe your event that incorporates the annual IMBD theme in some fashion. If the event has not yet occurred, please share your detailed plans. For information on the current year’s theme and event materials, please visit the International Migratory Bird Day website. To see what other Bird City communities have done in the past, please view some other profiles on our website.

In 2015, Sauk Prairie abandoned the “event” idea and decided to invest money raised by our 2014 Sauk Prairie Birdathon in bird-related educational materials at the Sauk City and Prairie du Sac public libraries. $250 were given to each library and to the International Migratory Bird Day catalog/website. They each put bird-related books and resources on display for the month of May.

For 2017, the Bird City committee purchased Educator’s Kits from the IMBD catalog for each library, to encourage year-round bird watching and learning. Each kit contains 6 pairs of binoculars and various bird guides (a $500 value). We will help the libraries publicize their availability.

This survey found that the estimated tourism income to the Sauk Prairie area was $694,105 during the eagle season of 2014-2015. This nearly a 50% decrease from the 2004 and 1994 surveys in inflation adjusted dollars. Reasons for this decrease are three fold: 1) people seem to be spending less, 2) the average distance travelled to get to Sauk Prairie is reduced and 3) few visitors are coming from larger metro areas. Despite this decrease, eagles watchers surveyed remain enthusiastic about the experience with 89% of respondents saying they came to Sauk Prairie specifically for eagle watching and 100% saying they would recommend it to others.

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Community Details

Joined Bird City: 2012

Population: 3,410

Incorporated: 1854

Area: 1.72 mi2

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