Faville Grove: A Haven for Wildlife
The area north of Lake Mills, Wisconsin known as Faville Grove has long been a haven for wildlife. A diverse, glaciated landscape of high, rolling moraines interspersed with wetlands, and a broad floodplain along the Crawfish River provide ideal habitat for many species. Before European settlement, the Woodland Indians who inhabited the area found abundant game. About 900 A.D. the Mississippian city of Cahokia in what is now southern Illinois established a fortified outpost, now known as Aztalan, just a few miles downstream from Faville Grove along the Crawfish River. One of the principal motivations for the establishment of Aztalan may have been to trade with the Woodland Indians for dried meat—primarily venison, fish, and game birds—that was transported more than 350 miles by dugout canoe to provide for the expanding population at Cahokia.
By the early part of the 20th century, game populations had been severely depleted by intensive hunting and farming practices. In the fall of 1933, Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management in the United States and the University of Wisconsin’s first professor of game management, was asked to advise a group of farmers at Faville Grove on the prospects for increasing wildlife on their farms. Not only was the area ideally suited for management experiments, containing cropland, pastures, hardwood forest, tamarack swamps, river bottom, and a large tract of virgin prairie, but even more important, the farmers of the area, led by octogenarian Stoughton Faville, were enthusiastic about the idea. The project began as a simple feeding program for upland game birds, but within a few years, the farmers at Faville Grove joined with Leopold to create the Faville Grove Wildlife Experimental Area. Like a similar Leopold project in the Town of Riley, Faville Grove became an important research site and training ground for the university’s first generation of wildlife managers.
Dickcissel using ironweed for a perch on Charles Prairie, one of the many restorations that once again provide habitat for grassland birds in the footprint of the former Crawfish Prairie. (Photo Courtesy of Brad Webb)
Leopold, however, had a bigger goal in mind at Faville Grove: he intended "to make a really serious test of the idea of reconnecting people with land." By involving farmers in the process of improving land for wildlife, he sought to encourage among members of the public a deeper understanding of, appreciation for, and connection with the land upon which we all depend. This idea would form the basis of Leopold’s concept of a “land ethic,” the cultivation of which he felt was necessary to restore the place of humans in the natural world.
During the time that Leopold was working at Faville Grove, he witnessed the destruction of large areas of virgin prairie for conversion to farmland, but he did succeed in preserving one 60-acre tract—the world’s first publicly protected prairie preserve—which was purchased and in 1945 transferred to the University of Wisconsin Arboretum as the Stoughton Faville Prairie Preserve. After Leopold’s death in 1948, preservation efforts in the area continued sporadically. In the early 1960s, the Milwaukee Audubon Society purchased about 30 acres of buffer lands adjacent to Faville Prairie and later transferred the property to the UW Arboretum. In the early 1970s, The Nature Conservancy purchased a 30-acre tract nearby that contained undisturbed prairie and named it Snapper Prairie. But protection and restoration efforts began in earnest in 1998 when Madison Audubon Society accepted a donation of a conservation easement on 66 acres of private land in the area and established the Faville Grove Sanctuary.
Monarch butterfly catipillar feeding on a flowering common milkweed plant at Faville Grove Sanctuary. (Courtesy of Justin Nooker)
Madison Audubon has since expanded the sanctuary to 522 acres, has restored over 200 acres of prairie and wetlands, is restoring over 40 acres of savanna, and is working with the UW Arboretum, The Nature Conservancy and private landowners to manage over 800 acres as wildlife habitat. The goals for the sanctuary include expanding the protected area to provide habitat for area sensitive grassland birds and other wildlife and to reconnect pieces of the landscape to provide visitors an idea of the original beauty of this part of the state. But perhaps most important, Madison Audubon seeks to continue Leopold’s efforts to reconnect people with land by involving volunteers, young and old, in the process of bringing this beautiful land back to life.