Natural history display coming soon

The TAMA COUNTY SOIL & WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT knows how to reward, inspire and recognize area farmers, land owners, tenants and urban dwellers for good conservation practices on the land. Soil and water conservation measures do pay off. The recognition given to a broad range of folks this past Wednesday evening helped demonstrate the benefits of going the extra mile, doing the right thing and reaping the benefits of long-term conservation applications on the land.

The list is long but includes minimum tillage crop rotation, buffer strips, windbreaks, forestry practices for thinning, harvest and replantings and more. Examples of each award winner were illustrated with photos and short explanations of how these successes are models to be duplicated anywhere there is a need. Due to Iowa’s rich farm land as one of our primary natural resources, soil deserves the utmost care to assure its long-term viability. Of concern to everyone is how to utilize soil for food production while at the same time minimizing loss of soil from storm runoff. It can be a challenge at times, especially if Mother Nature dumps too much rain on us in too short a time. But the reality is that good soil conservation practices can mitigate those situations. It takes time, money and dedication to do the right thing in spite of all the adversities.

“Conservation is people, not programs. Conservation works, but it is hard work. Conservation is a noble endeavor that goes to the heart of the human enterprise.” said Craig Cox, former executive Vice President of the Soil & Water Conservation Service.

The sneak peak this scribe alluded to is a new professional diorama at Otter Creek Lake Park. Envisioned many years ago as an educational component for the facility, the display space has been transformed into a woodland scene. What is extra special about the scene is its delivery of the effect of you, the viewer, being immersed in a woodland with all of its native creatures and plants typical of the Iowa River ecosystem. Special lighting begins with daylight illumination, then slowly fades to sunset and night time. After a few moments, night time relinquishes to dawn and another new day. That is pretty cool to see the effects that special lighting can create. But on top of that, natural sounds of the animals day or night are added through overhead speakers.

Bob Etzel, Director of the Tama County Conservation Board, told the sneak peek observers of the background work that went into the display. Of special note were the artisans that built the display, created artificial plant life and added typical animals of the forest ecosystem. Diorama painted backgrounds blend smoothly into the feeling of depth as if one were standing in a real setting and seeing the real forest. The painter who created this masterpiece, and I’d call it a masterpiece, is noted for previous works for the Chicago Museum of Natural History. It is top notch stuff.

This scribe urges you to take a peek yourself someday soon, when an official open house and dedication ceremony will take place at Otter Creek Lake Park. That date and time are yet to be set. Stay tuned.

THANKSGIVING is fast approaching next week. For some the Thursday through Sunday time frame will be a long weekend for travel and or family gathering around a table set with scrumptious foods. And I predict that more than one Thanksgiving turkey will be a wild harvested bird by a local outdoorsman. Whether a wild turkey or a bird purchased at the supermarket, turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving.

There are about 7 million wild turkeys thriving throughout North America today. That is up from a population estimated to be only 1.5 million 40 years ago. The National Wild Turkey Federation was formed four decades ago to help stem the slide of habitat losses and reintroduce wild turkey stock to places where they had traditionally been. During the last 40 years, the NWTF has raised over $412 million for conservation and the preservation of our hunting heritage. These investments have helped improve more than 17 million acres of land for wildlife habitat and expose over 100,000 new people to the outdoors.

In 1973, wild turkey hunting seasons existed in 22 states. Today seasons exist in 49 states, Canada and Mexico. Hunters that pursue this wild game bird now number over 3 million. The history of the wild turkey is one of a world traveler. Taken from Mexico in the early 1500s by European explorers back to Europe, they were successfully domesticated. Colonists brought breeding birds back to America when settlements were established along the Atlantic coast. Native wild turkeys were already in America. Domesticated stock tended to be differentiated by the white tips to its tail feathers. Native wild birds have chestnut-brown colored tail tips.

National Wild Turkey Federation staff in cooperation with the Iowa DNR during the 1980s allowed for trapping of wild birds near the Amana Colonies. Those birds were part of a stocking program into the Iowa River valley of Marshall County. One release site was Grammer Grove. The other site was the Twedt Timber north of Le Grand. Both releases allowed these birds to re-establish themselves into the forests along the river. It has been a successful program. The wild turkey is assured to be a fixture of the woodland landscape for a long time to come. With proper conservation management and appropriate seasons, it will happen.

Here is a RUMOR and funny story of what did not happen. According the the NWTF, one southeastern state DNR was accused of stocking rattlesnakes by inserting them into balloons and dropping them from airplanes. I’m not making this up folks. It is from a NWTF rumor list published in 2007. The idea was that the balloon would make for a soft landing for the snake. The problem is this: How does one put a rattlesnake into a balloon in the first place, and then have nerve enough to blow up the balloon with air? According the late-night bar room “biologists” that thought up this crazy idea, stocking rattlesnakes was part of an effort to control over populations of turkeys. Folks, do you see what too much beer will do to idle minds. If you try it and succeed, let me know. In the meantime I’ll look for your name in the obituary listing of people who won the Darwin Award for the year. The Darwin Awards are given to people that do really dumb things and die, thus taking themselves out of the gene pool. Preventing the spread of dumbness is a noble goal.

GREEN CASTLE FISH are now all dead. Last Tuesday was their appointed date with destiny. Lots of common carp died that day from the planned placement of rotenone into the water. DNR Fisheries Biologist Paul Sleeper arrived with all his equipment. A boat was loaded with tubs and siphon tubes. A small electric trolling motor allowed him to navigate back and forth across a much reduced water area for dispersal of the quick acting fish toxicant. Within one hour, the first fishes to die began to float to the surface. Due to the cold water temperature however, many of the fish including large grass carp surfaced only long enough to fully expire. Then they sank to the bottom, food for turtles and other microbes.

The planned fish kill is part of the total lake renovation program. Common carp were inadvertently introduced. They eventually dominated the fishery and drastically upset the proper balance of predator and prey fish. To the detriment of all the fish, the best thing to do was start over. Good biological data from netting and electro-shocking confirmed the out of balance situation for fish in the lake. This is all too typical of for small lake environments. In the long run, it is the best management strategy.

The drought years of 2012 and 2013 allowed the lake bed to dry after siphons substantially lowered the lake level. Water levels were lowered at least 15 feet and yet 7 feet of water still remained in the much reduced pool of remaining water. When full capacity is reached again in a year or two, Green Castle’s maximum water depth will be at 22 feet in the deepest regions. The surface are of the lake is 16 acres and holds approximately 150 acre feet of water.

Already many truckloads of silt from past decades of watershed erosion have been removed and relocated. Five new jetties have been formed. The upper lakebed portions now have new contours. Rock armoring of the new shoreline is planned for this winter’s installation. Considerable habitat structures are now in place near the west lakeshore picnic areas frequented by park users. When the lake water eventually returns, these structures will be hidden from the views of people, but not the fish. New stockings of bluegill and bass are slated for later in 2014. More fish will be added in 2015 from DNR fisheries facilities. The important thing to note is that the common carp is gone. There are no feeder streams in the watershed that hold carp. So the idea for the long term is to keep this invader species out of Green Castle’s water.

My story last week relating the loss of human life to the ARMISTICE DAY BLIZZARD brought many comments from those old enough to remember 1940. One gentlemen wrote in a letter to this scribe of his memories of the storm. He lived on a farm east of Eldora at the time. When he left the house that day at noon and looked at the clouds, he knew trouble was coming. His first concern was for the livestock and got them herded into barns or close to buildings for protection and feeding. Then he noted the chickens, all going to roost early because the dark sky made them think night was coming. Getting the chickens caught and placed into the chicken house was his priority, a task easier said than done. But Bob Prosser and his wife Mary did get the chickens caught. Horrendous winds mixed snow and topsoil into blackened snow drifts. Bob recalls that the snow was so deep it did not melt until spring. Thanks Bob for this little piece of history remembered.

Have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING next week. Eat lots of turkey meat. Indulge.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.