Digging in the dirt is a good thing

GREEN CASTLE lake bed reshaping is pretty well wrapped up. Heavy equipment use during the past month has moved lots of cubic yards of silt and other soils out of the impoundment. All is part of a long range plan to improve the fishery for the public and to breathe new life into the waters of this 16 surface acre lake. You may recall last summer when the Marshall County Conservation Board announced its decision to renovate the lake. Fish surveys confirmed the presence of common carp and the severely negative impact they were having on other sport fishes. DNR fisheries crews from Solon have seen these situations before at other public water area. Their recommendation was to start over.

Starting over meant a big drawdown to the water level at the lake. It took all of last year to accomplish the task. With more than150 acre feet of water in the lake, the goal was to drain out as much as possible. More than 80 percent of the lake volume was removed by opening a gate via a draw down tube already built into the spillway structure. Once the water reached that point, approximately 9.5 feet lower than normal, additional temporary siphon pipes were installed to draw the lake water down as low as possible. MCCB staff was able to get the water down another seven to eight feet. What water did remain was a very small pool in which any remaining fish were concentrated.

All summer long the public could take unlimited numbers of fish. In addition, game fish salvage operations were conducted periodically for relocation to other public water. Finally in November of last year, DNR fisheries staff placed a selective poison, rotenone, into the water to kill all the fish. This is what had to be done in this case.

Meanwhile, due to lake water being very low, work began on shoreline improvements and placement of lots of habitat structures. A whole new series of off-shore benches, sand layers, rock piles, fish stake beds, hollow tube devices and brush piles were installed. Shoreline reshaping began to deepen the immediate areas where fishermen like to go. A fish habitat grant in the amount of $50,000 made a big dent in the cost of this work.

When the water of Green Castle does return to normal elevation, all that habitat and submerged structure will be usable by new stockings of fish. That process will begin this spring and continue into 2015. It is anticipated that it will take well into the fall months for the lake to refill. Without the common carp, desired fish species will be able to respond to new water, new structures and new food sources. Fisheries management is working.

Mike Stegmann, director of the MCCB, told this scribe that some dirt work remains but that is minor compared to what has been accomplished so far. Another aspect of the project for improvements includes placement of rip-rap, large stones, and other old concrete products salvaged from suppliers, along the water line of all new jetties and many shoreline areas. The purpose of this armoring work is to negate eroding effects of wave action to exposed soil. Rock layers places in a zone above, at, and above normal water line will help dissipate the forces of wave action. An additional fish habitat grant of $25,000 will go a long way toward completing this stage of work.

A lot of good work has been accomplished at Green Castle in regard to its waters. Additional long-range plans for a modern RV campground are in the planning stages. The future of Green Castle as a destination for outdoor recreation is huge. The public can look forward to a great place to recreate. Just remember that this process is not an “instant gratification” type of endeavor. It will take lots of time. It will take lots of money. It will be worth the wait.

Our recent spike of super cold weather is certainly thickening ice at all Midwest lakes. However, at Iowa’s Clear Lake, on Jan.18, the ice was not thick enough for Christopher Cash, 40, while he drove his pickup truck towing an ice house. His vehicle broke through the ice. Before it completely sank, he and passenger Branden Schare, also of Clear Lake, were able to get to safety. They watched the truck disappear into the inky darkness of Clear Lake. It is safe to say that ice fishing for this pair was over for the day. Clear Lake has some aerator systems in place to help keep oxygen levels high for fish. When the wind blows, wave action can elongate the open water area in the direction of the wind. When calm air returns, this water refreezes, but not to the same thickness as other area. A big zone around aerator holes in all directions can wildly different ice thicknesses. This is evidently what Cash had not anticipated. Conservation Officer Ben Bergman investigated the incident. This week was the planned extraction of the vehicle from the lake. It takes special equipment and techniques to get the job done. In real terms this means lots of costs, hopefully fully covered by automobile insurance. If not, this lesson is going to be a hard pill to swallow. Gulp!

I know that readers of this column are just dying to know this, (maybe not): The coldest ever temperature recorded in Iowa was 47 F at Elkader on Feb. 3, 1996. Des Moines has had nine times since 1878 when the temperature reached 25 F or more. Des Moines’ lowest recorded air temp was

30 F on Jan. 5, 1884. The flip side of cold is hot and the record for heat is just as impressive. The hottest air temp was at Keokuk, on July 20, 1934 with the thermometer at 118 F. Des Moines’ hottest record is 110 F at two different times; Aug. 4, 1918 and July 25, 1936.

Since 2013 is in the history books, it is also time to think of wildlife needs for 2014. Just one way of assisting with the financial requirements of natural resource work can be accomplished on your 2013 income tax return. Last year, more than 8,000 Iowa taxpayers helped with donations to the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund by making a check-off on the tax form. It is the third year in a row that funds acquired in this way have increased, a trend DNR diversity wildlife specialist hopes will continue into all future years. Those 8,000 Iowans donated almost $133,000 via their 2012 tax return forms. Another common name for this donation is “Chickadee Check-off,” a mechanism created by Iowa’s legislature in 1980. Taxpayers need to remind those who may assist in filing taxes to not forget the donation to wildlife. Goodness knows they need all the help they can get so make it generous. Thanks.

WHITETAILS UNLIMITED banquet ticket deadline is Jan. 31. The banquet will be held Feb. 8 at Marshalltown’s KC Hall. Call 751-1251 or 751-9397 as soon as possible if you are planning to attend. Funds raised can be used toward local projects that benefit deer and their habitat.

MEASURE THOSE ANTLERS on Feb. 18, a Tuesday evening function at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm. Find out the history of scoring antlers as set out by founders of the Boone and Crocket Club. This standard methodology makes for a long history of comparisons for the best of the best deer across the nation. Samples of typical and non-typical antlers will be shown during a brief introduction. How your deer antlers compare will be the result of official measuring conducted that evening. Time is 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

MCCB PHOTO CONTEST entries are due Jan. 31. Each entry will need an entry fee of $3 per photo. Funds will offset a bison chili supper on the evening of Feb. 13 when winning photos and awards will be announced. If you do not enter a photo and just want to see the pictures and enjoy good company and bison chili, buy tickets in advance for $5 per adult or $3 per child. See you there.

For your funny bone: (Do not try this at home). A tough old cowboy from south Texas counseled his grandson that if he wanted to live a long life, the secret was to sprinkle a pinch of gun powder on his oatmeal every morning. The grandson did this religiously to the age of 103 when he died. He left behind 14 children, 30 grandchildren, 45 great-grandchildren, 25 great-great grandchildren, and a 15 foot hole in the ground where the crematorium used to be. (This scribe’s friends that reload their own target ammunition will get a tear in their eye from this story).

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.