Wetlands recharged good for wildlife

The IOWA RIVER WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA contains 485 acres in a combination of upland with grass cover, upland oak hickory forests and bottomland cottonwood, maple stands. The area was acquired less than 10 years ago. It was made possible via a combination of private land acquisition and the incorporation (see today’s photo area) of a wetland mitigation area in cooperation with the Iowa DOT. This wetland complex was enhanced with subtle earth shaping to form shallow wetlands that would periodically be dry or have little water to the opposite situation of full recharge events. The mitigation area is how the DOT compensated for other wetland impact as the result of Highway 30 bypass work in Marshall and Tama counties. Under the guidelines the DOT must follow, if some loss of wetlands in highway corridors cannot be avoided, a compensation of 1.5 acres of new wetlands offsets each 1 acre lost elsewhere.

The long term result is a wildlife area, in this case a floodplain wetland. It complements woodland and grassland habitats immediately to the west. This scribe has an extensive knowledge of the area garnered from many long hikes and bow hunting excursions into the site even before the area became public. The rich variety of habitats and wildlife is a treat to see each and every time I make a return foray into this natural environment. For pure fun and the exercise it provides, a long hike in this Marshall County Conservation Board area is time well spent.

For the newcomer who wants to learn more about the area, secure a brochure and map from the MCCB office located at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm. Then set out to explore the area bit by bit. A word of advice: to do justice to the site and yourself, don’t try to do it all in one day. You’ll probably run out of steam too quick. So take it all in one hiking session at a time until one has finally covered the entire 485 acres to see what it offers. It will not disappoint. But it will test your navigation skills in the deep bottomland forest to maintain direction. Long hiking trips into this large complex during every season of the year will allow one to grasp the enormity of the land, and to see its moods when summer heat or winter snows are the theme of the day.

Summer mode is now in full effect at the Iowa River Wildlife Management Area. Expect hot weather, a few bugs, lots of green leaves, water in old creek courses, tall grasses and big oak trees. If you see deer or wild turkey before they see you, count yourself lucky. Great blue herons will be scouting the ponds for fish. River otters will likely not be seen but they do frequent the area. Coyotes call this area home too along with many other furbearing animals. The amount of wildlife eyes observing each human hiker is way more than what the human is able to verify. Just knowing that they are there is a good thing.

The IOWA RIVER crested at Marshalltown on June 21 at 18.88 feet, a tad shy of the official 19.0 flood stage. But even at this level, extensive floodplain impacts are easily seen along Highway 14 north or North Center Street. Since abundant rains in all the watershed counties to the north of Marshall experienced heavy rains lately, the water has to go somewhere. A river is doing its thing to allow the runoff to slowly find its way to an outlet. Along the way numerous river cities and farm land owners will have to deal with high water effects.This is nothing new, just a case of adapting to what Mother Nature provided since we are helpless to do much about it. The Iowa River meets the Mississippi River at Wapello.

This summer the Mississippi will be running high for a very long time. Heavy rains in Minnesota are contributing enormous volumes of water to the system. The Mississippi River starts at Lake Itasca at Lake Itasca State Park in Clearwater County, Minn. The lake elevation is 1,475 feet above sea level. Between Itasca and St. Louis, Mo. there are 43 dams moderating its flow, or should this scribe say trying to moderate the flow. Those dams are one of man’s influence on the river, reshaping the geography and influencing its ecosystems, some good and some not so good.

WATER RECREATION is a summer time tradition. Since canoeing or tubing on any river may be too risky right now, SAND LAKE is a tame and inviting alternative. To this end, the MCCB is offering the opening or registration for a program titled “Paddle S’More.” People wanting to learn about canoeing or kayaking can sign up for the Tuesday, July 8 program beginning at 7 p.m. at Sand Lake. There are 23 acres of public water to ply with your favorite watercraft. Bring your own canoe, kayak or make arrangements with Port’s Canoe Livery by calling 641-488-2929. Following the paddle time on the water, a shore lunch of s’mores and other Dutch oven treats will be served. Pre-registration is required by July 1 by calling the Conservation Board office at 752-5490.

Since the Fourth of July long weekend is coming faster than a rabbit being chased by a fox, it is time to keep alert for other water recreationists on rivers or public water bodies. Operation DRY WATER begins this weekend with DNR officers cooperating with federal and local law enforcement to check for boating while under the influence of alcohol. This emphasis is one way to hold down boat accidents and incidents where impaired boat operation can take human life. It seems inevitable that year after year someone drowns due to poor judgment along the way. That poor or careless judgment is not what was intended, but in too many cases that was the outcome authorities had to deal with.

Operation Dry Water will seek to inform the public with increased water patrols, checkpoints and breath testing when appropriate. During 2013, the top areas for boating while intoxicated list includes Saylorville, Coralville, the Mississippi River, Okoboji and the Missouri River. In 2013, Iowa DNR officers and other partners contacted more than 426 vessels containing 1,613 boaters. Ninety citations or warnings were issued just during the three day DRY WATER time frame.

To keep safe on the water, do not operate the craft if alcohol has been consumed. Take a safe boating course. Always wear a life jacket. Have a throwable floatation device in the boat. Know the boating laws. Have patience and be courteous on the ramp and the water. Watch the weather forecast before heading into open water. Watch for other swimmers, boaters, skiers or floating debris. Have a fully charged fire extinguisher on board. Horns, lights and whistle should work. Obey no wake zones or other buoys as these are road signs of the water.

Be safe on the water. Be alive tomorrow because you and your friends applied the above common sense rules. Thanks.

Approximately 80 percent of the public in general that does not hunt for wild game supports the legal and ethical taking of those animals during regulated seasons. Hunters, trappers and fisher folks know how conservation programs pay the way for many wildlife populations to thrive. Non-hunters may not know the statistics of hunter dollars in each state being the backbone of diligent care by wildlife professionals. What the non-hunting public may remember are stories of the past, stories of dad or grandpa, an uncle or other close friends, that used fall hunting seasons as a time to add meat to the freezer for family sustenance. Family traditions and family histories pass down the stories of ducks, geese, deer or other wildlife adventures. Everyone learns something from those old hunting shack stories. Everyone in the family recalls the great times and how the hunt helped shape young men and women for the realities of life. So whether participated in or not, those tales of yesteryear are fondly recalled as a very special time in the life of their kin. The knowledge of past conservation successes linger on into new generations of people.

It is this scribe’s hope and intent to continue to foster the truths about conservation. Hunting is conservation. So are lots of other habitat and environmental good faith efforts at the practical, affordable and scientifically valid endeavors that protect the land, its waters and its air. But do remember it is primarily the hunter who pays the bills for conservation boots-on-the-ground efforts. And to this end future conservation programs and services will need a larger pool of people from many walks of life, all in addition to the traditional hunter, trapper or fisherman. Public support for conservation must be maintained. You can make a difference. Join any of the reputable conservation organizations that stress habitat protection for any and all wildlife species. At the keystone corner of those organizations will be hunters and hunter support right along with all the associated actions and programs in their tool kits.

“I’m glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” -Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

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.