Notes From the Director

Picture3Notes from the Director – Mary Barrick

The Palo Alto County Conservation Board has been awarded two grants from Resource Enhancement and Protection, commonly referred to as REAP. REAP invest in projects that enhance and protect the Iowa’s natural and cultural resources. These properties convey our mission to conserve the natural resources of the county; to acquire, develop, maintain and make available public parks, preserves, and wildlife areas.

The Kettlehole Prairie is a 40 acre tract which includes a kettlehole, located in Section 2 of Great Oak Township, 2 miles southwest of Emmetsburg. This unique site was priority due to the geological feature and it is adjacent to 1,009 acres of other county and state wildlife areas, bordering the West Fork of the Des Moines River. This area will be restored to its natural habitat, creating a more extensive corridor for wildlife. The kettlehole property sits on high ground and observing the surroundings of the property are acres of prairie, a river and upland grasses. It is truly a very scenic and amazing view.

Historically, the kettlehole formed when a giant block of ice broke off as glaciers retreated. Some 12,000 years ago, the last of the glaciers left Iowa. This ‘piece’ of the glacier in Iowa was called the Des Moines lobe. This was part of a larger glacier that covered most of northern United States and Canada. During these glacial ‘advances’, the ice would push and pick up boulders, rocks, gravel and sand and transport them as the ice pushed forward.   As the glacier retreated, blocks of ice were also partially buried. After these blocks melted they left depressions  commonly called a ‘kettlehole’ for its’ rounded, steep-sided, bowl shape resemblance of a kettle pot.

A kettlehole can be wet during part of the year and dry later on, depending on how the water level rises and falls with the season and the changing water table. A kettlehole offers a diverse plant community ranging from the dry gravel prairie on the rim and slope, to the wet mesic prairie and sedge wetland at the bottom.

This property is adjacent to the Watson Heritage Area, a 375 acre tract owned by the Conservation Board and is one of the largest public timber tracts in the county. The Watson Heritage Area   includes riparian timber, floodplain grasses and upland grasses,   consisting of approximately 13 separate wetland basins, six dikes and water control structures. This corridor will provide hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing. It is hoped that by preserving this kettlehole and with a conservation management plan that we will see revival of some of the native species once common on the site. Plants that we hope will return include sedges, bulrushes, arrowhead and Prairie Cordgrass in the wetter bottom; Big Bluestem, Sideoats Gramma, Switchgrass and forbs like Goldenrod, Boneset, Golden Alexander, Purple Coneflower and Wild Rose on the slopes; and Ground Plum, Pasque Flower, Pucoon, Little Bluestem, and June Grass on the ridge. Animals like the Norther Prairie Skink, Smooth Green Snake, Short-tailed Shrew, Badger, Bobolinnk, Dickcissel, Western Meadowlark and butterflies like the Monarch, Painted Lady and Regal Fritillary should be found at the kettlehole, as they are present on the adjacent property (Watson Heritage Area). The kettlehole bottom will be good habitat for amphibians like salamanders, frogs, and snakes.

The 2nd REAP grant was for a 46 acre tract adjacent to Leners Wildlife Area, a 24 acre tract owned by the County Conservation Board, located in Section 1 of Silver Lake Township, 4 miles northeast of Ayrshire. Both properties depict the glacial ridge deposit of rock and gravel. The excessively rocky drained soil and rugged hilly soil type is unusual compared to the many flat lands of Palo Alto County. Prescribed burn is the first management priority and essential to long term maintenance. Upland nesting cover for pheasants, waterfowl, and grassland songbirds stay

productive when periodically burned, improving wildlife habitat. Creating a hibernaculum (home) along the dry, rocky and gravelly ridge will provide habitat for snakes, salamanders, and turtles. This land acquisition is a key component to the Prairie Pothole Region. The Glacial Ridge area creates a buffer for the nearby Silver Lake watershed. Driving from the east, you can see the glacial ridge going across the land. Both properties consist of the same geological features.

Wildlife resources in Palo Alto County have important recreational and aesthetic values. Pheasant, deer, turkey, and duck hunting is prevalent in the county making wildlife acres/corridors a huge asset for the county, providing habitat and recreation.

The benefits of expanding and improving outdoor recreation opportunities and preserving wildlife areas enhances the quality of life and promotes a strong and diversified economy. Outdoor recreation is a significant part of our heritage which we want to protect and pass onto future generations.

The Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (Iwill) is still a hot topic at the Iowa Legislation and I feel the need to bring this subject up again! The trust fund was created in 2010 when 63 percent of Iowa voters approved it through a statewide ballot initiative. The goal of the Natural Resources and Recreation Trust Fund was to protect and enhance water quality and natural areas in the state, including parks and trails, fish and wildlife habitat, and conserving agricultural soils. The next step is to fund the trust through the state sales tax, an action that must be taken by members of the Iowa Legislature. The Trust Fund funding mechanism will come from allocating 3/8 of one cent from sales tax revenue the next time the Iowa Legislature approves a sales tax increase.

I was at the State Capitol on March 3 to rally legislative support for Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy. The Senate File 504 bill has been in the Ways & Means Committee since the 2016 session began in January. It was an interesting day with several legislators present in support of the bill during the gathering in the rotunda area of the

Capitol. The crowd applauded loudly when Senator Johnson (R-Osceola) reminded everyone that voters overwhelmingly passed an Iowa Constitution amendment in 2010 and that it is time to respect the decision of Iowa’s voters. Senator Rob Hogg (D-Linn) received a big applause when he stated that Iowans need to cherish our land and water and addressed the importance to Fund the Trust. The applause continued when Representative Chris Hall (D-Woodbury) spoke of several bills that were addressed to help Iowa’s water quality situation, however, they (legislators) need to return to the one proposal that addresses preserving the land and water.

I hope you talk to your legislator to encourage their support of funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Palo Alto County is fortunate to be located within the Prairie Pothole Region, along with 5 lakes and a river. Outdoor recreation, such as, hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, hiking/walking, and canoeing, providing the quality of life and economic benefits to the county. The following facts (from Iowa’s Water & Land Legacy organization) are vital reasons to fund the Natural Resources and Recreation Trust Fund:

* Roughly half of Iowa’s rivers, lakes, and streams fail to meet water quality standards.

* Less than 10% of Iowa’s wetlands remain, amounting to a loss of 5 million acres of wetlands (wetlands are natural spaces that help prevent flooding and provide habitat for wildlife).

* Over the last 20 years, Iowa has lost more than 1.6 million acres of habitat suitable for pheasant and other small game.

* Iowa loses an average of 5 tons per acres of soil, our major economic engine, each year to erosion.

These diverse problems need a comprehensive solution: The need is clear, the time is now, the solution is to Fund the Trust!