Fire is a magic management tool

FIRE is a great tool if used carefully and skillfully. For prairie grasslands, preparation work begins the year before with analysis of aerial maps, mowing fire lanes around grassland plots, and then deciding how best to burn only enough fields to equal about one-third of the total area. A three-year cycle is usually sufficient to hold back or kill invading woody vegetation of unwanted trees or shrubs. Fires allow the grasses to dominate as a vegetative cover according to an overall management plan for an area.

Controlled burns will take place this month in just about all of the MCCB’s wildlife areas. Those potions to get “fire magic” have already been decided. Each parcel is evaluated for which wind conditions will be best. If the wind does not cooperate for one area, it may be completely satisfactory at a different area mile away. Fire-trained crews will be flexible to go where a safe fire can be started and controlled the entire time.

Burning only one-third of an area allows last year’s plant growth to provide cover for wildlife ground nesting critters. Keep in mind that ground nest have not been established in March because the birds that prefer to nest there have not returned from southern wintering areas. Fires can be intentionally set early or later in the month. The problem with late burns may be weather related, too much rain, or too much greening up of new plants that may cause a fire to not do its job as well. All these factors are dutifully noted by MCCB staff before they conduct a burn.

Today’s photos illustrate fire management at the Iowa River Wildlife Area located northwest of Marshalltown about three miles along the Sand Road. Because the fires of 2016 were planned and executed well, the designated fields showed a huge burst of colorful prairie flowers growing later that spring and summer. Every insect that liked to sip plant nectar was there feeding at the smorgasbord table provided by mother nature.

A special night or early evening prairie grass burn is being planned again for this year. Time and date are unknown and really can’t be precisely planned. The best option is to designate the area, tell the public that it will hopefully be the week of (fill in the blank), and trust that weather conditions of wind and no rain will allow the event to take place. A portion of the reconstructed prairie at the Grimes Farm may or may not be the site this year. Just watch and listen to news releases on very short notice. Then all you have to do is be flexible and come watch the magic of fire do its thing.

To help evaluate the positive effects of controlled fire, later in the spring or summer, take the time to walk through those places where fire did take out old growth dry matter, and also be sure to hike by adjacent areas where fire was not allowed to enter. Compare and contrast the apparent health and vigor of the vegetation under your feet. It is interesting to see how prairie grasses and forbs respond to burned versus non-burned sites. In the long run it all equals out, our human attempt to duplicate periodic natural fires.

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MONARCH BUTTERFLIES have a tough job to do … survive three or four stages during the spring migration northward and the big push in the fall to return to wintering grounds in the forested mountains of Mexico. A recent study from Mexico notes that wintering populations of monarchs was down 27 percent this year, a historically low levels.

It was also noted that 40 percent of all monarch butterflies overwintering are estimated to come from the Midwest, and Iowa is at the center of Midwest. How to reverse the trend of declining monarch reproduction and survival is underway. Cooperation has been obtained from 34 wide ranging agricultural associations, private industry, land owners and other private organizations and universities. They call themselves the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.

DNR Director Chuck Gipp said “We didn’t get to this point overnight and we are not going to solve it overnight. We have a really strong group across many different backgrounds working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond.” One way being tried is consultation with experts at Iowa State University, Iowa’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa DNR in joint efforts to identify, improve and expand refueling stops for migrating monarchs. Adding habitat food plots for insects like the monarch is on the table. Milkweed is one known source of specific food this butterfly species requires. Planting a variety of plots in small field corners, road way rights-of-way or other sites will help create stop-over places for nectar production and monarchs.

To learn more about this topic, go the web site www.iowamonarchs.info. Let’s see if we can work some magic for monarchs this year.

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The 2017 IOWA FEDERAL JUNIOR DUCK STAMP art contest is still accepting entries through March 15. Kids in grades K-12 can enter as individuals, as a school group, or as an informal group of artists. Entries of waterfowl art can be the result of prior wetland and waterfowl habitat studies. Then the student or students can create an art work for competition. Mail entries to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in care of PO Box 399, 9981 Pacific St, Prairie City, A 50228. Additional information can be found at the website: www.fws.gov/juniorduck. You may also prefer to call Doreen Van Ryswyk at 515-994-3400.

The Iowa winner from 2016 was Rae Clinkenbeard from Denison. Her entry is now joined with other junior winners of other states in a tour of Best of Show winners. A panel of judges will determine a slate of 100 Iowa students to receive awards. The final Best of Show winner from each state will be in the final competition. There will be cash prizes for first, second and third place winners. Junior Duck stamps can be purchased for $5 each. Proceed from the sale are returned to the program for conservation education.

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DUCKS UNLIMITED Iowa River Valley Chapter has set their spring banquet and members fund raising event for Saturday evening, March 25th at Marshalltown’s Impala Ballroom, 1005 W. Lincolnway. This will be a great opportunity to put money into the Iowa DU account to assist with projects in state with regional and national significance. Tickets in advance are $45 if purchased before March 21. Call Rich Naughton at 641-328-0124 for a ticket or two or three. He can also provide you with sponsor tickets at $275. Raffles and games will be available as normal. At least nineteen sporting long guns will be in the prize mix and or auction mix. This will be the 43rd annual DU membership banquet for the Iowa River Chapter.

All during March, be watching the skies for migrating geese, ducks and other critters. Remember that all of them need places to rest and refuel. Wetland and wetland habitat is where these birds find what they need to make their long journey north. Your membership in DU is a big help to keep wetland and associated upland habitats in good condition.

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IOWA DEER HARVEST numbers show the final tally at 101,397. This about 3,000 fewer than were reported for 2015, but nearly identical to the 2014 harvest. “The numbers reflect and are consistent with management goals that indicates a stable deer population in Iowa” said Tyler Harms, wildlife researcher with the DNR. A goal is to provide an annual off take of between 100,000 and 120,000 deer every fall. Continual monitoring of legal take, road kill by vehicles on roadways, bow hunter surveys and conservation officer spotlight surveys help biologists keep tabs on deer.

Last year’s bow hunter surveys numbered 2,033 returned. Each time a bow hunter went to the field to hunt, he or she documented sightings of deer and other wildlife. A total of 27,504 trips afield were included in the survey and a total of 93,273 hours of hunting/observation time. This scribe is glad to have been just one of the survey participants last year who noted my 70 plus hours of quality time in tree stands.

Keeping deer numbers at a tolerable level for landowners and hunters is a harder job to do than one may think. All in all, the DNR tries to find a balance that is workable and acceptable to all stake holders.

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REMINDER: This coming Saturday, March 11th, at Marshalltown’s Regency Inn, the Central Iowa Friends of the NRA will hold their 3rd annual foundation fund raiser. You can celebrate the legacy of shooting sports with friends at this function. Good food, great games, and silent and live auction items will be available. Tickets can be purchased for $35 per person, or $60 per couple. Contact Rosea Hamelau at 641-485-8499 or Joe Wagner at 641-485-1876. You can also go on-line to www.friendsofnra.org

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Did you know? During a recent survey answered by 61 county conservation boards in Iowa pertaining to projects not initiated because of funding shortfalls, the number is a staggering $715.4 million of unmet needs! Just something to think about.

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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 P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.