Water refill almost complete at Green Castle

GREEN CASTLE RECREATION AREA has new lake water. The lake is almost completely refilled since the gates were closed last fall. Slowly but surely water levels began to rise. As of this week, the water is within one foot of being at a normal spillway elevation. This weekend’s warm weather will melt the snow pack on the watershed to help contribute the final amounts of water to bring it to full status.

Buried under the waters surface are many new fish structures. The devices range from rock beds for spawning, brush piles, old concrete pipes, vertical plastic pipe “reed beds” and other places for fish to hide, evade being eaten, and surfaces that will grow the phytoplankton and zooplankton, both elementary items in aquatic food chains. Ultimately fish will find the food and grow. Now that the common carp have been killed, water clarity should be excellent. Deep penetrating sunlight will encourage aquatic submergent plant growth. For the restocked bluegills placed in Green Castle last year by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries folks, they should have an excellent start. Come the fall of 2015, largemouth bass will be stocked. Now with predator prey more in balance, there should be good growth of all species of fish in this lake.

Camping improvements are on the docket for Green Castle during 2015. An initial series of campsites is envisioned on the now terraced hillside of the former prairie area. Prairie will return in due time in the hillside after all camping sites and in place along with the electrical and water service requirements. This phase of work takes money, of course, both in terms of grants and/or fund raising endeavors. Stay tuned for there is a bright future for this popular recreation area with its new lakeshore and land enhancements. It all takes time to accomplish. Come watch it grow and develop during 2015.

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DEER HARVEST numbers are settling in toward the final count. As of mid-week the grand total of deer killed by hunters in all types of seasons is at 101,567.

Management objectives to stabilize deer in many parts of Iowa is being accomplished. A plan to take no doe deer during shotgun season one in north central and northwest Iowa will allow for a very modest growth still well within the carrying capacity of long term levels desired by biologists.

Here is how the numbers shake out for deer taken in 2014-15. Doe deer reported take was at 47,120. Antlered bucks numbered 44,528. Button bucks, first year male fawns with no antlers except little nubbins, came in at 9,444. Bucks that had lost their antlers and were mistaken for adult doe deer were 475. All these numbers are consistent and very comparable to harvest data from last year. Last year’s reported harvest was 99,414.

The top five Iowa counties for deer killed during 2014-15 seasons were Clayton with 4,282; Allamakee at 3,569; Warren 2,639; Jackson at 2,564 and Madison with 2,507. The low five counties for deer, again reflecting the amount of deer habitat these locations do not have were Grundy with 78; Osceola at 107; Calhoun with 113; and Ida and Pocahontas tied with 137 each. Marshall County hunters took 700 deer.

A management tool that biologists and even land owners can use to help gauge deer browsing intensity is called an exclosure. This involves building a deer proof tall fence around a number of representative sites within a forest area or along other known deer feeding and staging areas. The tall fences allow native plants of ground cover, shrubs, small and taller trees to grow without deer nibbling at the buds and leaves.

Outside the exclosure, where deer have full access to eat, plant growth will usually have a noticeable decline. By identifying what is eaten to what cannot be eaten, biologists can get a feeling for the long term health of the deer habitat. Such a study was accomplished in northern Wisconsin and Michigan with 60 years of documentation. Biologists found that at least 40 percent of plant species changes in those forests were attributable to the eating habits of deer. In fact, many of the forest plants that should be part of the mix of vegetation types were found only within the exclosures. The exclosures were the only “safe” place for these plants. Too many deer greatly reduced the natural regeneration of native trees, the growth of shrubs and the height of understory plants. In addition some flowering plants that were neither woody or grassy were reduced.

So the bottom line of the study using data over the past six decades tells us that deer can change the plant mix. In so doing, they hurt the very habitat they will need to thrive to their best. That is where management comes into play; i.e. to take out the correct number of deer each year via regulated hunting seasons. Finding the right balance is critical. Trained biologists have the best handle on this aspect of wildlife management. Politicians have the least credibility in this arena.

Citizen science can play a role in deer management. Science classes in some high schools have built exclosures and monitored the plant life inside compared to outside. What grows and what doesn’t is documented. The lessons are a great lead into science, practical science and therefore management of the land for long term improvements for all wildlife species. It is something to think about.

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WINTER is also the convention and banquet season. Groups of individuals will gather to have fun and raise money for various conservation causes. Just one of those banquets will be here soon. The local Bear Grove chapter of Whitetails Unlimited will hold their gathering on Feb. 21, just a tad over one month from now. The place will be Marshalltown’s KC Hall. Doors will open at 4:30 p.m. A prime rib dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. This is just one way to support conservation efforts. WTU uses the funds they raise toward land projects, land improvement goals, education, preservation of the hunting heritage and cost-share partnerships. Since 1982, WTU has generated more than $58 million in support of a wide variety of projects and programs in the United States.

Local tickets for this WTU banquet can be obtained by calling one of these people: Brad Wall at 641-691-0143; Ron Wacome at 641-496-5404; Kent Bracy at 641-691-0910; or Tim Shibe at 641-485-6448. An individual ticket is $45. Spouse or child tickets are $20.

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PHOTO CONTEST entries for the 14th Annual Natural Resources/Conservation Photo Contest are due by Jan. 30 at the offices of the Marshall County Conservation Board. The usual themes are open … People and Natural Resources; Scenic; Native Wildlife and Native Plants. Each photo entry fee is $3. Results of the winning entries will be announced on Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. during a chili supper. Tickets for the chili supper can be purchased at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm during regular business hours. For details call 641-752-5490.

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Advice from a snowman: “Life is short, so live well. Be jolly and have a happy soul. Spend time outdoors. Stay cool. It is OK to be a bit bottom heavy.”

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.