Living with wild things

The IOWA RIVER WILDLIFE AREA (IRWA) is just one of several county owned natural areas dedicated to wildlife habitat. Management goals for the area have been established and are being implemented as time and finances allow. Acquired in 2007, it was opened to the public in September 2008. Allowed uses include hunting, hiking, nature study and wildlife observation. Wild turkeys, deer, squirrels, otters, raccoons and fox and coyote live here. Birds are plentiful including eagles, red-shouldered hawks, wood ducks, great blue herons and more. Upland grass habitats hold meadowlarks, bobolinks, pheasant and turkey.

The total acreage of this natural area was the result of a combination of two land units; one being the purchase of 330 acres through a cooperative agreement and assistance from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. An adjacent 155 acres was added as the result of Iowa DOT wetland mitigation requirements. That parcel has been transferred to Marshall County for management by the Conservation Board.

Large portions of the bottomlands are subject to periodic flooding from the Iowa River during times of above normal rainfall from upstream watershed locations. Over the course of millennia, on a geologic time scale, and even during our relatively recent human encounters with the river, people have had to learn to adjust to the mood swings of Mother Nature and her tendency to show us who really owns the land. In due time, flood waters recede back into the river channel. But it its wake, new layers of silt deposits get laid down across any floodplain low lying lands. The primary colonizers of the floodplain are cottonwood, maple and basswood. Upland forests are oak-hickory located in the northwest portions of the area.

That bluff line ridge has a unique geologic history. Again over geologic long time frames of thousands of years, winter gale force winds scoured the exposed sand bars on the river valley during long cold spells of our last Wisconsinan glacial winters. This took place from about 50,000 to 14,000 years ago. That time span is important to know how our present day landscapes developed.

However, the bluff line was the high ground paralleling the river was an obstacle to the wind and the sand loads it carried. As winds hit the bluff, they were forced upward and their velocity decreased. Sand in suspended dust storms would fall out and slowly accumulate similar to how snow will accumulate on the lee side of a snow fence. Marshall County has many areas of fine grained sand deposits all along the eastern edge of the Iowa River valley throughout its entire 29 mile length, Harding Co line to the Tama County line. Those deep deposits of sand is how our early settlers described and named the Sand Road, the county road leading north and northwest between Marshalltown and Albion.

The sandy soils of the upland oak forest of the IRWA also act like a big sponge, soaking up water from rain and snow melt. Some of that water eventually finds its way down through the soil profile and may get expressed again as natural springs flowing slowly all year long at the base of the bluff line. This is just one of the many neat things that exist in this natural area. It is worth your time to explore it, to take a casual hike for the exercise or wildlife observation, or to enjoy the thrills of fair chase hunts for game animals each fall. An added benefit is superb fall tree foliage colors in mid-October.

To learn more about this area, or many other natural land management areas, contact the Marshall County Conservation Board. Their office is located at the Grimes Farm and Conservation Center. The phone number is 641-752-5490.

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WILDLIFE BABIES are being spotted all over the place, from places like those noted above, or just the casual and coincidental sightings as you or I travel and go about our business. Of late, I have seen more pheasants along country roadsides. That is a good sign. Little rabbits seem to be abundant. Doe deer and their fawns are being reported frequently as people see them in fields or along road edges. I had a woodchuck surprise me lately as it attempted to cross a rural road bridge before my vehicle got there. It was given safe passage.

One new comer to the scene at the Green Castle Recreation Area is a baby bison. It was born about two weeks ago. Seeing it is an iffy proposition due the cow bison’s protective nature to keep it hidden in the east tree line of the bison enclosure. But over time, the calf will be in the right place for park visitors to see it. At this time of year, a bison calf’s hair color is cinnamon-like light brown.

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Available now for your purchase at the Marshalltown post office is the 2016-17 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service MIGRATORY BIRD STAMP. I have mine and dutifully signed it in ink to truly say it is mine. And if a game warden should want to see it this fall while I’m hunting, all will be in order. The 2016-17 stamp features a pair of flying Trumpeter Swans. Their image was the work of artist Joseph Hautman of Plymouth, Minnesota. Waterfowl hunters age 16 or older are required to posses this stamp in addition to the state waterfowl fee and hunting license.

The federal “duck stamp” is also a free pass into any national wildlife refuge that charges a fee for access. Because habitat is critical to all wildlife, hunted or not, the purchase of a federal Migratory Bird Stamp is putting money on the line for a good cause. In 1949, the duck stamp contest was opened to any U.S. artist that wanted to submit an entry. In 1984, the use of duck stamp reproduction likenesses was allowed by manufacturers of wildlife items. Royalties from the sale of products are deposited into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. In 2010, electronic duck stamp purchases was authorized. And in 2014, the cost of the federal duck stamp went from $15 to $25. Funds go toward wetland wildlife land management and/or acquisition projects.

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WATER SAFETY is paramount during hot days of summer. Unfortunately several of our Iowa youth and even some adults have drowned this summer while recreating. Water is fun. But water can also be deadly. Life jackets, if worn, will help tremendously to prevent an accident while canoeing, kayaking or boating. Swimming beaches need to be full monitored at all times by parents or other adults, especially when kids are playing and enjoying themselves. Take care this summer. Enjoy the water, a leisure canoe river float, or a day fishing from a boat. But note the potential of water to kill if not respected.

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“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.”

– Aldo Leopold

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.