Mother Nature’s fury

Straight winds demolish trees

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Straight line winds of 100 mph on Aug. 10 created havoc in local forests with extensive damages to trees, buildings and power lines everywhere across a big swath of central Iowa. And now the tasks at hand requires a lot of patience from everyone as crews work to put infrastructure and landscapes into workable shape. It will be a long time before area park lands, City, County or State, will be safe for public recreation. Slowly the process of working to re-open area parks will happen. The truth is that no one knows when that date will be. The Marshall County Conservation Board will announce re-openings on a case-by-case basis. Today’s images show a view of forest lands along the north edge of Sand Lake and the adjacent Nicholson Ford ATV park. Numerous trees have tops blown out. At ground level, broken tree trunks and exposed heartwood stems dominate. Any hiking trails located under this tangle of fallen heavy branches is the reason an area is closed to the public.

ANGER LURKS IN THE FOREST everywhere from huge tangles of fallen tree trunks and heavy branches. Straight line winds did the damage in a most awful manner. It is unfortunate. It will take a lot of time to recover from. But in the long run, safety will be restored to park areas one at a time. And announcements of when an area or portion of an area will reopen will inform the public of such actions.

In the meantime, consider safety a top priority. Do not venture into any county park or forest area until that area is declared safe. In the park business, we used to call down or almost down hung up tree limbs “widow makers.” The reason may be obvious in that no one knows when a damaged tree may finish its fall to the ground. If you are under it at the time it falls, you may make the obituary page of the newspaper. So avoid trails or campground areas, fishing access points or other hazard sites until safe conditions are restored.

For example, Timmons Grove (south) campground area is still a mess of down trees and limbs. When crews arrive to focus work at this site, the campground area will be restored. However, further back into areas where hiking trails gave park users a foot path to adventure, taped off areas will continue to warn of hazards. Do not enter past those markers for your own safety. In time trails will be inspected and hazard tree limbs removed from trails. Deeper into the forest hazard trees will exist for years into the future. Signs that indicate hikers are to remain on designated trails makes a lot of sense. Pay attention to areas that are closed.

PRAIRIES: An example of one area type where access is mostly safe is the Marietta Sand Prairie. Yes there are some damaged trees in certain places along fence lines or specific habitat zones. But for the most part, prairies are a tall grass complexes of vegetation, with few if any trees. Prior to Iowa’s settlement by pioneers in the mid 1800’s, 85 percent of Iowa was tall grass prairie. Forested sites made up 13 percent of the landscape and 2 percent was water in river systems and natural wetlands or lakes.

Grasslands dominated. Wind storms either from strong straight line gusts or even tornadoes never did much damage to big bluestem, switchgrass, prairie cordgrass, Indiangrass or to numerous prairie flowers of this landscape. Periodic naturally caused fires in the prairie were just one factor in why trees did not thrive on open grasslands. A bigger factor was the climate itself whereby the amount of rainfall helped to determine which vegetative systems were more adaptable. As moisture in soils increased, especially along creek tributaries and rivers, trees did dominate and prairie grasses did not. In upland prairie grasslands, fire kills trees. Big wind events killed trees by blowing them over.

WILDLIFE AND HUNTING AREAS: While heavily used camp grounds and fishing access sites become cleared, hunting areas for fall seasons will probably be toward the last to get inspections by Marshall County Conservation Board staff. And at the same time, hunters are well aware of the environment they intend to hike into. Lots of self awareness is required to take due notice of hazards to avoid. Critical hazards should be reported to the MCCB office by calling 641-752-5490. Hunters know these things more so than folks unaccustomed to woodland adventures. Hunting areas bring with them an element of “enter at your own risk” mentality at any time of the year.

HENDRICKSON MARSH is located west of Rhodes on the shared county line between Marshall and Story. Lots of grassland habitat has been created there over time. Grassland habitat and prairie have been added. The area has 850 total acres of which 200 is a wetland where water levels are manipulated to encourage wetland plant growth before it is refilled with water. That is the plan again for 2020 as waterfowl seasons approach. On the uplands, pheasant and dove hunters can utilize food plots and sunflower plantings.

Hendrickson Marsh was named after the late George Hendrickson, a professor and pioneer educator in the field of wildlife management at Iowa State University. The marsh area was acquired and a dam and water control structure built in 1968. This wetland is an important link for seasonal migrations of birds of all types each spring and fall.

DEER LICENSE SALES began on Aug. 15 for residents of Iowa. If past trends are any indication, management of deer numbers will parallel former years with a taking of between 90,000 to 100,000 animals across the state. Hunters should check with private land owners and conduct preliminary scouting trips to favored hunt areas just to check on forest conditions. Deer will adjust to wind damaged forested areas. People will have to adapt also.

HUNTER SAFETY CLASS is on for Sept. 26 at the Marshall County Ikes grounds southeast of Marshalltown. Online registration is required via the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website. The class structure will be modified to be accomplished in a one day event. Enrolled students must be able to stay the entire day from 8 am until 4 pm. Instructors will cover all subject matter in a more limited fashion. No live fire of shotguns or rifles will be held. There will be demonstrations by instructors on safe firearm handling, archery and game warden presentation on laws and regulations.

EAGLES were observed on a sandbar not too far downstream from the Stanley Mill Iowa River bridge recently. When asked how big birds, or small birds, adapt to wind storms, it is a matter of getting lower to the ground or actually resting on the ground to wait out bad weather. When the storm passes, it is back to normal activities of finding food. The eagles on the sand bar were sparring over a fish carcass. Three of the eagles were young of the year juveniles. One was a mature white headed eagle. It was good to see them.

Last week’s Outdoors Today was cancelled due to lost power in Marshalltown, at the Times-Republican and at Albion where I live. No electrical power meant no way for me to produce the column. So thank you for being patient. Enjoy reading today’s story. I’ll see you next week.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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