Mann Wetland enhancements coming this fall

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG —The Mann Wetland complex, located just south of Albion, will receive habitat enhancement developments this fall and winter. The Marshall County Conservation Board (MCCB) has entered into an agreement with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to begin habitat improvements this fall as soon as the crop harvest is completed. The contract is a pilot program that the USFWS will utilize under their Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act as approved by Congress. A work crew from Iowa's Louisa National Wildlife Refuge (near the Mississippi River) will bringtheir heavy equipment to excavate designated areas. Anywhere from six inches to as much as 36 inches will be cut. Soils removed will then be blended out into fill areas. Then the entire area will be seeded to a blend of over 70 native grasses and forbs. In time, this prairie and wetland will offer enhanced habitat for all kinds of wildlife species: mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects. In today's aerial image, the dashed outlines represent generalized areas for soil excavation. Solid lines show where those soils will be filled and blended into a smooth transition with existing lands. Total excavated areas are about 4.75 acres. As history has shown, if the existing wetlands have abundant water during future spring waterfowl migrations, the area turns into an oasis for all kinds of birds. It is a matter of perfect timing when Mother Nature sets it all in motion.

The Mann Wetland site south of Albion and just east of Timmons Grove (north) is slated for its makeover habitat enhancement work beginning this fall. I highlighted this project about one year ago in my Outdoors Today story of Oct. 30, 2022, when news was received by the Marshall County Conservation Board that their project grant submission was approved.

That grant provided the bulk of the funds to acquire the land. The total land area involved is 216 acres. For project purposes, 154.25 acres have been identified for seeding with 4.75 acres for wetland excavations.

Now the next steps have been accomplished to plan for and soon to execute development/enhancements for the area. In short, the basic plan involves digging out shallow areas to allow for more ephemeral wetlands and using the excavated soils to create subtle higher ground landscapes nearby.

Then the entire area will be seeded in designated areas to a blend of native grasses and other wetland non-grass plants. Seeding will begin soon after the soil work is done, and some seeding may also take place this winter, best if there is a slight covering of snow, by what biologists call ‘frost seeding.’

Frost seeding has been used before at the Marietta Sand Prairie addition and has excellent results. The idea is to criss-cross a snow covered landscape with a tractor and its broadcast seed hopper.

The seed gets distributed randomly over the snow. Tire tracks allow the operator to know where he or she has driven. A back and forth grid pattern is sometimes used to make sure of an equal coverage.

With seeds laying dormant on the snow, over time during late winter and early spring, the snow melts and carries the seeds down by gravity to the soil surface. Part of the cold weather seeding objective is to allow for scarifying of the seed hulls, a natural process that uses freeze/thaw cycles to ‘wake up’ the seed germ. As those seeds lay eventually on the soil surface, they are ready to germinate, take root, and become established.

Under a work agreement with the USFWS, all labor and equipment will be furnished by them. Marshall County Conservation will pay for fuel costs. The USFWS is welcoming this opportunity to use this pilot project for wetland development/enhancement.

They have guidelines under legislative authority from several programs. One is called Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act. Another is the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and third, all these helpful programs have been previously identified in the Regional Partners for Fish and Wildlife (Partners) Program Strategic Plan. To shorten all these administrative documents and authorities down to its essential benefits, a good summary statement is that all wildlife species, including Federal Trust species on private lands, do not care how and by whom the habitat is improved, just get-r-done.

This very cooperative arrangement has been assisted by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), an Iowa based private conservation organization that assists with land acquisition projects, acquiring identified parcels, and holding them temporarily until a local agency like the MCCB. That is what happened with the Mann Wetland area.

Once the acquisition grant was approved, those funds repaid the INHF. This is another example of a win-win situation for the benefit of long term conservation, a private partnership to assist as in this case, the MCCB.

Another partner in this project is the Marshall/Tama County Pheasants Forever Chapters. The PF chapters have kicked in funds for purchase of a portion of the seed mixture that will be used at the area. Pheasants Forever has a program called Prairie Pothole Focus Area and the Mann Wetland area falls within those parameters.

Once the wetland shaping is completed, a high diversity mix of herbaceous vegetation seed types will be applied. All the seed types will consist of locally appropriate mesic and wet mesic species, including no less than 40 Forb species (three milkweed species and no less than three species that bloom during each bloom period) and 10 grass/graminoid species. The idea is to have enough diversity of plant types that benefits will accrue to waterfowl as well as ground nesting birds and native pollinators such as the monarch butterfly.

The cost of development: Yes, money makes things happen. In this case, all the partners are helping by working together.

The Pheasants Forever’s cooperation with the USFWS pollinator grant is providing $8,070. Marshall/Tama County PF chapter is helping with $960.

Iowa Natural Heritage is kicking in $20,460, and lastly, the MCCB share is about $4,037. The total budget projection is estimated to cost $41,217.05. These costs are for custom seed mixes for previous agricultural areas, custom seed mixes for wet-mesic areas, plus mixes for former hay areas, fuel, and herbicides as needed and any prescribed fire management.

To say that a lot of organizations had to come together to make all the above happen is an understatement. The fact that the players are cultivating a cooperative mindset is encouraging. The end result will be worth all the effort.


As a more than casual observer to local conservation projects of all sizes and shapes, the Mann Wetland is special. In 1972, 51 years ago, my new family and I moved to our home in Albion. Every day driving to and from work on Highway 330, I passed by the Mann’s private property and

always glanced over for a quick peek at its cattail wetland, its waters, and the surrounding area to observe wildlife.

In those 51 years, I, and a whole lot of other folks have seen the Mann Wetland cycle through every conceivable stage from droughts to high flood flows, including numerous times when Highway 330 had water over its surface and the road was closed to traffic. Most of the time, the wetland holds its own and has at least some water in its basin all year long.

Since Mother Nature knows how to throw curveballs regarding weather patterns, we humans have to adapt to what she offers. Wildlife adapts also.

Floods come and go. Droughts come and go. More ‘normal’ years see a mixture of perhaps high water each spring when the Iowa River’s ice is breaking out, thereby creating temporary minor flooding without road closures. High rainfall events upstream in the watershed above Timmons Grove, all 1,482 square miles, can and do occasionally create high water with minor to major flooding cycles.

Today’s aerial image was made on Sept. 16, 2016, exactly seven years ago, when the river crested at a gage reading of 18.90 feet. This was not a major flood, just a time stamp by Mother Nature of who really holds the key to river flow variations.

The photograph was of very good value to the project planners as they were able to see where high water flows wanted to travel and concentrate. By utilizing the aerial image, it added backup to on the ground vegetation findings and topographic map data.

What has been thrilling to see periodically off and on during just my past five decades are those unique times when high water in the Iowa River floodplain came about at the same time as a peak spring flights of geese and waterfowl were headed north. The circumstances were too good to bypass.

Geese of every species, and ducks of every species, and shore birds and other flying critters from eagles to ospreys took notice of the wetland complex below them. They stopped. They rested.

They ate waist grains that they could scrounge up from the fields. Their cackling and honking voices filled the air. Their big flights of V shaped flocks provided a wildlife spectacle too good to not take notice. So I took notice, camera in hand and binoculars also close by.

I look forward to many future years, when all the planning and hard work of restoring a wetland complex will pay off its biggest dividends to the wildlife we care so much about. It will be a fantastic show.

My camera and binoculars will be ready. I hope you will be able to participate in creating your own wildlife memory at the Mann Wetland.


Bird migration is a fantastic annual happening. To help you learn more, do check out on your computer a site called BirdCast. It is a bird migration forecast map compiled via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Colorado State University.

Each night at about three hours after sunset, and updated each six hours thereafter, bird movements in the air can be detected by US NEXRAD weather surveillance radar networks. The latest map I found shows the entire Mississippi and Ohio River valley systems glowing bright yellow with birds in the air signatures.

On the night of Sept. 12, an estimated 330 million birds were airborne.

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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