Area conservationists meet with Loess Hills landowners

Posted July 24, 2013 at 4:05 pm

By Julie Ann Madden

The largest contiguous track of native prairie Iowa has is in the northern part of the Loess Hills — right in Plymouth County.

There is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of native prairie left in the state, The Nature Conservancy’s Iowa/Nebraska Fire Manager and Stewardship Director Scott Moats told a group of landowners at a special informational forum on Plymouth County Loess Hills Private Lands Conservation, Restoration and Preservation held June 27 in Westfield.

“We have one of the few places in Iowa where we still have functioning ecosystems — where we can have processes on the landscape that still support biodiversity for hundreds of plant species, (wildlife), over 150 species of birds and well over 2,000 to 3,000 species of insects,” said Moats. “It takes that diversity to keep this environment going and thriving.”

County, state and federal agencies and Plymouth County landowners have been working hard since the mid-1980s to conserve this environment, he said, explaining The Nature Conservancy, Plymouth County Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation have purchased acres of land in the county’s Loess Hills. In addition, some private landowners have placed conservation easements on their properties.

Five Ridge Prairie and Stone State Park are examples of the work accomplished to date.

“We need to think large scale (in the tri-state area), how do we fit into the whole system,” said Moats, showing a photograph of how the Loess Hills looked in 1918 compared to a photograph in 1980. “We want to get (the Loess Hills) back to how it looked in 1918.”

One area of concern is Grassland Birds, which are in a massive decline from habitat fragmentation and loss.

Westfield’s Broken Kettle Grasslands, which is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, is one area in which conservationists are trying to change that decline.

One hope is to see Prairie Chickens and Sharp-Tail Grouse return to the area, said Moats.

“When I think of conservation and opportunities, I’m thinking long term: what do we want the area to look like now and collectively what do we want it to look like 10, 15, 25, 50 years from now?” said Moats. “What kind of legacy do we want to leave on the landscape for all those people who come after us?”

Moats was joined by The Nature Conservancy’s Amy Crouch, Loess Hills-Little Sioux Project Coordinator; Emily Hohman, Western Iowa Land Steward; and Susanne Hickey, Director of Conservation Programs. In addition, IDNR Wildlife Biologist Kathy Koskovich and Pheasants Forever’s Farm Bill Biologist Randy Phelan joined them.

All presented opportunities for Loess Hills landowners to consider to conserve, restore and preserve their properties.

Programs explained included USDA Farm Bill Programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), both of which offer cost-share incentives. In addition, they presented opportunities through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Partners for Wildlife program; the America’s Great Outdoors national designation programs; and permanent land protection options.

The same type of meeting was also held June 20 at the Stone State Park Lodge in Sioux City.

For more information, contact one of the following:

• Amy Crouch, Loess Hills-Little Sioux Project Coordinator, 712-229-5082 or 712-225-3769 x110; or email acrouch@tnc.org;

• Emily Hohman, Western Iowa Land Steward; 712-568-2596 or 231-357-4952 or email ehohman@tnc.org;

• Scott Moats, The Nature Conservancy’s Iowa/Nebraska Fire Manager and Stewardship Director, 712-568-2596 or 515-360-4280 or email smoats@tnc.org;

• Susanne Hickey, Director of Conservation Programs, 402-558-8099 or 515-360-4457 or email shickey@tnc.org;

• Tim Sproul, Loess Hills Lands Conservation Specialist, 712-249-0300 or email tsproul71@gmail.com;

• Kathey Koskovich, Private Lands Biologist, 712-276-2774 x108 or 712-330-6932 or email katherine.koskovich@dnr.iowa.gov;

• Randy Phelan, Farm Bill Biologist, 712-229-8274 or email rphelan@pheasantsforever.org;

• Natural Resources Conservation Service, 712-546-8858 x3; or

• Plymouth County Conservation Board, 712-947-4270.

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