Wildlife, Forests & Prairies in Jefferson County

Jefferson County Conservation Board, Fairfield, Iowa
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Wildlife, Forests & Prairies in Jefferson County

Wildlife Habitat

The Jefferson County Conservation Board in cooperation with the Jefferson County Pheasants Forever Chapter and ConServ Corp, will assist you in establishing native prairie grasses, wildlife food plots and tree plantings.

Iowa's Upland Forests

Comprised mostly of various species of oak and hickory trees, upland forests make up the largest chunk of Iowa's forest land. There is approximately 900,000 acres of oak-hickory upland forest and 700,000 acres of sugar maple-basswood forests in Iowa.

The types of trees found in the upland forests of Iowa depend upon the amount of moisture as well as many other variables. White oak and bur oak as well as shagbark hickory and bitternut hickory survive where the land is drier. As the soil slopes and gains moisture, red oaks join into the mixture.

In the more moist areas of the Iowa upland you can find black walnut, white ash, sugar maple and basswood.

Trees of the upland forests are beloved for a variety of reasons. Whether it is seen as a symbol of nature's beauty blooming in the spring or a home for squirrels, deer, birds or other animals, the trees of the upland forest are most valuable in sustaining an ecosystem.

These trees are also used by humans for a variety of products. Oak is most recognized in the making of furniture but is also used for flooring, paneling, and fuel wood. Hickory, because of its great strength, is valuable in making tool handles, flooring, and plywood. The sap of the sugar maple is used to make maple syrup.

Acorns, collectively called mast, provide a major food source for many wildlife. Frequent consumers among birds include ring-necked pheasants, Northern bobwhites, wild turkeys, blue jays, American crows, tufted titmice, white breasted nuthatches, brown thrashers, Eastern towhees, and common grackles.

Acorns of the red oak group, though not as palatable to mammals as those of the white oak, are consumed by numerous rodents. Where both red and white oak acorns are present, gray squirrels tend to bury the red oak acorns and consume the white oak acorns on the spot. Black bears, raccoons, eastern chipmunks and white-tailed deer are also fond of white oak acorns.

Contact the Jefferson County Conservation Board for information on the tax exempt Timber Reserve program available to woodland owners.


Wild Turkey Restoration

Iowa's primitive oak-hickory forests covered nearly 7 million acres during the original land survey in 1859. Settlers' records indicate turkeys were associated with most of this timber.

Although turkeys may not have been as numerous in Iowa as in their primary range east of the Mississippi River, they were still plentiful. Unfortunately, wild turkeys were eliminated from Iowa by the early 1900's due to habitat loss and partly because of uncontrolled subsistence hunting.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) began experimenting with turkey restoration in 1920 using pen-reared birds. Releases were made over the next 18 years but all releases were uniform failures. By 1960 no known wild turkey populations existed in Iowa.

The first attempts at releasing transplanted wild turkeys were in the early 1960's. Rio Grande and Merriam's subspecies were released at several sites during the 1960's but ultimately their poor adaptation to Iowa's oak-hickory forest led to population failures for both subspecies.

The first release of Eastern wild turkeys was in 1966 in Lee County. The population response of these turkeys was phenomenal - survival of released birds, reproduction, and poult survival were all excellent. The success of this Eastern subspecies stocking led to an additional stocking that also proved successful.

By 1971 it was obvious that the Eastern subspecies was the turkey to use in future restoration attempts.

Since the initial 1965 release, 3,063 Eastern wild turkeys have been released at 220 sites at a stocking rate of approximately 3 adult gobblers and 10 hens per site. Nearly all sites are considered successful, however the most recent stockings are still being evaluated. No sites are currently considered to be unsuccessful.

Most sites were opened to hunting after populations were established, usually about 5 years post-stocking. Restoration efforts by the IDNR during the last 2 decades have returned wild turkeys to about 95% of the remnant timber stands in the state.

Some in-state translocations continue, but the majority of trapping effort is to assist other states in their restoration efforts. (From Iowa DNR website.)


White tailed Deer

White-tailed deer were reported to be quite abundant when white settlers arrived in Iowa in the early 1800's. Uncontrolled exploitation for food and hides rapidly reduced deer numbers and by 1880 deer were rarely sighted in much of the state.

In 1898 the deer season was legally closed. By this time deer had been virtually eliminated from all of Iowa.

Reestablishment of deer into the state can be traced to escapes and releases from captive herds and translocation and natural immigration from deer herds in surrounding states. A conservative estimate of the population in 1936 placed statewide numbers at between 500 and 700 animals.

This small herd grew steadily. By 1950 deer were reported in most counties and the statewide estimate topped 10,000. Concentrations in some areas were beginning to cause problems by damaging agricultural crops.

In response to these problems the first modern deer season was held in December of 1953 and 4,000 deer were killed. Currently, the deer herd is estimated to be about 200,000 after the hunting season and harvests have approached 100,000 in recent years.

Deer in the snow

Careful management of deer populations by man has played a crucial role in allowing deer numbers to return to the levels enjoyed today. Management consists of carefully regulating the harvest since hunting provides the only major source of mortality for deer today.

Unchecked, Iowa's deer herd would double in as few as 3 years. With Iowa's abundant agricultural crops providing food, densities could potentially reach 100 or more deer per square mile before natural regulatory mechanisms would begin to affect deer health and slow the rate of growth.

Deer numbers this high would cause economic hardship to Iowa's landowners as well as alter the natural vegetative community. Maintaining a deer population in balance with the wants and needs of the people in the state is a difficult task, but hunting is the only viable management option to achieve this goal.

Deer in the grass

Native Prairie Management Plan at Round Prairie

The undeveloped areas in Round Prairie Park contain many native prairie species. In the past very little had been done to manage these prairie areas and problems with woody vegetation encroachment have developed.

In Iowa it has been estimated that of an original 30 million acres of prairie only 30 thousand remain. Management techniques have been implemented by the JCCB to insure that the native prairie areas of Round Prairie will be preserved.


A preliminary inventory was done by Martha Skillman of the Iowa Prairie Network in the summer of 1999. At that time close to forty species of native prairie forbes, grasses, and sedges were identified. It was decided that future trips would be taken throughout the growing season to account for species which were missed during the preliminary inventory.

Since then the prairie species list has grown to eighty.

Round Prairie Park contains many woody species that are encroaching into the prairie remnants. To control woody vegetation in the prairie areas various techniques are being used. Controlled burns help kill off the smaller trees and shrubs. Larger trees which are unaffected by burning will be cut down and foliar sprays may also be used to kill off persistent species such as autumn olive.

Burning Prairie

Certain tree species such as White Oak will be left since they were historically found throughout the prairie. Species which seem to spread rapidly such as ash and cottonwood will be more aggressively controlled. Mowing will also be used to control woody vegetation or to simulate grazing.

Grazing has been recommended as a tool in prairie restoration but is not possible at Round Prairie due to lack of fencing.

The re-establishment of prairie will be a long process but it's one that the Jefferson County Conservation Board feels is well-worth the effort.

Moon behind trees

Contact the Jefferson County Conservation Board for information on the tax exempt Timber Reserve program available to woodland owners.

Contact us for the latest information.

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Mission Statement
Our mission is to enhance the quality of life in Jefferson County by acquiring, developing and managing public areas so that its citizens will have opportunities for quality outdoor recreation experiences, and to cultivate good land stewardship through natural history and environmental education activities.

Jefferson County Conservation Board, 2003 Libertyville Road, Fairfield, IA 52556
Call: 641-472-4421    Fax: 641-472-7911   E-mail: jeffersonccb@lisco.com
Page updated 12-23-16


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