The Jefferson County Conservation Board is working with the Iowa DNR to improve bat habitat in Jefferson County. This is part of a larger project to improve bat habitat across southern and eastern Iowa as well as Illinois.
North American Bat populations have been experiencing massive population declines due to a variety of factors including disease (White Nose Syndrome) and habitat loss/fragmentation. Bats have a low reproductive rate which makes it hard for populations to recover.
Nine species of bats are found in Iowa’s fields and forests. Bats are an extremely important part of our ecosystem because they help control problematic insect populations including corn rootworm and mosquitos.
Portions of Jefferson County Park, Gantz-Hewett Timber, and Whitham Woods were identified as potential bat habitats that would benefit from habitat management. Management plans were developed and funding for the projects was secured by our area DNR Forester. Practices such as prescribed burning, removing invasives in the understory and replanting of native species will help transform these woodland habitats to meet the needs of our native bat species.


An insect with looks that only its mother can love

Have you ever been outside at night under a street light and seen or been buzzed by something and you thought “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THAT?!”. That insect as big as a Pterodactyl (okay a mini one) might be a Dobsonfly. Is it 4.5 to 5 inches long, with HUGE 1” mandibles, four veined wings, and wavy antennae? Okay, that is Mr. Dobsonfly. How can you tell? Mrs. Dobsonfly is a bit larger than the Mr., but her mandibles are shorter and stouter. The male has weak mandibles and can’t bite you but she most certainly is able to give you a painful bite if not handled carefully (like nope). They will both try to intimate by raising their head and spreading their jaws (that would work for me), but neither will go out of their way to harm you. And even if you are “silly enough” to get bitten her bite is harmless. Dobsonflies don’t transmit any diseases and there aren’t any lasting effects (other than learning a lesson). PSA: as a defense of last resort the threatened Dobsonfly can emit an irritating, foul-smelling defensive anal spray. Well, that is…interesting.

This fascinating prehistoric looking insect is one that has a complete metamorphosis referred to as ELPA. It begins as an Egg, hatches into Larvae, transforms into a Pupa, and finally emerges as an Adult. The egg is attached to structures, rocks, or trees overhanging a stream or river and hatches within 1 to 2 weeks. The newly hatched larvae (called Hellgrammites, more on them in a later creature feature) drop into the water and position themselves in a suitable feeding site under rocks. Hellgrammites, said to be great bait for small mouth bass and river trout, will feed and grow up to 3 inches in length taking up to 3 (more or less) years. When mature, Hellgrammites will migrate out of the water, sometimes as far as 50 feet, to dig a cell in wet soil, moss, or decaying vegetation to pupate. The pupa will stay in the cell for 7 to 14 days then the adult will dig its way out.

The adult stage puts the insect on a fast track. The male will live about 3-5 days while the female up to two weeks during which time it is thought that they don’t feed. (Explains why the female might bite, she is hangry!). Their mission of course is to continue the next generation. They spend most daylight hours in the canopy of trees or in thick vegetation near streams or rivers. But they are most active at night and are strongly attracted to light which makes them at risk during this time as food for bats, large invertebrates while during the day birds, and fish. Though they have large wings spanning up to 5 inches, they are not great fliers but can be found quite a distance from rivers or streams.

So, if you see a Dobsonfly in town, or get buzzed under a street light, YOU ARE SO LUCKY!

P.S. Dobsonflies while scary looking, are harmless to humans, animals, property, and crops. No control treatments are necessary. So, enjoy, take a picture, then please leave them alone.

Written by Diana Flynn

Diana Flynn has happily joined the staff at Jefferson County Conservation as an office assistant. She has many years of office management and customer service experience and is looking forward to working with staff and park visitors. She will be in the office Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM.

Burning can look destructive. It leaves a path of charred remains but from those remains come new life. Yesterday you may have noticed smoke coming from Jefferson County Park. A small section of Oak/ Hickory Forest underwent a prescribed burn to set back invasive species and encourage the growth of native plants.

Some forests may look healthy at first but if they are full of invasive species, they are being deceptive. Invasive species provide minimal food supply for the animals, especially birds who need high protein food sources. They also shade out our variety of native plants and in turn offer only a few food sources. Jefferson County Park has seen the most damage from Bush Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, and Garlic Mustard. A prescribed fire helps to keep these invasives at bay while encouraging the growth of our native plant community.

Ever wondered what our Environmental Education program is all about? Werner Elmker took on the project of capturing what it is that we do. We hope you enjoy his short video.

During the off-season months of November thru April the Conservation Board staff is able to switch gears from caring for the campgrounds, picnic areas and trails to projects that improve habitat. The work is often misunderstood by the public. This article will explain some of the benefits that result from the work being done.
Prairie management projects are very important because many species of wildlife that depend on this type of habitat are declining. It is said that 1/10th of 1 percent of Iowa’s original prairie remains. The prairie grasses and wildflowers require full sun to survive. Allowing these remnants to be overtaken by invasive brush makes them unusable to many types of insects from butterflies to walking sticks as well as several grassland dependent birds.
One good tool for keeping prairies open is prescribed fire. Each spring we try to burn a few of our prairie areas as weather and time allows. Burning regularly keeps them free of brush and generally in good shape. Some of our prairie areas that are farther out in the county or are hard to access can become overgrown with invasive trees and brush. Some of these invaders cannot be controlled with fire.

When this occurs, other tools become necessary. Chainsaws and brush mowers are commonly used to keep unwanted trees out of prairies. Hard to kill invasives like Autumn Olive and Black Locust must also be treated with herbicide. A similar tool that will be used at Round Prairie Park and the Neff Wetland this winter is called a Forestry Mulcher. This is a grinder attachment that goes on a skid loader and is able to mulch all the unwanted brush into chips.
Round Prairie Park contains over 50 acres of remnant prairie that has been overtaken by Autumn Olive, Amur Maple and Red Cedar. A contractor with a Forestry Mulcher will be working during the next 2 winters to restore these very rare and important remnants.

The right of way of the Loop Trail along the Highway 34 bypass was seeded to prairie after its construction. This prairie is a hard one to take care of with fire because of its proximity to the highway and adjoining private property. Several beneficial trees have been planted along this stretch but many invaders have also grown up. Trees like Box Elder, Cottonwood, Black Locust, Cedar, Elm, and the shrub Autumn Olive all have the potential if left unchecked to shade out the prairie. Conservation Board staff will be removing many of these trees during the upcoming winter to save the prairie and the wildlife that depend on it.
Another technique that park visitors may notice is known as girdling. This involves cutting the bark at the base of unwanted trees and leaving them standing. This allows the sunlight back into areas that were once prairie. This may also be done in forest or woodlands to help with Oak Regeneration. Young oaks require sunlight to thrive.
The disturbance that results from these projects can be upsetting to see but the goal of improving wildlife habitat is more important than ever. For prairie wildlife to survive there must be prairie.

For more details about improving habitat contact Shawn by email

With the arrival of warmer weather, several of the parks managed by Jefferson County Conservation will see their amenities opening back up.

The Round Prairie Park and Mac Coon Access campgrounds will open on Friday, April 2nd. Both campgrounds have a nightly rate of $12 for electricity and $9 without. The campgrounds are first come, first serve.

Jefferson County Park campground, cabins, and shelters will officially open April 30th. Cabin reservations are available online at Cabins are $55 per night with a $4 processing fee added at the time of payment. There is a two-night minimum stay for weekends. Reservations must be made three days in advance of arrival date.

Jefferson County Park shelters may be reserved from 9:00am-9:00pm. Shelter 1 & 2 have a reservation fee of $15 per day. Shelter 3, which overlooks the pond, has a fee of $20. Shelter reservations can be made by calling the office at 472-4421.

Jefferson County Park campground has nightly rate of $17 for electricity and $14 without. The campground is first come, first serve. Self-contained campers will be allowed beginning April 16th. Bathrooms will be open by April 30th weather permitting.

National Moth Week is a worldwide citizen science project to study and record populations of moths. The annual event is held in the last week of July. It encourages scientists and non-scientists to participate in mostly night-time surveys of moths.

Head to the official National Moth Week website for more information.

Looking for a cute coloring book? Here ya go!

If you are looking to do some moth identification, this silhouette page will help you out!

Here are pictures taken in Jefferson County Park at past Moth Nights.

Local entomologist, Moni Hayne has put together a collection of several great references regarding moths and Moth Week.


Virtual Fieldtrips, that was a phrase we knew nothing about two months ago. To adapt to a different spring than normal, staff created pre-recorded highlights of fieldtrips students would have gone on, then joined the classes via Zoom. It was not the same as an in-person fieldtrip but it was a great alternative. Overall, we met with 46 classes and had 533 participants. Thanks to all the teachers, students, and parents which helped make this happen! To see the virtual fieldtrips, or any of our other videos, head to our videos page!

Notice of Jefferson County Conservation Board Meeting
A teleconference meeting of the Jefferson County Conservation Board will be held on Monday, April 6th to approve a contract with the DNR for a Fish Habitat Grant project. For more information, please call 472-4421.