Restoring the land back to its natural state.
Pre-European arrival, Iowa’s ecosystems were healthy and thriving. However, after European contact things began to shift dramatically: new species were introduced (many of which are now invasive), fire was dramatically removed, and natural grazing patterns by buffalo and elk were replaced by cattle. Draining of wetlands, unsustainable timber harvests, fragmenting habitats, and putting the plow to the prairie were also common practices during that era.
As a result of these changes, the biggest issue facing our natural habitats is a lack of active management. In the places where the lack of foresight broke the natural cycle, conservation practices are put in place to fill the void. The goal as stewards of the land is to actively manage for the health and sustainability of our conservation areas. Some of the conservation practices we use to improve the health of our areas include:
Timber Stand Improvement (TSI): TSI is a common practice which is necessary especially if grazing and fire have not been used in recent years. TSI will create habitat for wildlife by putting more sunlight on the ground for increased browsing. TSI can create brush piles for wildlife and allows for more native trees such as oak, hickory, walnut, hackberry, elm, and cherry to become established through greater access to sunlight. Two of the main methods for TSI are Understory Removal and Crop Tree Release.
Invasive Species Removal: Invasive species are plants or animals which occur outside their natural range. They can spread at an alarming rate because unlike native species, there are no native animals, fungi, or diseases to control their growth and spread. Invasive species can be kept in check by different means including mechanical (mowing or pulling), chemical, and biological such as applying natural predators. Invasive species are the second greatest threat to native species, second only to habitat loss.
Prescribed Burns: Fire is an important tool in managing Iowa’s native habitat. Without fire exotic/invasive species can outcompete the native plants which support the local ecosystem. Prescribed burning helps control invasive vegetation allowing native plants to thrive.