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Naturally Speaking: Local Conservation News Updates

The Des Moines Sunday Register had a brief note on page 2 that Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has just been discovered in two more Iowa counties. Only a year ago the ash-killing pest was known only in far off Allamakee Co. in northeast Iowa. The pest’s natural rate of spread is limited since adult beetles can fly only two to five miles a year. The most likely cause of the random scattering of new infestations across southern and eastern Iowa is people transporting infested firewood.

A statewide quarantine on movement of hardwood firewood established only a couple of weeks ago by the Iowa DNR now seems even more justified as the only means of slowing the pest’s spread. More infestations will likely be discovered as winter tree work continues around the state. It takes two to three years for symptoms of a new infestation to become apparent. Although no infestations have yet been found in Central Iowa, that’s likely to change. It’s unlikely that Central Iowa has avoided the movement of infested firewood over the past few years, since lots of campers and other wood burners live here, as well.

It’s nice to have good news to share, too. The prolonged cold spell allowed the conservation board to move limestone rip-rap to the eroding shoreline on the south side of Hickory Grove Lake across from the lake’s island and beach. The project was possible only because lake ice finally reached the 16” to 18” thickness necessary to safely support trucks and tractors needed to move the heavy stone into place. The project completes the last segment of a multiphase shoreline stabilization plan that was set in motion years ago. Funding for the project was possible because Hickory Grove is one of the DNR’s “priority lakes” in Central Iowa. The project will reduce lake siltation due to wave erosion of the steep embankment, and adds important shoreline structure that will benefit fish. Work will also continue on a recently completed watershed improvement plan that should improve the lake’s water quality.

A recent volunteer work day succeeded in assembling a number of wooden pallet reef structures on the bed of the newly constructed Dakins Lake just north of Zearing. They will provide important habitat for fish as the new lake fills in the coming year. Rock and broken concrete reefs have also been installed on the lake bed. Assuming that there is adequate precipitation to fill the new lake this spring, the Iowa DNR will begin the fish-stocking process. Don’t count on filling any stringers with tasty bluegills, crappies, or catfish for a couple of years, but growth rates should be rapid in the new lake. The nearly 15-acre lake should become a bass hotspot, too, as fish populations develop. There is usually a surge in fishing success in the third to fifth year of a new lake. The board plans to continue with construction of the new park’s state-of-the-art campground facility this year, too.

Recent sightings of interesting wildlife include a number of trumpeter swans that are feeding in corn fields with Canada geese near Ames. The birds have been seen at the Hallet sand pit near I-35 and at Ada Hayden Park, as well. A large flock of robins has nearly cleaned my neighborhood of crab apple fruit. They’re still appearing almost every day to get water at the heated bird bath in my back yard, though. A flock of cedar waxwings has been traveling with the robins and gorging on the fruit, too. I continue to see bald eagles on an almost daily basis. Some of the birds are most likely winter migrants that will be leaving us in the weeks ahead. It’s quite possible that a few may remain to nest here in Story County. Some likely nest sites have been spotted, and only time will tell if new eagle nesting territories are established this spring.

(Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation.)

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