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High-quality remnant prairie open to public in Cherokee County

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A valuable piece of Iowa's history is now protected and open to the public in Cherokee County.

In April, the nonprofit Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) transferred over 140 acres of high-quality, remnant prairie in the county's northeast corner to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). This new area is now open to the public as part of the Waterman Prairie Complex, which is one of the largest and best areas of remaining prairie in the state.

"This area was a priority for INHF and everyone who appreciates and understands the importance of Iowa's remnant native prairies," said Heather Jobst, INHF's Land Projects Director.

About 99.9 percent of Iowa's once-abundant prairies are now gone. Patches of prairie are being restored and reconstructed, but native prairies nearly always have a richer diversity of plant and animal species.

This addition is characterized by its rolling landscape and pronounced ridgeline. It contains many native plant species such as prairie violet and leadplant. The area is also home to eight Species of Greatest Conservation Need: five plants, two birds and one butterfly.

"This prairie is unique in several ways," IDNR Wildlife Management Biologist Chris LaRue said. "First off, it is virtually untouched and only a small part was ever farmland. Also, the extreme topography is reminiscent of the Loess Hills and may contain other rare plants that will be invigorated with future management."

Along with wildlife protection, the addition will provide opportunities for nature study, hiking, hunting, fishing and seed bank for future conservation activities.

Previous owners Tim and Sandy Tuttle enrolled the land in the IDNR's Landowner Incentive Program to remove invasive species such as cedar trees. The Tuttles wanted the property to go to the IDNR, but the IDNR could not raise the necessary funds at the time.

So the couple sold the property to INHF in April 2010 with the intent that it be protected. The conservation group submitted a Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) grant application -- which was later awarded -- and split the matching fund costs (roughly $60,000 total) with the Iowa Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). INHF's half came from the Foundation's Richard S. (Sandy) Rhodes II Fund.

"Very few conservation projects of this size happen with just one organization," said TNC-Iowa's Director of Conservation Science Jen Filipiak. "We do lots of co-op deals and saw this as an excellent opportunity to do so with a great property."

The IDNR will take over long-term management now that the property has been transferred so that it can be opened for public use.

INHF works with private landowners and other partners to protect Iowa's land, water and wildlife. Since its founding in 1979, the organization has helped protect more than 120,000 acres of Iowa's wild places.

Past INHF projects in the region include additions to Stone State Park in Woodbury County, an addition to the Cherokee County Conservation Board's Martin Wildlife Area, and private conservation easements along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway.

For more information, visit www.inhf.org

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