The Nature Conservancy in Iowa is launching an 80-acre floodplain restoration project at the Conservancy’s Swamp White Oak savanna, a globally threatened and biologically diverse woodland community. The restoration work will be based on recent Conservancy-funded research by Connie Dettman Rose. Her research included extensive study of pre-settlement survey records and inventorying current plant species, which serves as the basis for the restoration plan for this unique, poorly understood and diverse area.
“The plan is based on historic documentation of native species and how that balance was maintained through interactions between flood and fire,” said Jennifer Filipiak, director of conservation science for the Conservancy in Iowa. “Restoration efforts will include opening of the closed canopy to a more savanna-like condition and invasive species removal. We will then return fire to the landscape.”
Further studies will determine the best course of action for hydrology based on ground water and surface water interaction.
“The biodiversity of plants and animals in the area makes it a priority for us,” said recently hired Matt Fisher, new project director for Eastern Iowa. “The Lower Cedar Valley contains 70 percent of all reptile and amphibian species living in Iowa and two globally threatened plant communities. Much of it remains intact, which is a good place to start conservation efforts.”
One of Fisher’s priorities will be working with landowners, producers, scientists and community members to develop partnerships and consensus for the important conservation work to proceed expeditiously.
Fisher opened a new and expanded eastern Iowa field office in early January that can accommodate visiting researchers, house a full land-management shop and provide conference rooms and office space for meetings. The facility is located in Letts, Iowa, next to the Conservancy’s largest preserve, Swamp White Oak, and seven miles west of Muscatine.
“There is great potential for important conservation collaboration in southeastern Iowa,” said Filipiak. “By expanding our office and hiring a project director, we are responding to this priority. We are confident in Matt’s abilities to make a significant difference and move these conservation efforts forward.”
The floodplain oak savannas of the Lower Cedar Valley were established when the forest was more open—when fire and seasonal floods controlled growth. Now, without adequate fire, too many trees grow in an unnatural density, preventing new oak trees from growing. The Cedar River also is flooding unnaturally, causing certain populations of plants and animals to decline. Ecological threats to the region also include harmful non-native species such as reed canary grass and garlic mustard.
The Conservancy currently owns 767 acres here and an additional 20,000 acres have been protected by private landowners and partners. The Conservancy is working with partners to focus on natural areas management, sharing research and developing science-based conservation plans.
Long-term goals include working with partners to conserve and restore 5,000 acres of swamp white oak and floodplain savannas through controlled fire and other science-based techniques.
The Nature Conservancy in Iowa has more than 7,500 members and manages 33 preserves totaling over 6,000 acres. Since the Chapter began in 1963, with the aid of volunteers it has been involved in the protection of nearly 20,000 acres in the state, including native prairies, wetlands and woodland communities.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.