LOVILLA – Month by month, year by year, change is coming to Miami Lake Wildlife Area in southeast Iowa’s Monroe County.
The work to improve and reclaim the grasslands and prairie, and encourage the oaks and hickories in the timber will ultimately benefit wildlife and improve the water quality in the 137-acre lake.
“We’ve been working on it for the past five years, and probably have another three to go, but we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor,” said Greg Schmitt, wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Rathbun Wildlife Unit.
Staff with the Iowa DNR along with the local cooperator have been removing brush to create a larger grassland complex. Schmitt said the local cooperator is part of the beginning farmer program and has been a significant help with the tree removal to re-establish the grassland. The Miami Lake area had a significant amount of autumn olive, honeysuckle and gray dogwood that required cutting and grinding.
“He’s really helped us along, reclaiming grasslands that had been lost to trees,” he said. “It was laden with brush and invasives, but we’re getting ahead of it.”
A late spring use of prescribed fire targeted the invasive reed canary grass and what returned to the site was common milkweed, which benefits pollinators in general and monarch butterflies in particular.
Fifteen acres of old fescue pasture was sprayed last fall and again this spring, then followed up with prescribed fire. In June, it was seeded to prairie from the DNR’s Prairie Resource Center that is now starting to show itself and although the plants are small, they can be identified – bergamot, mountain mint, big bluestem, rattlesnake master. Schmitt discovered a turkey brood using it when he showed up to mow it in August.
“In about three years, this area is really going to look different,” he said.
Looking ahead, Schmitt pointed to a valley filled with invasive black locust that will be cut and sprayed and transitioned into prairie.
“The local shooting sports team will pull out the trees and cut and split the logs into firewood for sale in the campground as a fundraiser for their team,” he said.
Keeping the area in prairie requires a commitment to regular management to prevent brush and trees from encroaching and that means spraying, grinding, cutting, pulling and fire. But not all of the management here is intended to remove trees.
With the bulk of the Miami Lake Wildlife Area considered timber, Schmitt said they are also focusing on improvements to benefit the oaks, hickories and other hardwoods in the existing timber. Between 2017-2021, all 400 woodland acres surrounding the lake were treated with some sort of forest management, most of which was understory removal and crop tree release to improvement mast production and promote oak seedling expansion. He said they are working to expand the oaks and hickories through new plantings west of the marsh and in a few of the fields.
The prairie and timber are one piece of the larger recreation complex.
The area also includes a park and campground managed by the Monroe County Conservation Board offering cabin rentals, campsites with varying amenities and a nature center.
A number of sediment ponds have been placed at strategic locations to protect the water quality of the lake and have been stocked with fish. Use the hunting atlas online at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting for an overhead view of Miami Lake to see the locations of these ponds.
Miami Lake Wildlife Area has hosted the Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring team eight times since 2011. The team, which is part of the Wildlife Diversity Program, surveys areas for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, odonates and butterflies.
At Miami Lake, the team found a number of species in need of conservation, including the threatened Henslow’s sparrow, state endangered red-shouldered hawks, and species considered of special concern including the wild indigo duskywing, zabulon skipper and the southern flying squirrel.