The process of completing a land protection project closely resembles putting a puzzle together, and sometimes the pieces are challenging to locate or difficult to put into place.
A 227-acre addition to Waterman Prairie Wildlife Management Area in O’Brien County is part of a “puzzle” that connects two protected natural areas and adds a large tract to the 1500-acre Waterman complex, about 3.5 miles southeast of Sutherland. The addition is host to many distinctive features that make up the northwest Iowa landscape. It boasts soft-edged rolling hills with remnant prairie, a wooded, winding creek, oak savanna and a large oak woodland. The Iowa DNR approached INHF to help acquire this connecting piece in fall 2014.
Views from the ridge tops tell the story of why this area has been a priority for permanent protection for a long time. It was one of 22 prairie tracts across the state that Ada Hayden highlighted in 1945 in “The Selection of Prairie Areas in Iowa Which Should Be Preserved.” The addition of this piece near the confluence of Waterman Creek and the Little Sioux River will benefit water quality in the area and add to the protected land in the Waterman Prairie Bird Conservation Area.
In the summertime, imagine the morning fog ascending gentle green ridges and disappearing, the oranges and purples of the prairie flowers igniting as the light grows stronger. In the winter, imagine a sunny and chilly stillness interrupted only by the sound of the wind through the golden prairie grasses.
“The place is extremely scenic; I think people are really going to enjoy it,” notes Chris La Rue, the wildlife biologist for Great Lakes Unit of the Iowa DNR Wildlife Bureau. La Rue is excited about the addition because not only is it beautiful, it significantly improves public access and recreation, eases their ability to manage the existing complex and adds to the continued preservation of its patches of remnant prairie. “It’s an important addition,” he adds, “so many people came together to make this happen, and so many will benefit from it.”
The addition transferred to the Iowa DNR in November 2015 and is now being managed by La Rue and his team. Most of the addition is now open to the public, and the remainder will open this spring. Much of this project completion success is attributed to outstanding partners that make efforts like this happen more quickly and efficiently. The O’Brien County Pheasants Forever Chapter, the O’Brien County Sportsman Club and the Cherokee County Pheasants Forever Chapter helped to secure the funding necessary to protect this place forever.
INHF bought the property at auction, which included 144 acres of cropland at the time. INHF and partners decided to split the prairie/woodland section from the cropland and sell the portion of the property with cropland privately, allowing them to focus on the land with higher conservation value. The cropland will carry conservation restrictions attached to the deed.
Now that the property is transferred, the question of long-term plans comes to surface, and that, too, is a bit of a puzzle piece. La Rue and his team will finish a management plan — including prairie plantings and stream bank stabilization — and begin restoration processes as early as this spring.