The flooding of 2008 left stark reminders on the Midwest landscape about the need for more and better soil conservation efforts. Soil erosion, crop loss and stream bank degradation were evident throughout the countryside in Iowa and Illinois.
In 2009 Tree Forever was awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to showcase conservation demonstration sites in watersheds where flooding occurred. These projects are located in the Upper Mississippi River Basin in both Iowa and Illinois. Currently 20 landowners are participating in the project.
The goals of the project are to:
• Decrease soil erosion, prevent sediment and pollutants from entering streams, and lessen stream bank erosion by installing buffers with a diversity of tree, shrub, and prairie plant species;
• Increase wildlife habitat and subsequently numbers and species of wildlife
• Demonstrate to other landowners and the public the value of conservation buffers.
Projects include forested riparian buffers along streams and ponds that not only help protect water quality but provide wildlife habitat. Several projects showcase urban storm water management practices- rain gardens, bioswales, and bioretention cells that also help protect water quality and provide habitat for beneficial insects.
Projects sites will be followed over the course of five years to assess improvements in water quality and in the number of wildlife species observed by landowners.
Diversity Depends on Diversity
Quality wildlife habitat will include a diverse selection of plant species. Whether it’s a prairie, a riparian buffer with trees and shrubs, a wetland, or your back yard, more diverse plantings will have greater success in increasing wildlife species and numbers.
Buffers and other plantings that have a diversity of plant species:
• Support a broader base of wildlife species
• Are better able to tolerate and adapt to disturbances such as flooding, pests, disease, or fire
• Provide wildlife travel lanes with access to food and water
• Provide habitat for crop and wildflower pollinators
Planning successful habitat projects
Successful wildlife plantings should provide four important elements for habitat: cover, food, water and travel lanes. The kinds of species and management practices to use (e.g., forested riparian buffers, wetlands, prairie, etc.) will depend on your goals and the types of wildlife you wish to attract. Habitat types can range from pheasant and quail habitat to nongame wildlife to backyard birds. Your Trees Forever Field Coordinator can help you determine your goals and direct you to resources to help create and manage wildlife habitat. Good resources include your local NRCS office or your DNR Wildlife Biologist.
Conflicts with wildlife
Sometimes wildlife can interfere with the establishment of tree and shrub plantings. For ideas on how to lessen deer damage and other factors that can threaten successful establishment of plantings see these issues of the Buffer Buzz.
The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
For additional resources, see the links below.
National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
US Forest Service
Illinois Council on Best Management Practices
Iowa Farm Bureau
Trees Forever field coordinators examine a landowner’s creek looking for the presence of aquatic macroinvertebrates – an indicator of stream health. Using the NRCS’s Stream Visual Assessment Protocol (SVAP), staff will assess the condition of the streams before planting and again in five years.
Beneficial pollinators such as these bees are important in food production. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a quarter of the food and beverages we consume is produced as a result of animal pollinators.
Landowner Kevin Kelly tells field day participants why riparian buffers are important to him and for water quality and wildlife. Kelly, a consulting forester and nursery owner, also showed the participants equipment and procedures used when planting and maintaining a buffer.
The program is aimed at improving streams such as this one on the campus of Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. The logs washed against the bank were put there by the last flood. Erosion is a problem in this stream – the area from the sandbar to the right is the amount of bank they lost last year in an 8 month stretch.
The native grasses and forbs in this bioretention cell in Alden, Iowa, help filter pollutants from storm water run-off from an adjacent road and industrial area before it reaches the Iowa River. Structures such as these also reduce water volume flowing into streams.