Habitat work continues on prairie, wood in Miami Lake Wildlife Area

Lovilia, Iowa – Month by month, year by year, changes are coming to the Miami Lake Wildlife Area.

Work to improve and restore grasslands and prairie and encourage oak and hickory trees in the wood will ultimately benefit wildlife and improve water quality in the 137-acre lake.

“We’ve been working on it for the last five years and probably have another three to go, but we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor,” said Greg Schmitt, a wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Unit. Rathbun Wildlife.

Iowa DNR staff along with the local partner have been clearing brush to create a larger grassland complex. Schmitt said the local cooperator is part of the beginning farmer program and has been very helpful with tree removal to restore grassland. The Miami Lake area had a significant amount of fall olive, honeysuckle, and gray dogwood that required cutting and shredding.

“He really helped us, reclaiming grasslands that had been lost to trees,” he said. “He was loaded with weeds and invaders, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”

A prescribed fire use in late spring focused on invasive cane grass and what returned to the site was common milkweed, which benefits pollinators in general and monarch butterflies in particular.

Fifteen acres of old-growth fescue pasture was sprayed last fall and again this spring, then followed up with prescribed fire. In June it was planted in meadows at the DNR Prairie Resource Center which is now beginning to show and although the plants are small they can be identified: bergamot, mountain mint, large bluestem, rattlesnake mistress. Schmitt discovered a baby turkey using it when he showed up to carve it up in August.

“In about three years, this area is really going to look different,” he said.

Looking ahead, Schmitt pointed to a valley full of invasive black locusts that will be cut and sprayed and become grasslands.

“The local shooting sports team will be uprooting the trees and cutting and splitting the logs into firewood to sell at camp as a fundraiser for their team,” he said.

Keeping the area in the prairie requires a commitment to regular management to keep brush and trees from encroaching and that means spraying, mulching, mowing, pulling and shooting. But not all management here is aimed at removing trees.

Since most of the Miami Lake wildlife area is considered timber, Schmitt said they are also focusing on improvements to benefit oak, hickory and other hardwoods over existing timber. Between 2017 and 2021, the 400 acres of forest surrounding the lake were treated with some form of forest management, most of which consisted of removing undergrowth and releasing crop trees to improve mast production and promote expansion of oak seedlings. He said they are working to expand the oak and hickory trees through new plantings west of the swamp and in some of the fields.

The meadow and forest are one piece of the larger recreation complex.

The area also includes a park and campground run by the Monroe County Board of Conservation that offers cabin rentals, campgrounds with various amenities, and a nature center.

Several sediment ponds have been placed in strategic locations to protect the water quality of the lake and have been stocked with fish. Use the online hunting atlas at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting to get an aerial view of Miami Lake and to see the locations of these ponds.

History of the diverse wildlife community.

The Miami Lake Wildlife Area has hosted the Multi-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 , odonata and butterflies. At Miami Lake, the team found a number of species in need of conservation, including the threatened Henslow’s sparrow, the state’s endangered red-shouldered hawks, and species considered of special concern, such as the wild indigo sootywing, skipper zebulon and the southern flying squirrel.