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Conservation Corner

EQIP Air Quality Initiative

Wed, January 25, 2012

Passed in 1990, the Clean Air Act established nationwide standards to improve the quality of the air we breathe. There are areas across the country that do not yet meet those standards, which were created to address human health needs. The 2008 Farm Bill included provisions that offer federal assistance to agricultural producers to address air quality concerns and help meet Federal, State, and local regulatory requirements.  According to Ivan Dozier, Assistant State Conservationist for Illinois’ Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the agriculture community in Illinois can help address local and regional air quality issues and make improvements. “The NRCS has developed and funded an initiative that can help farmers reduce contributions to particulate matter and the formation of ozone, which will serve to improve air quality throughout the region,” Dozier said.

The Air Quality Initiative is open for signup in thirteen Illinois counties designated as having a need to address requirements of the Clean Air Act amendments.  Solutions for on-farm air quality issues are available through more than 40 conservation practices and NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP. Illinois counties eligible for this special technical and financial assistance are organized as first and second priority, which include:

Priority Counties –Cook, Du Page, Grundy, Jersey, Kane, Kendall, Lake, Madison, McHenry, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair, and Will.

Secondary Counties—Boone, Bond, Calhoun, Clinton, De Kalb, Greene, Jackson, Henry, LaSalle, Livingston, Macon, Macoupin, Mercer, Moultrie, Montgomery, Perry, Piatt, Rock Island, Washington, and Whiteside.

Eligible producers for EQIP’s Air Quality Initiative include persons or entities who are owners of land in agricultural or forest production or those engaged in livestock, agricultural or forest production on eligible land and that have an air quality related natural resource concern on the agricultural operation.  Eligible land includes cropland, pastureland, private non-industrial forestland, and other farm or ranch lands.

There are a number of regular and popular conservation practices used in Illinois that can directly or indirectly benefit air quality concerns.  These include management changes or simple options like establishing cover crops, planting windbreaks, or using nutrient management systems.

For those interested in establishing or improving wildlife habitat some that I notice on this list that would be of interest include: Conservation Cover (native prairie grasses or cool season grasses or both), Field Borders, Forest Stand Improvement, hedgerow planting, riparian forest buffer, tree/shrub establishment, windbreak/shelterbelt establishment, and windbreak/shelterbelt renovation.  To access a complete list of eligible air quality improvement practices or to learn about the specific air quality resource concerns identified in Illinois, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1045920.pdf .

Applications for the EQIP Air Quality Initiative are accepted on a continuous basis throughout the fiscal year; however, NRCS has established specific dates where eligible applications will be evaluated, ranked, and approved for funding.  For fiscal year 2012, NRCS has established the first application deadline for February 3, 2012 and the second for March 30, 2012. That is not far off so contact your local Service Center for more details regarding eligibility and application requirements.



Bats make good neighbors—Honest!

Fri, January 13, 2012

Do mosquitoes get on your nerves? Are you tired of using insect repellants? Is the bug zapper not working up to par or is it just too noisy?  If so then it may be time to consider a bat colony.

While spooky tales have turned these fuzzy creatures into monsters, bats are an integral part of the ecosystem. The loss of natural roosts, like tree cavities or caves, has impacted many bats. But many bats are without homes and may need some encouragement from private landowners and homeowners just like you.  Kole and I always enjoy watching the bats fly around our heads late in the summer and fall evenings as we toss a ball around in the backyard.  We always wonder how low they will get over our heads.

You can buy a bat house, or you can make your own. Bookstores feature guides on how to build a bat house. You can also visit the Bat Conservation International, Inc. website, http://www.batcon.org for m,ore on building successful bat houses.

The best-designed bat houses are two to three feet tall, and foot to two feet wide. They are often four to five inches deep, and most houses have several roosting chambers about an inch wide. Using rough lumber allows bats to hang on more easily.

Houses should be placed 10-20 feet off the ground on poles or buildings. Place your house so it receives at least six hours of sun a day.

Bat houses do best in areas where water and habitat with diverse vegetation are nearby. The houses are most successful when they are installed before migrating bats return in the spring.

Remember: do not handle bats or other wildlife. If a bat is close enough for you to pick up, it could be sick and should be left alone.

While fear of bats is common in the U.S., other cultures like the Chinese consider bats a symbol of good luck. Native American cultures consider them powerful deities. Give them a chance! They can be a fascinating and helpful addition to the wildlife family in your neighborhood.

For more information bats and other Backyard Conservation practices, visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service online at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/backyard/  or call 1-.888.526.3227 (toll free) and press 2 for a free colorful Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.



Making Boxes for Wood Ducks

Fri, January 13, 2012

Attract one of the state’s waterfowl treasures to your property by building a wood duck box, a man-made habitat for the continent’s most colorful waterfowl.  Wood ducks thrive in forested wetlands, and they naturally nest in tree cavities. They are common to Southern Illinois but can be spotted—and enjoyed—all across the State of Illinois. However, as human development alters wood duck habitat, these boxes you build provide a nesting sanctuary for the wood duck.

This is a good time to be making wood duck boxes since we cannot do much else outdoors,  With the exception of this final weekend of deer season.  Make sure you install yours by fall or early winter of this year to ensure you see results as wood ducks start their return in late winter or early spring. Wood ducks begin their search for nesting sites soon after their return to breeding grounds.

Nesting boxes should be built out of rough cypress, cedar or plywood. A good size is two feet tall, one foot deep and one foot wide. The front should have a hole about four inches in diameter located at the top of the front of the box.  Boxes need to be made of rough wood. The young wood ducks are able to use their sharp-clawed feet to scurry up the side of the box to jump out of the hole when the time comes.

Be sure to place wood shavings inside the box. Wood ducks do not carry materials to build a nest, and they will not lay eggs in an empty nest. Fill the box with three to four inches of sawdust or wood shavings.

It’s also a good idea to drill a couple small holes at the bottom of the box to allow for water and moisture to drain out of the boxes. Be sure to use galvanized nails for the construction of the box.  The boxes can be placed along woodland streams and in flooded bottomlands, sloughs, lakes and beaver ponds. Also, marshes adjacent to swamps make good locations for the boxes. Make sure the box’s entrance hole faces the water.

It’s also important to deter predators from your wood duck box. Rat or Corn snakes and raccoons are among the biggest predators to wood duck eggs.  If a wood duck box is mounted on a galvanized, metal pole, it deters most snakes and raccoons. Cone shields can be place on poles under a wood duck box.

For boxes mounted on trees, a metal sleeve can be wrapped around the tree, which prevents raccoons or snakes from climbing the tree. Each year, after the nesting period, remove old eggshells and any unhatched eggs from the nest. Wood ducks lay an average of 12 eggs, which take 28-30 days to hatch. If the first or even second nesting is unsuccessful, female wood ducks will continue to lay eggs in hopes of a successful litter.

Young wood ducks are able to fly when they are eight- to 10-weeks-old. For more information on building wood duck boxes, go online to www.woodducksociety.com/duckhouse.htm.