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Conservation Corner

New wetland attacts whoopers

Sun, March 20, 2011

Who would believe that within a year of restoring a floodplain, an endangered species could find a newly restored wetland along an Illinois River? But more important, it is a breeding pair of whooping cranes. These cranes are considered one of the most endangered wetland dependant species in North America. To have a pair stop along their migration, well, “it was spectacular,” said Dave Hiatt, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wildlife biologist.

Immediately after its restoration, the floodplain in Lawrence County began storing rainwater and floodwaters, creating an oasis for migrating and regional wildlife. The area provided food and shelter for birds and mammals all winter. “To see an endangered species return to former migration patterns so soon is remarkable,” said Bill Gradle, NRCS State Conservationist. “This is a real testament to what these restored floodplains have to offer.”

The land resides in the historical Purgatory Swamp which lies between the Wabash and Embarras Rivers. Over time it has been drained and farmed. “When I first saw this land I thought it was fantastic for restoration,” said landowner Ray McCormick. “It was a restoration just waiting to happen.” It didn’t take long for the 330 acre site to respond. As soon as the restoration work was completed, the rains came and it began ponding water. After the winter thaw, the river swelled and created a nice wet area that apparently was attractive for the pair of whooping cranes. The cranes had previously been banded as 2009 No.4 Female and 2004 No. 16 Male, according to a source from the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Wildlife Management Area.

Another important feature of this floodplain is its location. Hiatt says, “This particular floodplain easement is located within a contiguous area of 453 acres of floodplains along the Embarras River.” It is becoming evident, contiguous wetlands like these offer significant benefits for wildlife. Additional benefits include flood prevention downstream and water quality protection.

The floodplain restoration was one of 11 restorations in Illinois funded through the Administration’s 2010 America’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act). The NRCS used Recovery Act funding to offer landowners the opportunity to apply through the Emergency Watershed Protection - Floodplain Easement Program (EWP-FPE). The goal was to take cropland in flood prone areas out of production and restore the land back to original conditions.

Though restoring a floodplain is not a quick process, it is obvious some benefits are visible almost immediately. Not only have the whooping cranes arrived, but the landowner has noticed a large increase of ducks and other waterfowl.  “This is a great program,” said McCormick, “I encourage birdwatchers to come out and enjoy. I believe the public has the right see these areas. USDA wetland programs are just what the whoopers ordered.”

To learn more about NRCS programs and services go to www.il.nrcs.usda.gov

by Jody Christiansen, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

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Turkey Poachers Caught!

Fri, February 18, 2011

IDNR Conservation Police Help Kansas Authorities Catch Turkey Poachers From Illinois


Effingham County Men Plead Guilty in Kansas Turkey Poaching Case


SPRINGFIELD, IL – A joint investigation between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has resulted in the prosecution of 11 Effingham County, Illinois men for violating multiple Kansas game laws.
“This is a prime example of multiple agencies working together to protect wildlife and I would like to commend everyone involved in this case,” IDNR Conservation Police Chief Rafael Gutierrez.


Information gathered by investigators revealed that a group of hunters have been traveling to Kansas to turkey hunt for several years. Among other game law violations, the group has been taking over the limit of turkeys. Illinois Conservation Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service interviewed the group of men in May of 2009 and seized eight whole turkeys, more than 20 sets of spurs, 24 beards, 19 packages of turkey meat, and five unused turkey permits.
Below is a list of the defendants and their crimes. In parenthesis is the county in which they were prosecuted.


Ronald Esker (Geary County, Kansas) - misrepresentation to purchase a resident turkey permit, hunting turkeys without a valid license and taking turkeys without a valid permit. He was fined $586 and lost his hunting privileges in Kansas and Illinois for two years.


Shawn Lewis (Clay County, Kansas) - taking of turkeys without a valid permit. He was fined $636 and lost his hunting privileges in Kansas and Illinois for one year.


Scott Huelsing (Osage County, Kansas) - unlawful possession of wild turkeys, failure to tag wild turkeys and hunting from a motor vehicle.


Vincent Huelsing (Osage County, Kansas) - two counts of failure to tag wild turkeys.


Paul Althoff (Osage County, Kansas) - failure to tag wild turkeys and hunting turkeys without a valid permit.


James Dust (Osage County, Kansas) - two counts of taking wild turkeys without a valid permit.


Tom Edwards (Osage County, Kansas) - failure to tag wild turkeys and taking of wild turkey without a valid permit.


Jason Dust (Osage County, Kansas) - two counts of taking wild turkeys without a valid permit.


Justin Dust (Osage County, Kansas) - taking wild turkeys without a valid permit.


Frank Lee (Osage County, Kansas) - taking a hen turkey and hunting wild turkeys without a valid permit.


Dennis Heuerman (Osage County, Kansas) - failure to tag wild turkeys and taking of wild turkeys without a valid permit.


Each individual charged in Osage County, Kansas entered a diversion agreement and paid a fine of $493.50.


Anyone with information regarding illegal hunting activity is urged to contact your local conservation officer or the IDNR TIP hotline at (877) 236-7529.

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Habitat restoration on small acreage

Mon, January 31, 2011

“This project is for my family and the community,” says Harry Rossett of his 80-acre habitat restoration in rural Kane County.


A little more than a year ago, this was a flat cropfield. Standing in the center, one could see pretty much all there was to see: a lot of corn stubble. It is on this site that Harry and wife Wendy plan to spend much of their free time, and in the future, an active retirement enjoying nature with their family.


While a field of corn stubble may not sound like a bustling natural community to most, Harry and Wendy had a vision. They saw prairie grasses leaning in the breeze, native oaks and hickories taking root near a wetland sanctuary for migratory birds, and a pond to enjoy year-round. But they wanted to do it right, so they contacted the local District Conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, Tom Ryterske, for more information.


Ryterske’s job is to help local landowners and farmers protect the quality of the soil, water, plants, and other natural resources on their land. In Chicago’s collar counties, this means working with all sorts of landowners. Ryterske’s clients include farmers who need large scale agricultural conservation systems that protect wildlife habitat, prevent soil erosion, and meet requirements of local, state and federal environmental standards. In addition, he works with growing communities to identify alternatives for smart growth and to promote urban construction methods that protect water quality. Yet another facet of his conservation work focuses on landowners with smaller tracts of land, like the Rossetts.


“In areas surrounding Chicago, many people have small acreage in the country,” said Ryterske. “They want to protect and restore natural habitats, but need technical information on the soils, drainage, and native plant and animal communities. They need to know what will and will not work on their land,” he said.


Conservation Planning for Wildlife and Recreation

The Rossetts were eligible for assistance for their project through the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, or WHIP. Through the program, they received financial support for a wetland restoration, prairie restoration, woodland restoration, stream buffer, and a small windbreak.


Ryterske provided conservation planning assistance for the project using detailed soils information compiled by NRCS over the past 70 years, the latest conservation planning software and imaging technology, and Ryterske’s own 26 years of experience working on the land in northeastern Illinois. An NRCS archaeologist and biologist, along with biologists with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), helped inventory resources on the site, analyze the potential for restoration, and develop alternatives to meet the Rossett’s goals for the land.


Biology assistance included seeding recommendations to establish healthy stands of wildlife-friendly grasses on both upland areas and wetlands. In addition, IDNR biologists provided suggested maintenance activities, including the use of prescribed fire, to help the plantings out-compete non-native and less desirable vegetation. An IDNR fisheries biologist also provided assistance with the design of the pond and helped Harry develop a stocking plan.


The archeological review revealed two sites on the Rossett’s property. A prehistoric site from the Middle Archaic Period was evidenced by stone dart points that date from 5,000 to 8,000 years ago, according to the NRCS Archaeologist. In addition, a concentration of tableware and crockery fragments confirmed the existence of an historic farmstead dating to the early 1800s.


Putting a Vision on the Ground

Thanks to a carefully crafted conservation plan that captured Harry and Wendy’s vision and that suited the natural and cultural characteristics of the land, the site underwent a dramatic transformation in just a year. The changes make the spot seem larger and more alive.


Today, Harry drives down a winding lane along the periphery, pointing out design details and noting specifics about the soils that he picked up during the process. Seventeen acres of trees have been planted, a thirteen-acre wetland constructed, and several grassy expanses seeded to recall a memory of Illinois’ native prairies. The heavy work involved excavating the pond and molding the spoil into a grassy hillside. Earth-moving activities were conducted according to NRCS specifications and in a manner that preserved the integrity of both archaeological sites.


“Conservation planning is much more complicated than planting a few trees and not mowing your grass,” said Ryterske. “My role is to help people set realistic objectives to meet their land use goals in consideration of the suitabilities and limitations of the land and water resources they have to work with,” he said.


The Rossetts plan to share their haven with their grandchildren and with local school groups interested in monitoring water quality and the establishment of plant and animal communities.


“There is so much you can learn from this piece of land and the soils, plants and animals on it,” Harry said. “We can’t wait to see how it develops year by year!”

by Jill Rees, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

 

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