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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

More than Acres and Miles: The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

Region 3, November 1, 2012
The wetlands were already responding to the restored hydrology in the first growing season.
The wetlands were already responding to the restored hydrology in the first growing season. - Photo Credit: n/a
A contractor installing an inlet water control structure.
A contractor installing an inlet water control structure. - Photo Credit: n/a
Three generations stand next to the water control structure on their newly restored wetland. “I’m really looking forward to watching the sun come up over the decoys, listening to the whistling wings over this restored wetland with my dad and my son and passing our family’s hunting heritage to the next generation .”  -- Ryan Heiniger
Three generations stand next to the water control structure on their newly restored wetland. “I’m really looking forward to watching the sun come up over the decoys, listening to the whistling wings over this restored wetland with my dad and my son and passing our family’s hunting heritage to the next generation .” -- Ryan Heiniger - Photo Credit: n/a
Button bush provides important food and cover for migratory birds and other wildlife along the Mississippi River.
Button bush provides important food and cover for migratory birds and other wildlife along the Mississippi River. - Photo Credit: n/a

When measuring the success of our conservation efforts we often put projects in the context of “acres and miles." How many acres of wetlands and miles of stream restored in a given year or focus area? Numbers matter, but they do not tell the whole story. Of course, most biologists would agree that the quality of habitat on-the-ground is more important than the numbers.

With some projects, the partnerships that are built and the landowners’ satisfaction are even greater accomplishments than either the number of acres restored or the habitat itself. This was the case for two small wetlands that were recently restored along the Mississippi River in southeastern Iowa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helped facilitate the restoration of these wetlands, through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, with the help of a conservation minded family, the Iowa-River Flint Creek Levee District 16, and the Des Moines County Drainage District 7. The Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Des Moines County Conservation Board, and Aldo Leopold Chapter of Pheasants Forever also were integral to the enhancement of the surrounding upland habitat.

The Des Moines County Drainage District 7 maintains more than 200 miles of drainage ditches within its 25,000 acre boundary to support agricultural production on the floodplain. By working with the drainage district, two partially drained wetlands were restored by installing earthen berms across drainage ditches. The wetlands are filled by the constant groundwater, or seep water, flow from under the levee. This levee separates the river from its floodplain to help maintain the Mississippi River’s 9-foot navigation channel. The seep water made farming these drained wetlands nearly impossible in most years; therefore, improving wildlife habitat was the clear choice for this marginal cropland.

In addition to the great partnerships, the Heiniger family is excited about this project and feels it can act as a demonstration site for other agricultural producers in the area. This is a highly visible project due its proximity to a well-traveled road and the local grain elevator. There are many other landowners on the floodplain who have these “odd areas” that can be set aside and improved for wildlife.

“Our family farm is more than just about growing corn and soybeans and we have an obligation to steward the land and care for the soil, water and wildlife. This wetland and restored prairie enhances our farm’s value and is a small way we can give back, " said Ryan Heiniger.

Odd areas have traditionally been the places where wildlife thrive on working landscapes. On the Mississippi River floodplain, these patches of habitat complement other more intact breeding and stop-over habitats for migratory birds along the river. The Heinigers had been interested in improving wildlife habitat on their property for years, but, just like many landowners, they needed assistance from a flexible program.

Phil Heiniger, the owner of Heiniger Farms, said “If it hadn't been for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, this wetland project would have never materialized. Numerous attempts had been made with different organizations, but due to its small size, no one was interested in the project.”

Learn more about the Midwest Partners For Fish and Wildlife Program, http://www.fws.gov/midwest/partners/

Contact Info: Alexander Galt, (320)589-4001, alexander_galt@fws.gov