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Biologist Aleshia Kenny. Photo by USFWS.

Biologist Aleshia Kenny. Photo by USFWS.

FWS Biologist Uproots A Radish Award

An Iowa based news group, the Radish Magazine has shined the spotlight on Aleshia Kenney a biologist in the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. Each year in January the Radish Magazine recognizes individuals or organizations that are making positive differences in personal, environmental and community health. This year’s conservation Radish award acknowledges Aleshia’s work connecting landowners to the land.

 

The rest of the article is reprinted with permission from Radish Magazine.

Aleshia Kenney is a woman with vision. Where others might see a spot to dig a pond, Aleshia, a biologist with the Rock Island field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sees the potential for a wetland — and not just the wetland, but all the species of plants and animals it could support.

Where others might see a tangle of weeds in a neglected patch of ground, Aleshia’s keen eyes can spot the remnant prairie species that might flourish and the pollinators they would attract if a prairie were re-established on that spot.

And where others might see a uniform stand of trees, Aleshia sees the opportunity to increase plant and wildlife diversity by thinning the softwoods and adding mast-producing hardwoods that can feed a variety of mammals and birds.

It’s her ability to share this vision, though, and help private landowners make it a reality that makes a difference — and not just to the people involved. “Most species are endangered because of habitat issues,” explains Aleshia. “But there are things we can do.”

Through a program called Partners for Fish and Wildlife, Aleshia assists private landowners with conservation projects that restore prairies, woodlands and wetlands. This includes properties owned by individuals as well as cities, counties and businesses. Generally, landowners contact Aleshia with a project in mind, and then Aleshia arranges to visit the site and come up with an action plan.

“I feel very invested in every project I work with,” says Aleshia, whose responsibilities with the program cover an extensive area — the northern third of Illinois (excluding Cook and Lake Counties) and all of Iowa.

Working hand in hand

During her site visits, Aleshia works with landowners to develop a plan that fits with what they would like to see on the property but also “provides maximum benefits to wildlife and encompasses all the potential that their site provides,” she says.

It can be a learning process for all involved. When landowners approach her about putting in a pond and she suggests the site would be suitable for a wetland, they can be a little hesitant, says Aleshia. “People often think it’s going to be a mosquito hole, just smelly and buggy, without knowing all the other species that come with it.”

Once she explains that ducks prefer shallow waters to deep pools, or explains the way wetlands help stem nutrient loss from the surrounding soils — and especially when she gives them pictures of past projects that show how pretty many wetland plantings are — the landowners come on board with the idea, she says.

After the landowners commit to a plan, Aleshia begins applying for permits on their behalf and also registers them for financial assistance. Generally, she says, the program asks landowners to contribute half the cost of the project, but if they can provide in-kind work (such as removing trees or helping maintain the site), it can count toward their contribution.
After the project gets underway, Aleshia provides assistance and support throughout the process, doing everything from developing seed mixes for prairie plantings and tree selection for woodland plantings to meeting with contractors and overseeing construction.

For Jeremy and Erin Swenson, who own a partially-wooded 10-acre lot north of Geneseo, Illinois, the assistance they received from Aleshia and her U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service colleagues “couldn't have worked out better,” says Jeremy.

Shortly after purchasing the land and moving out there, they started looking for better ways to manage the property. At the time, Jeremy was working near the Rock Island field office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, located at 1511 47th Ave., Moline, so he “just happened to pop in one day, almost on a whim,” to talk about his ideas for the property.

It was the experience that Aleshia and her colleagues brought to the project, ideas based on what they had tried in other similar locations and what had worked well, that was really invaluable, says Jeremy. He describes the process of developing the plan as “really interactive.”

Since the prairie restoration, woodland restoration, and wetland project was completed on their property in 2011, Jeremy says his family has enjoyed seeing wildlife that wasn't there before. And, he says, “every grass we planted, every flower, every forb, all the trees and shrubs, are all native species,” which means they take a lot less work to maintain.

An ongoing impact

She loves it when landowners send pictures of wildlife spotted using a wetland they restored together, Aleshia says, or flowers blooming in their prairie. The work has other rewards, too.

Aleshia has been with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2008 and in her current position since 2010. “One of the things I didn't understand when I first took this job was how many endangered species are around here,” she says.
Now she can point proudly to projects she has assisted with that have helped some of those species. This includes the Topeka shiner, a small fish once abundant in Iowa that has benefited from habitat restorations Aleshia has initiated.

As the daughter of a commercial fisherman, who first sparked her interest in biology by taking Aleshia with him along the Mississippi River, “that's really meaningful,” she says.

By Sarah J. Gardner
Radish Magazine

Sarah J. Gardner is the editor of Radish. For more information about the Partners for Fish and Wildlife, contact the Rock Island field office at 309-757-5800.

 

A Cornfield transformed into a productive wetland in Mercer County Illinois. Photo By Aleshia Kenny/USFWS.

A cornfield transformed into a productive wetland in Mercer County Illinois. Photo By Aleshia Kenny/USFWS.

 

Last updated: March 5, 2015