Editor’s Note: As USDA shares stories of program accomplishments from across the country, Secretary Vilsack continues to remind Americans of the importance of the Farm Bill to many of these efforts. The success of the Wetlands Reserve Program in Iowa and across the nation is another reminder of the importance of Farm Bill programs for rural America. A comprehensive new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would further expand the rural economy – and Secretary Vilsack continues to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill done as soon as possible.
A unique wetland in northeastern Iowa is helping to filter out upland sediment and other agricultural runoff flowing into the Little Cedar River. The wetland, on a farm outside Charles City, is also preserving the land and providing a wildlife haven.
In 2009, landowner Carol Savage enrolled about 70 percent of the 200-acre farm in a permanent easement through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetlands Reserve Program, in the process expanding an already-present wetland on the property.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, and eventually sell it or pass it on to heirs.
“When I was growing up, I remember my dad saying there is something going on up there on the hill,” Savage says, explaining why the wetland was placed where it was. “We knew something about it was special. We just didn’t know exactly what it was back then.”
It turned out that this area, on a continually wet hillside on the east portion of the farm, was a fen. A fen is a wetland that forms in upland areas, which are fed by cool, mineral-rich, oxygen-poor groundwater. Fens often house numerous rare and unique plant and animal species.
Conservationists who visited the fen site in October 2008 identified 32 native plant species, including the white turtlehead—a perennial that often attracts one of Iowa’s threatened butterflies, the Baltimore checkerspot.
Savage recently sold the farmhouse and acreage next to the easement to her nephew, Mike Jung, who spent youthful summers with his grandparents on the farm. Jung has continued the conservation work his aunt began.
Jung oversees much of the restoration work and takes care of the day-to-day conservation practices. The most visible aspect of the conservation work so far is a 12-acre wetland that attracts waterfowl and other migrating birds, among other wildlife.
Other completed work includes the planting of four acres of trees and shrubs—about 10,000 plants total. The family has also improved a 14-acre timber stand, thinning out trees and shrubs to allow underbrush, which attracts wildlife, to thrive. Around the wetland itself, nine acres of warm-season native grasses were seeded.
Jung is enjoying the recreational opportunities the farm is now providing, like hunting. But for Savage, the easement has provided peace of mind. She and her siblings, she says, “all feel better knowing the farm is in good hands and is well taken care of.”
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