Many partners work together to restore wetland
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:07 PM
OSAGE, Iowa — Many partners are involved in a wetland restoration project at the Brownville Wildlife Area northwest of Osage. The project will improve water quality, retain flood water and create habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Mitchell County Conservation purchased the land for the 200-acre Brownville Wildlife Area in the late 1980s with the help of partners, said Milt Owen, director of the County Conservation Board. A 15-acre wetland was restored, but a larger project was never completed because funding wasn't available.
Dan Bratrud, who has coordinated several watershed projects in Mitchell County, serves on the steering committee for the Cedar River Watershed Coalition. Through that work, he met Matt Fisher of the Nature Conservancy. Fisher works in the lower portion of the Cedar River Watershed. Fisher approached Bratrud about potential wetland projects in the Upper Cedar River.
The Mitchell Soil and Water Conservation District commissioners agreed to apply for a grant. They were awarded $50,000 for the Brownville wetland project from the Coca-Cola Company and the World Wildlife Fund through the Nature Conservancy.
Bratrud, project coordinator for Mitchell County SWCD, said the restoration took place on 80 acres. Marley Brook feeds into the area and 1,545 acres of crop ground drain into the wetland.
"Milt always wanted to enhance this area, but didn't have the funding to do it until now," Bratrud said.
"This will provide great wildlife habitat and waterfowl nesting," Owen said. "This is exactly the kind of project that the Cedar River Watershed Coalition is about. This is the kind of targeted wetland that can improve water quality and hold water back during flooding."
The project consisted of excavating about 10 acres of new pools one to three feet deep. The excavated soil was shaped into habitat mounds, which will be seeded with native grasses and flowers. The shallow wetlands will store water running into the area from surrounding tile-drained fields. The wetland vegetation will filter nutrients from the water and plants will take up nitrates.
Bratrud said that wetlands have been shown to remove up to 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus from the water draining into them.
The Little Cedar River, which flows through part of the Brownville area, is known for flash flooding.
"It has a large floodplain, but it can come up fast, and it also goes down quickly," Bratrud said. "Anything that can retain that water and keep it from flowing downstream will help with future flooding."
The Brownville Wildlife Area is open to the public.
"This will also provide good upland habitat for pheasants, turkey and deer," said Jason Foss, a SWCD technician who also worked on the project.
Sandhill cranes have been seen, Bratrud said. As a result of the project, some adjoining landowners are interested in wildlife improvements on their land.
Bratrud said the drought made it possible to do work that ordinarily wouldn't have been possible because the land is so wet. The contractor completed the work in just several weeks. Mitchell County Conservation will seed native grasses and flowers.
"We were looking for projects that help improve water quality and reduce the risk of flooding," said Fisher with the Nature Conservancy. "The project is creating high quality habitat, reducing nutrients in the system and protecting the river. All the pieces fit, and it worked out great."
Partners in the project are the Coca-Cola Company, the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Mitchell County Conservation Board, Mitchell Soil and Water Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Pheasants Forever.