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Wetland easement protecting fen and family farm

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 07/24/2013 4:25 PM

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CHARLES CITY, Iowa —Carol Savage has owned her parents' 200-acre farm along the Little Cedar River for about 30 years with much of the land planted to native grasses and trees through the Conservation Reserve Program.

She enrolled 140 acres into a permanent easement through the Wetlands Reserve Program in 2009. Savage, who lives in Stilwell, Kan., is the oldest of Tom and Unis Hughes' seven children.

Savage recently sold the farm house and acreage adjacent to the wetland easement to Mike Jung, her nephew. He oversees restoration work and takes care of management practices on the property.

"I grew up spending my summers here with my grandparents," Mike said. "It was always my dream to live here."

Mike said it was important to his aunt and her siblings that the farm stay in the family.

A 12-acre wetland pool was constructed as part of the wetland project. It includes a dike and water control structure so Mike can adjust water levels. The pool is fed by old agricultural tile lines that were either cut or rerouted. The wetland denitrifies the water flowing into the pool.

"The constructed wetland is dual purpose," said Jay Jung, Mike's cousin and a resource conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Floyd and Chickasaw counties. "It provides wildlife habitat, and it takes care of nitrate issues."

Jay Jung said they have been looking for additional sites for wetland construction in the Upper Cedar River Watershed. The area is part of the Mississippi River Basin Initiative, a national Initiative to reduce nutrients flowing into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Dennis Sande, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Floyd and Chickasaw counties, said the Hughes' neighbors have also planted trees, grass buffers and constructed wetlands.

Prior to Savage enrolling the property into the WRP, conservationists identified a wetland fen on a continually-wet hillside on the east portion of the farm.

Savage told Jay Jung that her father always said, "there's something special about that hill."

"He was right," Jay said. "It's very unique."

A fen is a wetland that forms in upland areas, which are fed by cool, mineral rich, oxygen poor groundwater. This promotes the formation of a peat soil that may be many feet thick.

Numerous rare and unique plants and animals live in fens. The White Turtlehead, a perennial plant that attracts one of Iowa's threatened butterflies, the Baltimore Checkerspot, has been identified in the fen.

These factors helped to push the wetland project up in the rankings and get it funded, Sande said.

"When I was 10, a guy tried to tile it but he got the machine stuck and gave up," said Jim Hughes, Savage's brother.

Other completed restoration work on Savage's land includes establishing 10,000 trees and shrubs on four acres, timber stand improvement on 14 acres, nine acres of warm season grasses seeded around the fen wetland, brush removal around the fen, 2,000 feet of fence perpendicular to the Little Cedar along the easement's north and south, and maintenance mowings in 2011 and 2012.

The Conservation Buffers Field Day was sponsored by Trees Forever with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Pheasants Forever and the Floyd County NRCS and Floyd Soil and water Conservation District.