Habitat & Conservation  |  06/07/2024

Iowa Storms Showcase Habitat Diversity


South Skunk River Wildlife Area takes on water

In a normal spring at the South Skunk River Wildlife Area in central Iowa, you’ll find a mosaic of native prairie and wetlands — a haven for both upland birds and countless other species. 

This year, intense storms have swept across the Iowa countryside. Everything from tornados to heavy rainfall have been reported in different regions of The Hawkeye State. With these storms come rising water levels, pushing many of the state’s rivers to their limits. Ground that typically serves as excellent nesting cover for upland and grassland birds is now under several inches of water. But despite these challenges, quality habitat holds its value.

As the water rises, naturally it needs a place to go — and low-lying areas like the South Skunk Wildlife Area become a sponge for unwanted floodwaters. If areas like these were not on the landscape, the water would most certainly find its way into more crop fields, roadways and main streets across Iowa. 

Just as this habitat acts as a sponge, it simultaneously acts as a filter.. As water levels in the South Skunk recede over the course of the summer, grasslands will filter the water, keeping debris and other contaminants from reaching the river itself and preventing significant soil erosion. 

Finally, while the high water may temporarily displace upland birds, it creates an ideal landscape for local Waterfowl, whose habitat needs are just as vital as pheasants and quail.

“Wildlife habitat is a key outcome of our Build a Wildlife Area program, along with public access,” said Matt Holland, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s vice president of grant development. “The recent flood event in Jasper County, Iowa provides another example of how habitat provides benefits far beyond wildlife production. The South Skunk River Wildlife Area did its job in storing and slowing down floodwaters, as it is floodplain habitat.”

The South Skunk River Wildlife Area was purchased a few years ago through the Build a Wildlife Area® (BAWA) program, with funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and local Pheasants Forever chapters. The BAWA program is expanding and has identified 57 projects encompassing 36,046 acres in 15 states that are in active development for strategic acquisition. 

In addition to habitat and access, Pheasants Forever’s permanent protection strategy provides solutions for the nation’s most complex sustainability issues including improved biodiversity, soil health, water stewardship, and rural economic development — while simultaneously prioritizing maximum impact for pheasants, quail, and other upland gamebirds. The South Skunk River Wildlife Area is a fantastic example of this strategy in action.