In its largest acquisition to date, Bur Oak Land Trust of Iowa City will permanently protect nearly 200 acres of combined wetland, timber, oak savanna and sand prairie in Eastern Iowa. The critical and in some cases endangered ecosystems of Corriell Nature Preserve will benefit many species, but most especially migratory birds.
“About 40 percent of all migratory waterfowl that travel through the United States use the Mississippi Flyway, and this new property is a part of it,” said Bur Oak Land Trust Executive Director Jason Taylor. “Some of these birds are flying from the Arctic Circle all the way down to Patagonia, so having protected locations where they can rest and find food is critical to their long term survival.”
The preserve, located on the Cedar River, was donated to the land trust in early March by Wayne and Patricia Corriell of Atalissa. What was once grazing land for cattle is now the start of an interesting and important land conservation story in Iowa. The Corriell’s decided to donate the land to Bur Oak after portions of it were perpetually flooded each year due to snow melting upstream and spring rains.
“[The cows] were swimming in 20 feet of water one day,” Wayne Corriell said, “so it was a choice of getting rid of the cows or having to fight this problem for years to come. So we got rid of them.”
What made the area difficult to farm, makes it ideal for wildlife to thrive due to its biologically diverse ecosystems. The property has a vast wetland complex that stems from the Cedar River and is enhanced by a significant beaver dam. The combination of sand prairie, oak savanna and non-tidal marshes provide habitat for many unique plant and animal species. It also serves as a valuable stop for migratory birds along the Mississippi Flyway, an established seasonal corridor that supports over 300 species.
Bur Oak Land Trust, with support from its AmeriCorps land stewardship program, plans to survey the land for wildlife to catalog which species live there before starting restoration work this spring and summer.
“In order to properly manage a property you have to know what species are on it.” Taylor said. “This is our first opportunity to really explore the property from the first day that we have owned it and we are expecting to find some very interesting plants and animals.”
Protection of the property was the main goal, but the preserve also will be open to the public on a limited basis through educational events and guided tours slated for later this year.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Corriell said about the preserve being protected. “I think protecting land for plants and animals is a priority. As they get crowded out of other spaces this can be a haven.”