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another prairie needs help

  • Subject: another prairie needs help
  • From: Glenn Pollock pollockg@radiks.net
  • Date: Sat, 08 Feb 2003 22:14:40 -0800

I am forwarding an email set by Cindy Hilderband to me. I am asking for you help with email to address below. I have received help from this list before when we were trying to save prairie in the Loess Hills. I got comments from official of the City of Omaha as to why people from Texas were interested in saving prairies near Omaha. I sent a request to this list for help and you responded. Thanks. Glenn Pollock Omaha, NE


If you are willing to send a short email, ideally by 8 am on Monday February 10th, to provide badly-needed support for endangered Iowa prairie remnants and a beleaguered prairie restoration project, this message is for you. Very sorry for the short notice! Messages sent after 2/10 will also help enormously -- please send them.

Whether or not it makes sense, the future of prairie restoration at Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge is likely to be determined by how many messages in favor of prairie restoration are received by the refuge in the next several days. Please share this message with others, in or out of Iowa, who may want to help. This wildlife refuge and its prairies belong to all Americans.

Here's the short version: Email messages need to be sent to William Hartwig, Regional Director, Region 3, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at William_Hartwig@fws.gov, and also to Nita Fuller, Chief of Refuges, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at Nita_Fuller@fws.gov.

The basic message needs to be: I strongly support the prairie restoration work being done at Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge, including the removal of the invading trees and brush that threaten the native prairies, grassland birds, and grassland habitat on the refuge.

If you are willing to help further by sending emails to other important contacts, especially elected officials, and/or by attending a public meeting about the prairie restoration, and/or by having your conservation organization sign a letter in support of the prairie restoration, information is below.

Here's the background: Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge comprises 3334 acres, and is located near the town of Titonka in Kossuth County, near the border of Minnesota. The refuge staff are now working on an underfunded but valiant effort to remove trees that are invading prairies on the refuge. You may have read that some local residents have mounted a vigorous letter-writing campaign to stop the tree removal.

That campaign is unfortunately based mostly on misinformation and misunderstanding, per below. Even more unfortunately, the campaign has the potential to stop tree removal on the refuge, perhaps permanently.

The trees are invading native tallgrass prairie remnants, and tallgrass prairie is a globally-endangered ecosystem. If the tree campaign forces an end to the tree removal, that will mean disintegration for the prairies. It will also set a very ominous precedent for tree removal projects on other public prairies, and for science-based land management in Iowa.

Here are the assertions being made against the tree removal on the refuge, followed by the facts.

ASSERTION: A large area of the refuge used to be oak savanna, so all the trees in that large savanna area should be left alone.

FACT: A very small area of the refuge, about twenty acres, used to be oak savanna. The oaks in that area will be left in place, except for some small oaks in places where decades of fire suppression have caused them to grow so thickly that thinning is needed to restore the savanna to ecological health. Tree species that do not belong in oak savannas will also be removed, as is standard in savanna restoration.

The refuge staff looked carefully at historical records to determine what kinds of plants covered the refuge before European settlement. All the documents they examined indicated that the overwhelming majority of the refuge's 3334 acres were treeless prairie and wetland. This makes scientific sense, given the soil types and fire history of the area.

ASSERTION: The refuge is so large that there is plenty of room for both trees and grassland.

FACT: From a prairie wildlife point of view, 3334 acres is not a large area. And the refuge grassland is disappearing under a steady onslaught of trees and shrubs. More than 600 acres of brush and trees are now spread through the Refuge in patches and corridors. That fragments the grassland and greatly reduces its value for wildlife.

Many of the trees are growing on or next to native prairie remnants with conservative plant species. Such remnants are rare in Iowa. Trees shade and kill prairie plants. Trees also provide habitat for crows, cowbirds, raccoons, and skunks, which prey on or parasitize grassland birds. Grassland birds are declining faster than any other group of birds in North America. They desperately need sizeable areas of treeless grassland, which are now rare in Iowa.

ASSERTION: The refuge is supposed to provide habitat for as many wildlife species as possible, so the trees and brush should stay because they are good habitat for some species.

FACT: The primary mission of the refuge is to provide habitat for migratory birds. That includes upland grassland birds and waterfowl, all of which need treeless grassland/wetland areas for successful breeding and migration. Most of the animals that benefit from invasion stands of green ash, the most common tree on the Refuge, are relatively common animals which have much more habitat available in Iowa than grassland birds. And from an ecological and historical point of view, invading trees and brush caused by decades of fire suppression are no more "natural" than exploding deer populations in some parts of the country that are caused by predator extermination.

Many grassland plants and animals cannot survive on land covered with a mixture of grassland, trees, and brush. Many wildlife areas in Iowa are covered with that mixture. Encouraging that mixture on all Iowa wildlife land would doom many prairie species.

If Iowa's biodiversity is to survive, Iowa needs more of what used to cover 85% of our state. It needs large tracts of treeless grassland and wetland. It is very difficult to find and restore such areas now, but Union Slough offers that opportunity. The refuge used to be a prairie wetland complex 200 years ago, and the plan to restore it is based on science, research, the mission of the refuge, and professional expertise. The prairie restoration work needs and deserves to continue.

For more information, please contact me or Inger Lamb, below. Thank you for your help!

Cindy Hildebrand

Inger Lamb


William Hartwig
Regional Director - Region 3
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, Minnesota 55111-4056

Nita Fuller
Chief of Refuges
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, Minnesota 55111-4056

Jon Kauffeld -
Area II Refuge Supervisor
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Tom Harkin

Representative Tom Latham


A public meeting on the management of Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge is scheduled for Friday, February 21 in Algona, Iowa, at 7:00 pm. It will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 1501 East Walnut Street. The public is invited, and attendees will include staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Office and George Maze, Project Leader for Union Slough. Prairie supporters can help the refuge prairies by attending this meeting.


I am drafting a letter of support for the Union Slough prairie restoration work for any Iowa conservation organizations that may want to sign onto it. My hope is to have the letter ready by the time of the public meeting on Feb. 21. If your organization would like to sign such a letter, please contact me. Thanks!


Cindy Hildebrand
57439 250th St.
Ames, IA 50010

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