Light Detection and Ranging LiDAR image shows the archaeological mounds in this restored wetland in Illinois. NRCS photo.
Sometimes to stop soil erosion, prevent nutrient and sediment runoff and improve habitat, conservation work does disturb the ground. Because of this, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service relies on its archaeologists on staff to review locations prior to implementing these conservation practices. As the cultural resources specialist for NRCS in Illinois, I’m never quite sure what will turn up in my daily work.
Field investigations by NRCS archaeologists are conducted to look for surface indications of cultural resources, such as historic farm remains, prehistoric artifacts and above-ground structures. I have had opportunities to visit about 2,000 archaeological sites and to record about 400 new sites on private working lands throughout the state. Read more »
The South Branch Prairie shows vibrant native grasses two years after its restoration. DeKalb County Forest Preserve District photo.
If the land floods more often than growing a crop, why not let it go back to what it wants to be – a wetland. That’s what happened on the Hoppe Heritage Farmstead in 2011. The Hoppe sisters owned cropland along the southern branch of the Kishwaukee River in DeKalb County, Ill. About half of the land would flood on a regular basis.
After several years of dealing with the floods, the sisters decided to do something about it. They sold the homestead to the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District, which preserves and restores landscapes and their plant and animal life.
Terry Hannan, the forest preserve’s superintendent, contacted USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service about a conservation easement as a possible opportunity to improve the land. Read more »
Swales, like this one, were created throughout the wetland to hold water after a rain event, which in turn helps aid in flood storage, enhances plant diversity and provides habitat for wildlife. NRCS photo.
A 53-acre conservation easement is an ideal environmental learning lab for students at Francis Hugh Wardlaw Academy in Johnston, South Carolina. The land was once pastures for cattle, but now it’s a vibrant wetland just across the street from the high school.
The contractor hired to install the restoration work, Charles Kemp, was instrumental in involving the school’s students in creating and managing the wetland. “These students are exploring what a career in agriculture or environmental science would be like, and they love being outside and escaping the confines of the classroom,” Kemp said.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provided technical and financial assistance to develop the restoration plan, and install the structures and earthwork to convert the wet pasture into a functioning wetland. Read more »
The wetland in bloom with a more than 100-year-old oak tree standing prominently in the prairie. Natural Land Institute photo.
Now, when you look at the Nygren Wetland Preserve in Illinois, a menagerie of wildlife can be seen – ducks and geese paddling about, white pelicans lounging, otters swimming and a pair of sandhill cranes huddling in a nest. There was talk of the endangered blanding turtles living in the wetland, too. It’s a wonderful scene, but it was much different 14 years ago.
The land, located along Raccoon Creek at the confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica rivers, was once forests and crops. The Natural Land Institute purchased the land in 1999, and that’s when transformation began. Read more »
Each year, volunteers gather at Glacial Ridge to look for unique wetland birds for the Shorebird Blitz. Photo by Jessica Dowler, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
There is just something special about the marbled godwit. Maybe it’s the shorebird’s super long bill, tall legs or funny name, but I’ve called this bird my favorite for years.
I first spotted one in 1998, while taking a look at some private lands enrolled in a conservation easement program. This strange bird flew right over me, landed ahead a bit and scooted across the gravel with great speed. I didn’t know what it was at first. After I identified the creature, I had a good chuckle at the name.
I didn’t see a marbled godwit, known for their elusive nature, until several years later. Over time, I learned the best place to find them. Read more »
NRCS and other partners are working to restore the wetlands located at the headwaters of O’Dell Creek in Montana. NRCS photo.
The headwaters of O’Dell Creek in Madison Valley, Mont. serve as a perfect example of the benefits of implementing good conservation practices. Considered one of the largest wetland areas in Montana, O’Dell Creek was drained in the 1950s for land to raise livestock. But now, ranchers, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other partners are restoring the wetland.
Historically grazed all year, the O’Dell Creek and Madison River floodplain provided abundant forage, flowing water and refuge from harsh weather. Over the years, the draining and livestock uses took a toll.
“I could see the degradation,” said Jeff Laszlo, one of the owners of Granger Ranches LP — where the creek is located. “There was a decline in both the grass production of our river bottoms and the overall health of our riparian area. Although I really didn’t know what to do about it, I felt that there had to be a better way of managing and taking care of one of the ranch’s most important assets.” Read more »