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Farm Creek Improvements Support Local Wildlife, Benefit Hunters

Natural Resource Technician Jeremy shares how prairie restoration, edge feathering, and invasive species management are creating an oasis for wildlife and humans alike at Farm Creek Public Wildlife Area.

The opening day of upland hunting is like Christmas morning for me. The night before is always light on sleep from the excitement.

This year we traveled in the predawn hours in hopes of getting to Farm Creek Public Wildlife Area before the other hunters. We arrived to five of the six parking lots already full. Full parking lots may not be everyone’s thought of a perfect opening day, but it was mine. Having spent hours this summer scouring the prairies at Farm Creek helping to control invasive Canada thistle I knew this is where I wanted to be on opening day.

I was lucky enough to be joined by my mom, dad, uncle, two younger brothers, and our rag-tag group of bird dogs. Three bird dogs to be exact: my 8-year-old Brittany with bad knees but the drive to be ready for opening day, the ever-faithful husky/black lab mix who thinks it is hot outside until its 20 degrees, and the yellow lab, Shep, the big (yellow) peanut loving poochie. You may have to rewatch George of the Jungle to get that reference.

We had a great opening morning, and many other groups did as well, at least judging by the number of shots we heard. 

There is a saying many of you may know: “If you build it, they will come”. If the full parking lots on opening morning are any indication, there must be some truth to this.  

Since acquiring the property in 2001, Pottawattamie Conservation has progressively restored the farm fields at Farm Creek to diverse native grassland. This has been a boom for wildlife in the area. In the past few years, we have tried to further improve those acres by edge-feathering taller trees along the drainages. This is done to benefit bobwhite quail and other wildlife that use shrubby habitats, such as the Bell’s Vireo. Quail do not like trees over 12 feet tall as this is where avian predators like to perch. By edge feathering, or cutting down larger trees and letting them rest where they fall, we take a predator perch and make instant, shrub-like cover. The downed trees also attract songbirds who will deposit shrub seeds leading to natural shrub cover once the downed trees rot away or burn during our next prescribed fire.

Edge feathering at Farm Creek.
Edge feathering at Farm Creek Public Wildlife Area provides habitat for local wildlife including quail, Bell's Vireo, and songbirds.

We are also adding wildlife and dog-friendly fencing along a neighboring fence line that was in disrepair. The fence will be dog friendly by installing a barbless bottom wire. This will not only make it easier for wildlife to go under the fence, but it will reduce the risk of cuts to our trusty bird dogs. The spacing between wires may also look a little different as the top two wires will be farther apart which will reduce the risk of a deer getting their legs caught as they jump the fence. 

Wildlife-friendly fencing updates at Farm Creek.
New wildlife-friendly fencing at Farm Creek has a bottom, barbless wire to prevent injury to hunting dogs and wildlife and wider spacing between top wiring, decreasing the chance of deer getting caught in fencing.

But hunting isn't the only activity available at Farm Creek. There are also two ponds, Riepe and Young Pond, which are stocked with bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish. Birdwatching is a popular activity as well.

Riepe Pond at Farm Creek.
Riepe Pond at Farm Creek is a 5-acre fishing pond that can accommodate small canoes.
Young Pond at Farm Creek.
Young Pond at Farm Creek is a 16-acre pond with a fishing dock and boat ramp.

There are no maintained trails, but if you explore the property, you may find areas we have hayed in the summer. This is done to help feed the bison and elk herds at Botna Bend Park in Hancock. The namesake Farm Creek bisects the property, a stream that is unique to Iowa as it has never been channelized or straightened. 

So, whether you’re a bird hunter looking forward to the next opening day, a bird watcher excited to catch a glimpse of the Bell’s Vireo, or just out for a day of fishing, we encourage you to explore Farm Creek.

We will continue to find ways to improve this area and build our field of dreams.   

Farm Creek map.
 

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Farm Creek Public Wildlife Area is a 320-acre property open to public recreation in the southeastern portion of Pottawattamie County, just 5 miles east of Carson, Iowa.

This gently rolling property was acquired by Pottawattamie County in 2001. Since then, most of the land has been restored by conservation staff to native prairie fields with a diverse mix of grasses and flowers. The property is named for the stream that bisects the area, Farm Creek, which has never been channelized or straightened by humans leaving a beautiful, meandering waterway with miniature oxbow ponds along its course.

Two ponds are located at Farm Creek for public fishing and recreation: Young Pond (west pond) is 16 acres with a boat ramp, dock, fishing jetty, and constructed spawning beds. Riepe Pond (east pond) is 5 acres and accommodates bank fishermen, as well as smaller canoes. Largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and channel catfish are stocked in both ponds.

When you visit Farm Creek you may notice a portion of the property being harvested for native hay each year in late summer. Pottawattamie Conservation utilizes this vegetation as feed for bison and elk herds at Botna Bend Park in Hancock, Iowa. These plant species are better suited for their digestive systems, and it is financially beneficial to raise our own feed. Haying a portion of the property also improves habitat and attracts many different types of grassland nesting birds. It is not uncommon to see 8-10 different bird species in a short walk on the property!

Farm Creek is one of six habitat areas across Pottawattamie County that offer free access to public recreation year-round.

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