The greatest threat to the integrity of natural areas in Pottawattamie County is fragmentation and disrupted natural processes (i.e. hydrology, fire regime, lack of sunlight, etc.). The Natural Areas Management (NAM) program focuses on restoring these processes to renew the vitality and health of the systems being managed.
A variety of practices are employed, including timber stand improvement (TSI), crop tree release, brush cutting and mowing, tree shearing, tree grinding, tree plantings, native prairie reconstructions, prairie reconstruction haying, remnant prairie seed harvest, invasive species removal, and prescribed fire.
Each year, the NAM staff works very diligently at thinning the woodlands to increase the amount of light reaching the ground to promote the stimulation of the herbaceous layer of the woodland floor. With a healthy herbaceous layer, the hydrology of the system will begin to replenish itself to become more like it naturally was.
Several years ago, the Pottawattamie County Conservation Board hired the Conservation Design Forum (Chicago, IL) to assist with compiling a species inventory of the flora of Hitchcock Nature Center. The Hitchcock Nature Center Species List has allowed the Natural Areas Management program to focus on what rare and highly conservative species are present and their location within the preserve.
Hitchcock Nature Center is home to over 350 species of flora. This demonstrates the immense diversity held within the dry Loess Hills prairie of Iowa. As the natural areas become healthier, some of the more conservative plants may become more apparent. The hydrology of the system will continue to improve as the flora of the preserve heals and becomes healthier, thus minimizing erosion and runoff. The NAM program will continue to monitor the flora and hydrology for many years to come.
The Natural Areas Management program assists the Pottawattamie County Secondary Roads department in improving the vegetation quality within the roadside right-of-ways, promotes conservation protection programs for private landowners, and assists private landowners with various conservation practices within the county. The NAM program has worked towards establishing healthy natural areas within all of its parks and strongly encourages the public to visit these areas to see the continuous changes. These areas are being preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come.
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