League Lines: Preserving the Prairie

Mundt Meadows Wildlife Preserve

Iowa >> The West Central Chapter (also known locally as the Clarence Bartlett Chapter) is working to restore wildlife habitat and natural resources by initiating a small-scale preserve program.

The inspiration for this program was the rapid expansion of agriculture in the state. “Entire landscapes are being converted to a monoculture with minimal natural diversity,” explains Larry Grill, West Central Chapter secretary and newsletter editor. “Areas that were considered unsuited for crops — too steep or too wet, low fertility, wilderness and habitat areas, or conservation areas — are now being converted to cropland. New agriculture processes are almost to the point that all they need soil for is to hold the plants while nutrients, stimulants, and environmental control factors are artificially added.”

“While all this may make economic sense for producers,” says Grill, “it is destructive long term to natural processes. There are areas that should be left in their natural state.” Chapter members decided that former farmsteads and natural areas in Iowa could benefit from conservation and found that there were “numerous people concerned about the total commercialization of our landscape,” says Grill. “And these people are willing to work with us in this conservation effort.” The key is finding appropriate property and a land owner willing to make a donation.

Mundt Meadows became the chapter’s first preserve — and it started with an unexpected inquiry.

Larry Grill had been invited to make a presentation about the League to the local Rotary Club. After his presentation, Crawford County Attorney Michael Mundt approached Grill with an idea. “Mr. Mundt owned a farm that had been in his family for decades,” Grill recalls. “On the farm was a building site, and although the building had been removed, Mundt had maintained the acreage as a private wildlife preserve. He said he would like to see the area preserved for that purpose into the future. His children were grown, had moved to other parts of the country, and showed no interest in the farm or the preserve area. He was concerned that after his passing, the land would be sold and the new owners would convert the preserve back to cropland.” Mundt proposed donating the six-acre site to the West Central Chapter on the condition that the land be maintained as a wildlife preserve.

The chapter obtained a grant to cover the costs of a land survey to establish the boundaries of the proposed donation. Grill researched the title to ensure there were no other claims on the property. (He also found that the land had once been owned by members of his family!) A property assessor donated his services to the chapter and Mundt donated his legal services in preparing and recording the deed and documents. The market value of the donated land was more than $25,000.

The area is now called the Mundt Meadows Wildlife Preserve. “Because of Mr. Mundt’s efforts in maintaining the property as a private wildlife preserve, very little onsite maintenance was necessary upon acquiring it,” says Grill. “It brought our club’s wildlife preserve program into reality.”

A second property also came to the chapter in an unexpected manner. A land owner contacted the chapter to ask if it was connected with the Izaak Walton League that had a wildlife preserve in Buena Vista County — 45 miles away. “We said we were certainly part of the Izaak Walton League but we were unaware of the preserve,” recalls Grill.

A stop at the county courthouse revealed that the property had indeed been deeded by the Minnie Anderson estate to the United Counties Chapter of the Izaak Walton League in July 1974. When the chapter dissolved, the Science Club at a local university maintained the Minnie Anderson Preserve for some period, and then it was abandoned.

Several chapter members went to inspect the property. They found a seven-acre plot that was so overgrown with brush and downed trees that it was impenetrable. They also found signs of a walking trail and electric lights. The most interesting find, says Grill, was a small sign half buried at the base of a tree. It had the name of the tree engraved on it, and once they knew to look for signs, chapter members found several more with scientific and common plant names. “The place had been set up as an arboretum at some time in the past. It must have been a real gem,” Grill muses. Chapter members discussed how to proceed with use of this property. One of the problems was the distance from the chapter. Then chapter member Kelly Curtis recruited Dave and Jim Sanders, who lived nearby and were willing to take the lead on restoring the preserve. The chapter provided materials and supplies to get the work started, and chapter members have been hard at work clearing brush and cutting grass around the preserve’s perimeter.

“It will take a lot of work and quite a bit of time to restore it to anything near its former glory,” says Grill. Dave and Jim Sanders hope to encourage use of the area — including a newly installed archery range and an area suited to camping — by local Boy Scouts troops, 4-H Clubs, and other youth groups. In the meantime, the land will serve as a wildlife preserve.

Chapter members developed a procedural guide on setting up small-scale wildlife preserves and are happy to share that information with other League chapters. You can e-mail Larry Grill (larryg@longlines.com) for a copy of the guide and more details on either of these projects.