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Lake Sugema Wildlife Area offers year round recreation

Van Buren County historian Ralph Arnold is the person responsible for naming Lake Sugema and in a twist of mystery he refused to say what the name meant. Only upon his death in 2002 did a letter show up at the local newspaper, the Van Buren County Register, ending the mystery – according to Arnold, Sugema is a Native American word for Mosquito.

Lake Sugema offers 3,900 acres of timber, lake and grasslands that are home to the endangered slender glass lizard and Henslow’s sparrow, and hundreds of plant species. | Iowa DNRLake Mosquito.

It makes for a snazzy bumper sticker.

What began as a project to prevent soil loss, provide a recreation lake and possible water supply for the town of Keosauqua, has become a popular wildlife area with more than 3,900 acres of timber, lake and grasslands that is home to the endangered slender glass lizard and Henslow’s sparrow, and hundreds of plant species.

The area is part of the Lake Sugema-Lacey-Keosauqua Bird Conservation Area (BCA) that includes Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, county conservation managed land and private land that has become a destination for bird watchers from across the country.

It is also near the Shimek Forest BCA, increasing Van Buren County’s stature in the birding community.

 “I had a cerulean warbler land in front of me at Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, pick something up off the ground, and fly away,” said Jeff Glaw, wildlife biologist for the Lake Sugema area since 1999.

Glaw has been part of a team working to get Lake Sugema – Lacey Keosauqua BCA listed as a globally important bird conservation area.

“It’s the only time I’ve seen a cerulean warbler, but it was pretty neat,” he said. Cerulean warblers require large forests for nesting habitat and is considered a species of greatest conservation need.

Forest habitat is just one part of various landscapes at Lake Sugema, each requiring different management plans to achieve different outcomes.  

For example, Henslow’s sparrows prefer older grassy areas. “Quail need the opposite,” Glaw said. “They prefer disturbed soil, bare ground and shrubby cover.”

Sugema is home to a booming quail population and it doesn’t take long before the distinctive ‘bobWHITE’ whistle hits the ear.

Pheasant are sharing the quail habitat and a population resurgence of sorts following a string of mild winters and average springs.

A few days ago, Glaw was driving on scenic and winding Iowa Hwy. 16 north of Douds when he saw a hen pheasant step out of the ditch, followed by a line of day old chicks. A truck coming from the opposite direction also stopped and the two drivers watched as the busy mother paraded her 19 chicks to the other side of the road. The stragglers at the end of the line drew a honk from the other driver to move it along as he was ready to be on his way.

“I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of that,” Glaw said. “It was really neat to see.”

Pheasants aren’t the only species benefiting from the long term focus on developing quail habitat.

Rabbits prefer those areas, as well.

Glaw said rabbit hunters from Kentucky, North Carolina and other states from the south take multiple trips each fall to hunt Iowa cottontails at Lake Sugema.  “We have a lot of rabbits here,” he said.

But probably the biggest draw is for trophy white tailed deer.

“The Lake Sugema area is really underutilized since the last outbreak of EHD (Epizootic hemorrhagic disease) in 2013,” Glaw said. “Bowhunters can go out on this area and not see anyone else.”

But not likely for much longer.

Lake Sugema Wildlife Area Supports Van Buren County

Property Tax Payments at Lake Sugema Wildlife Area

2017    $9,292

2016    $8,820

2015    $9,342

2014    $7,726

2013    $8,146

2012    $8,852

2011    $7,624

2010    $7,572

2009    $7,410

2008    $6,112

2007    $6,358

2006    $6,760

2005    $6,732

2004    $7,782

2003    $7,572

2002    $7,382

2001    $6,222

 

Lake Sugema offers 3,900 acres of timber, lake and grasslands that are home to the endangered slender glass lizard and Henslow’s sparrow, and hundreds of plant species. | Iowa DNR

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