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Heading north off U.S. Hwy 63 east of New Sharon, it’s less than a mile before the gravel road dead ends in the west parking lot at the 225-acre Willie J Suchy Wildlife Area.
The area, named after nationally recognized white tailed deer expert and longtime employee of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was the acquired in 2017. It is being transitioned from crops to native prairie and will be managed primarily for upland game.
“For such a small area, it’s pretty rich with wildlife,” said Jeff Glaw, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR.
And that fact hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Glaw has been fielding calls from nonresidents who are looking for a place to hunt pheasants. “The area is new and hasn’t been hit hard yet,” he said. “But now it’s listed on the hunting atlas so it’s out there and I expect the use to increase.”
The rolling hills give way to bottomland timber where a startled young doe bounds away from her loafing spot. Down here, beavers have been busy building a dam on a small stream.
With the habitat work underway and plans for the near future, the value of the Suchy Wildlife Area to wildlife will only increase.
Oak trees will be planted on the side hills and locust, honeysuckle and other non-target and invasive trees will be removed. The soybean field is being used to prepare a soil bed for a prairie seeding. Once the beans come out, the Sugema wildlife unit staff will broadcast a mix of native plants with the seed mix geared to attract pollinators.
“I can’t wait to get the seeding on here,” he said. “In five years, it won’t look anything like this.”
On this early fall morning, a merlin glided over the old prairie seeding.
Two nearby county managed public areas to the north increases the public land footprint to nearly 1,000 acres. The mix of trees and grasslands along with the North Skunk River, this complex attracts neotropical birds, eagles and hawks.
“This would be a great place to come watch the spring and fall migration,” Glaw said.
Reforestation effort jump started by Hy-Vee
Hy-Vee, Inc. sponsored a reforestation project at the Willie J Suchy Wildlife Area in spring 2018. Proceeds from the sale of Hy-Vee One Stop paper products were used to purchase 3,000 trees and seedlings to be planted around the state.
In partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation and the Mahaska County Pheasants Forever chapter, 20 Hy-Vee volunteers planted cottonwood, river birch, sycamore, silver maple, bur oak, pin oak, swamp white oak, shagbark hickory, shell bark hickory and black walnut.
Kimberly-Clark presented a $10,000 check to assist in the reforestation funding.
Willie Suchy, technician, biologist, scientist, administrator, educator, mentor
Willie Suchy was a nationally recognized leader in white-tailed deer management and it was under his tenure as Iowa’s deer biologist that Iowa’s deer herd became nationally recognized as the premier herd in the country. While he was most often associated with deer, Suchy spent his early career working with pheasants, quail and wild turkeys. He spent 31 years working for Iowa Department of Natural Resources most recently as the Wildlife Research Section supervisor.
Suchy, 58, died unexpectedly on Nov. 11, 2015.
The North Skunk Wildlife Area was renamed the Willie J Suchy Wildlife Area on Oct. 11, 2018, as a way to honor and remember the impacts he made during his career. He grew up on a farm in nearby Poweshiek County.