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Rich Feilmeier traces his family connection to Kiowa Marsh back to before WWII when his father purchased the land to farm and have a small cow calf operation. As a kid, he recalls hunting ducks and geese off the pond where they watered their cattle.
“We shot over 100 geese one fall,” he said.
After earning his Master’s degree, Feilmeier moved back to the farmhouse where he grew up to raise his family. Since then, he’s had a front row seat to see Kiowa Marsh Wildlife Area become a 1,080-acre high quality tall and short grass prairie and wetland complex and important refueling stop for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.
“It’s really been a nice transformation,” he said.
That transformation continues today with a 40-acre section that was converted to native prairie two years ago and is now starting to express itself.
Jeff Feisel, wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), handles much of the field work for Kiowa Marsh and has noticed plant species show up that were not part of the prairie seed mix.
“I found an old typed list of prairie species from the area and started checking off the one’s I found,” he said. “I’ve found well over 40 species of plants including some that are not included on the list which means they could have been here before the prairie was plowed.”
Some of the more unique prairie species he’s found are scaly blazing star, downy gentian, rough blazing star, prairie blazing star, redroot, flowering spurge and prairie rose. The prairie has been home to state threatened northern harriers and near the wetlands, to Blandings turtles. Nearby Buena Vista University is monitoring the marshes for the reclusive turtle, last confirmed here in 2014.
Feisel said two of the existing wetlands were modified to allow for more water level manipulation – hold more water or remove water – and another large wetland will have a channel cleaned out to allow water to drain more completely to promote vegetation growth. Four new basins were added recently. One new basin on the west side is holding water for the first time since it was built and arrowhead appeared.
“The wetlands have been a big waterfowl stopover, especially in the spring,” he said. “You name it, and we’ve had that waterfowl species come through.”
It’s also attracted the shorebird migration and the bird watchers from spring through late summer. Its home to two to three pairs of trumpeter swans.
“Kiowa Marsh is often passed by for the larger areas like Dewey’s Pasture or Spring Run, but the area has a diverse prairie, with a high number of prairie flowers, lots of wetlands and I think the birders and kayakers would have a great time out here,” Feisel said.
Nonresident pheasant hunters have keyed in on Kiowa Marsh as a pheasant hunting hot spot.
“A good number of pheasant hunters come from the East Coast,” Feisel said. “It doesn’t get the pheasant hunting pressure that other areas get, but the quality of pheasant hunting here is outstanding.”
The DNR is battling a number of invasive plant species here including unwanted shrubs buckthorn, honeysuckle and autumn olive, and plants crown vetch, sericea lespedeza and birdsfoot trefoil.
Feisel said they’re cutting and treating the brush to prevent new shoots from emerging and using spot treatments as well as broader use of chemical treatment with fire and possible grazing on the grass areas to battle the plants. “We will do a test using grazing on the waterfowl production area to try to stimulate native plants coming back with the disturbance,” he said.