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Chain O Lakes Wildlife Area recovering two years after derecho

  • 8/23/2022 11:50:00 AM
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The lingering effects of the historic 2020 derecho that cut a destructive path through Iowa can be seen at the Chain O Lakes Wildlife Area in northern Linn County. 

The 1,150-acre wildlife area received significant wind damage, stripping sections of the canopy and knocking down trees, creating a limb, branch and trunk mangled and tangled mess difficult for wildlife and people to navigate.

“It created nearly impassible conditions, but we’re doing our best to get it back where it’s a usable area again,” said Steve Woodruff, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Iowa River Unit.

Iowa DNR district forester Mark Vitosh scouted the area and determined there would be a salvage timber harvest covering around 300 acres divided over three sections. The salvage harvest designation allows for damaged trees to be used. In this case, most of the damage occurred to cottonwood, silver maple and ash trees. The logs will be used for pallets and some turned in to furniture.

The work began late last fall on the first segment. The contractor may only remove trees that have 25 percent or less canopy or are leaning or are downed, and trees may be dropped only between Oct. 1 and March 31 to avoid impacting the endangered Indiana bat and the threatened northern long-eared bat during their active time. Bats will migrate south to hibernate.

Woodruff said the salvage harvest is reopening access to the damaged areas and is expected to be done by the end of March. While not all of the damaged or downed trees will be removed, the remaining damaged trees will offer a secondary habitat preferred by cavity nesters, like raccoons and pileated woodpeckers, and the remaining root balls will support turtles and grubs and more.

He said individuals can also salvage wood for their own use for free by contacting him for a wood cutting permit. The permit identifies when they can access the area and only allows them to cut trees that are already downed.

Woodruff said initially, they are not planning to replant trees, but will wait to see if the trees will naturally fill in the openings.

Sitting adjacent to Palo and a few minutes from Cedar Rapids, Chain O Lakes is popular with local residents, but is often overlooked by those out of the area.

The public area has forest, prairies, wetlands and oxbow backwaters of the Cedar River. It’s home to diverse wildlife including osprey, bald eagles, turtles, frogs and is occasionally visited by sandhill cranes.

A portion of Chain O Lake is north of a county road and consists of additional timber and wetlands.

“There’s hiking and bird watching, lots of deer hunting here, we always see turkeys, pheasant hunting is good, waterfowl too,” he said.