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Oxbow Bottoms Wildlife Area won't remain a secret for long

  • 10/10/2023 12:13:00 PM
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Bordered by the Iowa River to the east and U.S. Hwy. 30 to the north is one of the newest public areas in Central Iowa - the 260-acre Oxbow Bottoms Wildlife Area – a floodplain grassland-wetland complex in Tama County.

Because of its high visibility, it will likely become one of the more popular places to hunt. But it’s not there yet.

“It’s so new, I haven’t been getting many calls about it,” said Steve Woodruff, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Iowa River Unit.

The Iowa DNR took possession of Oxbow Bottoms in 2021, after it was first acquired by Pheasants Forever. Deer, pheasants and doves are here. Turkeys too, along the river. And given its size, it can accommodate multiple groups.

“The local Pheasants Forever chapters were very instrumental in this acquisition, and they did some important initial work on it including re-establishing old wetland basins,” Woodruff said. “This area fills a need for public hunting land in this part of the state.”

The groups partnering to create Oxbow Bottoms were the Marshall/Tama Counties chapter, the Iowa County chapter, Jasper County chapter, and Northern Polk County chapter of Pheasants Forever, the Iowa Build a Wildlife Area donors and supporters, OnX Hunt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa DNR.

The area is heavily influenced by the Iowa River and the previous landowner enrolled it in the Wetland Reserve Program. Floodplains come with management issues and at Oxbow Bottoms, the issues are keeping cottonwoods and willows at bay while encouraging the grassland-prairie and wetlands on the developing area. As part of the management plan, a combination of prescribed fire and aerial spraying is used to manage the trees.  

“That’s showing good results so far,” Woodruff said. “We’re trying to remove the seed source so other species get a chance to come in.”

The habitat and plant community vary slightly depending on elevation – the higher and less frequently flooded areas have more native diversity, like big bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, partridge pea, compass plant, rattlesnake master, and purple prairie clover. The lower elevation has whorl milkweed, Canada anemone, gray headed coneflower, cup plant, compass plant and partridge pea.

“Flooding really set the grasses back and this area does get flooded,” Woodruff said.

As a floodplain, the fairly level terrain makes walking easier and the fire lanes provide good places to hike. A neighboring farmer maintains the fire lanes.

A bald eagle soars over the trickle that is the Iowa River, its nest sits high on a cottonwood on the east bank. Killdeer, with their familiar call, are running around on the river’s exposed sandbars.

Although the drought continues its grip on Iowa, Oxbow Bottoms’ basins are ready to catch and hold water once the rains return.

Around the basins, the dry year has encouraged more foxtail, marestail and button weed than millet. The Iowa River Unit staff sprayed the existing perennial vegetation in the dry basins in August to encourage annual vegetation growth, which produces more seeds than perennials. Those seeds are an important food source for migrating waterfowl.  

Woodruff said the management plan also includes clearing certain areas where sorghum and green browse can be planted as food plots for deer and pheasants.