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For those willing to hike, South Skunk Wildlife Area offers off-the-beaten-path experience

  • 9/26/2023 12:54:00 PM
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A 40-foot strip of wild plum-lined land leads from the one-and-only parking lot on the north end of the South Skunk Wildlife Area, to a large remote floodplain grassland in southern Jasper County.

“If you want to hunt, this area is two miles to the south end,” said Casey Trine, wildlife technician with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Red Rock Unit. “The limited access has made this a unique place to hunt.”

The South Skunk Wildlife Area arose from the major flood of 2008. It was enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program in 2010, and purchased by Pheasants Forever’s national office in 2018.

“There were a lot of partners who made this area happen,” Trine said.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Build a Wildlife Area, and the Jasper County, Mahaska County, Poweshiek County, Northern Polk, Covered Bridge and Iowa Capitol chapters of Pheasants Forever.

The local Pheasants Forever chapters began habitat work within the rules of the WRP contract. They removed trees and used prescribed fire to enhance the grassland and when it was acquired by the Iowa DNR in 2021, much of that initial work was complete.

“They did a good job managing it,” Trine said.

A handful of wetland basins will hold water when the river is high. There is a sand vein running through the middle of the area that is slightly higher elevation and here, the prairie takes hold - little bluestem, evening primrose, coreopsis, side oats gramma, sawtooth sunflowers, big bluestem, Illinois bundleflower, and round headed bush clover are blooming. Butterflies are seemingly everywhere.

A rooster pheasant flushes, flying off to the northeast

South Skunk Wildlife Area is adjacent to the Jasper County Conservation Board’s Pheasants Forever Wildlife Area, with a drainage ditch separating the two. The conservation agencies will coordinate management to increase the beneficial impacts of the areas.

The land must be actively managed to remain a floodplain grassland. Trine said they will schedule a rotation of burning, mowing and food plots on 25 percent of the area each year.

In year two, the South Skunk has acres of dove fields, soybeans for food plots and winter wheat fields full of grasshoppers. Quail are calling. A neighboring farmer plants the food plots and the local Pheasants Forever chapter pays for the seed and for his time.

The South Skunk River is the south boundary. At the river, a bald eagle left its perch from a nearby sycamore tree.

“If you’re looking for is a remote hunting or hiking opportunity, then this is your spot,” he said.