Bur Oak Land Trust Steps Up to Stewardship

Bur Oak Land Trust has a wonderful opportunity on its hands to protect one of Iowa's most priceless commodities: a mosaic of sensitive habitats, relatively undisturbed since the pre- settlement era. The site maintained its integrity through an interesting geographical quirk. An anabranch – a small section of stream that diverts from the main channel before joining it again downstream – isolated some 200 acres of an old family farm.

“The landowner now is in his 80s, born on the farm, lived there his whole life, and there are parts they rarely visited. It's a totally untouched property, which is pretty rare in Iowa,” says land trust Executive Director Jason Taylor.

Rare indeed. The site includes some 40 acres of pristine sand prairie. Other sections consist of remnant tallgrass prairie, wetlands, and forest, creating a complex network of habitats ripe for preservation. That complexity drives Bur Oak Land Trust's goal to conduct inventories of the plant and animal species calling the acreage home. That goal aligns with the Land Trust's mission of advancing biodiversity in Eastern Iowa by protecting resilient landscapes and connecting people to nature.

Those goals in turn aligned beautifully with the mission of the Iowa Prairie Network to learn about, teach about, enjoy and protect Iowa’s prairie heritage. For that reason, the IPN elected to make Bur Oak Land Trust the beneficiary of the winter silent auction.

Funds from the auction will go toward a botanical inventory to be conducted by Drake University's Tom Rosburg over the course of two years. The Land Trust also plans to develop an inventory of the site’s herpetofauna, bats, birds, bees, beetles and mussels.

The landowner initially sought a conservation easement, but such arrangements rarely allow for the kind of management necessary to help the site thrive. Upon learning what a full donation would mean for the site’s stewardship, the landowner quickly pounced on it.

The site will not be open to the public generally, but the Land Trust plans to provide numerous opportunities for the public to share the wonder with bioblitzes and guided hikes.

When I asked Jason what caught the attention of the Land Trust, he dives into an amazing story.

“We feel blessed to have access to a ton of people who are experts in their field. We visited the site with one of our donors, a biology professor who specializes in beetles, so we're out looking for beetles, but it's cold. I managed to find just one dung beetle on an Opuntia (prickly pear) cactus that he didn't immediately recognize. He took it home to key it out, and it turned out to be only the second record of that species for Iowa.”

“We found just one beetle that day and it turned out to be a pretty rare species. If we really start looking, what else are we going to find?”

If you are able and willing, please consider contributing by sending a check (memo Bur Oak Trust) to:

Iowa Prairie Network

c/o Ed Sibley, Treasurer

4015 Sergeant Rd

Sioux City, IA 51106