June 20, 2007
TRIPOLI --- Bird-watchers and landowners butt heads Tuesday evening over a proposal to increase habitat for the winged creatures along the Wapsipinicon River.
About 89,000 acres along the waterway between Frederika and Independence would be designated as a bird conservation area under the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' plan. The areas, a mix of private and public lands, are used to preserve existing habitat and promote the addition of new ones.
But landowners said they are concerned the designation could bring unwanted state regulations and invite trespassing. They aired their concerns during a public hearing in Tripoli.
"I think there's a lot of people who just do not trust the DNR," said Merle Wilson, a farmer from Jesup who owns land near the Wapsipinicon.
State officials, however, counter that participation in the conservation area is purely voluntary. Landowners are not required to enroll or do anything to their properties if they aren't interested in the program.
"All we're doing is just designating an area that we feel is particularly important for birds in the state," said Doug Harr, coordinator for the DNR's wildlife diversity program. "We hope some people might be willing to voluntarily work with us, and if they don't, there's nothing we're going to do to anybody."
About 8,300 acres in the Wapsipinicon conservation area are protected because state or county conservation agencies own them. The properties include the Sweet Marsh Wildlife Area and the Wapsipinicon River Greenbelt. The remainder of the land is held privately.
This conservation area will be the 11th in Iowa, said Bruce Ehresman, a state wildlife biologist. The land included in the Wapsipinicon conservation area features a rich variety of bird species, he added. DNR biologists counted more than 119 species at Sweet Marsh, he said.
"It's absolutely the most diverse place for bird species in the state of Iowa," Ehresman said.
Harr said while no financial incentives are available to landowners who may want to covert some land into habitat, though some federal conservation funds could be redirected toward the Wapsipinicon area.
Still many in the audience Tuesday were not convinced landowners won't be subject to additional requirements.
"I still say there's an underlying reason for this," Wilson said.
He said he is worried the program is a backdoor approach to opening the entire area, including private property, to hunting. Others said they didn't have a strong enough guarantee their land would be left alone by bird-watchers and others regardless of whether the owners participate in the program.
Some landowners in the conservation area, however, do support the plan. Gloria Sigglekov of rural Bremer County often feeds birds on her land near the Wapsipinicon and said the plan should help bring a greater variety to the area.
"Anything you do to preserve them is fine with me," Sigglekov said.
Ehresman said DNR officials would go ahead with the conservation project this summer if they don't encounter any major objections. He noted Tuesday was the first time DNR officials heard anyone express concerns about a conservation areas at a public hearing.
Contact Josh Nelson at (319) 291-1565 or email@example.com.