Mud Creek to Meredosia: A Habitat Corridor Gets Reclaimed
The hillsides west of Arenzville are transforming into what could create the perfect Sunday drive. Private landowners, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Pheasants Forever and The Nature Conservancy, are in the process of removing dense stands of eastern red cedar and locust, trees, honeysuckle and Russian olive in an effort to restore the historic hill prairies that existed until around the 1950s.
Ray Geroff, Arenzville resident and IDNR Natural Heritage Biologist, is helping to lead the charge by talking to neighbors and coordinating with the stakeholders in the area. He said “We have a great opportunity here to restore a large hill prairie complex by working together. When more than one landowner is involved, all neighboring landowners benefit. Deer, turkey and bobwhite quail populations can all expand and go from neighbor to neighbor. With hunting being an important pastime for most of us in the area, it is extremely important to provide the necessary habitat to promote those species. In this case we can promote those species and the natural heritage of the area by restoring the hillsides with wildflowers and grasses, creating a picturesque landscape along Arenzville Road. This landscape will not only benefit the local game species but also the insects, pollinators and nongame species.”
The private landowners are putting their time and money into the effort, allowing them to leverage funding from the groups and agencies which goes towards hiring a private contractor or for seed. Multiple landowners are currently interested and cooperating with a combined total of over 1,000 contiguous acres.
“When the landowners contribute time and money to a project we know the time and funds we contribute will be a great investment,” said Mike Budd, Private Lands Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “These great stewards of the land do not want to see their sweat equity be consumed by cedars and locust trees, so we know they’ll maintain their projects through controlled burns and targeted herbicide applications. These projects are very rewarding. Within one year of removing the dense cedar trees, where there is usually only bare dirt underneath, the sites spring to life with wildflowers and native tall grass species. At our first project, the number of bobwhite coveys had a noticeable increase, as did the number of monarchs. During their fall migration, the monarchs seemed to be fighting over the false boneset made available through the private landowner’s efforts.”
When asked what the ultimate goal of the effort is, Geroff said “to restore the hill prairies from Mud Creek Hill Prairie to Meredosia Hill Prairie, which is a remnant prairie that the IDNR has been managing since 1985, with significant assistance from local volunteers that are led and organized by volunteer Deborah (Deb) Burrus. We hope to go beyond that when time and money allows, but in the meantime, we’ll work on the stretch from Mud Creek to Meredosia Hill Prairie Nature Preserve. It will take several years or even decades, but we’ll get there. Hopefully other private landowners see the results of the work and want to contribute.”
Mike Budd is the Private Lands Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Illinois. He has worked with private landowners for the majority of his 12-year career in natural resources, including stints with Ducks Unlimited. Originally from Michigan, Budd has had the opportunity to work in multiple states including Virginia, New York and Arkansas and is excited that Illinois has such a rich opportunity for wetland restoration. At each stop, he has picked up a new tip or trick from private landowners on how to restore wetlands efficiently and effectively. Budd, his son, daughter, wife and old retired duck-dog live in Sangamon County. For more information on these projects, please contact Budd at (217) 557-4474 or email Michael_budd@fws.gov.