Herpjournal Habitat Restoration Project

Jackson County, Iowa

By Jim Scharosch

One of our favorite areas to herp is on private property in Jackson county, in northeast Iowa. We have been going there for many years and have seen an ebb and flow in the timber population. When we first were going here, there was still an old time rattlesnake hunter who would visit the area and collect snakes. He would normally take gravid female timbers from the site. Thankfully he no longer collects rattlesnakes. Lately we have seen what we believe to be a small increase in the population. For the past two years we have observed females on rookery rocks and have seen successful reproduction and new babies at the dens. Encouraged by this, we were motivated too seek permission from the land owner to clear the cedar trees that are choking out large parts of the hillsides. He was happy to have us do it, and told us that when he moved in 30 years ago there were no cedars. There are a lot now.

These are overhead shots from the Iowa State University GIS tool and from Google Maps. I kept them small on purpose to help keep the location private. The first shot is the hillside as it appeared in the 1970s. It was obviously logged at some point, and I saw photos from the 1930s that looked very similar to the 1970s photo you see here. The second photo is the same hillside from 2015, prior to us beginning our work cutting the cedars. Even taking into account that some of the deciduous trees have grown larger over the years you can really see how drastically the hillside has changed.

We actually began this project a couple of years ago at the south den site within this location. We decided to post on it this year, so we are considering this the official kickoff of the project. This will be a different style of post for us at herpjournal because it will span various trips to do the work over the next few years. It will see various people pitching in to help as well. We will link back to it occasionally from timber sightings at this property. We feel it is an important project that will help the population of the rattlesnakes at this site to survive and grow.

We are fittingly calling the first portion of our project "Phase One". We thought that was pretty clever. I have highlighted on the map approximately what we are considering Phase One.

I don't really have a way to put into perspective how large that area is. Phase Two will involve the area directly to the west of Phase One. We hope to get through Phase One this spring, and maybe put a tiny dent into Phase Two.

So fire up the chainsaws...

March 12, 2016

Fortunately for Matt and I, Don Becker was available to help as this is pretty hard work to cut, break down and haul to a location. Gravity helps some, but friction does not while dragging these trees to a collective location.

Here is the before picture. This was taken the morning of our first day before we headed up the hillside for the first time. The picture is kinda dark, but you get the idea.

A rock outcrop that will eventually be exposed as the other cedars around it are brought down.

Cuttin and movin trees!!

Here is a shot of our tree pile at the end of the day. You can't really get a feel for how big this pile is. It is much deeper than it appears in the photo.

Here is our after shot from day one of the project, 3/12/16. It doesn't look like much, but it's a start.

Thanks to Don for the help and we will continue to post here as the project continues.

March 19, 2016

Matt and I got out today, two weeks in a row for us. We took down a little over twenty more trees. It was slow going at first as there were a number of large trees towards the bottom we had to clear and haul a long distance to our pile. As we got later in the day and higher up the hillside, the work went faster as the trees were smaller and easier to dispose of.

The north den site is beginning to open up.

Here is the after shot for 3/19/16

March 26, 2016

Another day of cutting, this time and Don Becker and I. We worked our way to the north from our first cutting and then knocked out some of the trees along the south edge just to make it prettier from the bottom of the hill.

Looking up from about halfway up the hill to the large outcrop

This area is near the den and one of the rookeries.

A little perspective...

Big Don is a tree cutting machine...

The after shot for 3/26/16

April 4, 2016

Another day of cutting. We cut a number of trees along the southern edge of the opening we had created over the past few weeks. This time it was Don and I again, and my wife Laura also tagged along. Laura is small but mighty and was relentless tromping up the hill and dragging trees back down. We took down quite a few trees again and the hillside really opened up a lot with this cutting. We have reached a point now where we say that Phase One of the project nearly is finished, though may will probably clean up a few more stragglers. We will try one more cutting before spring starts for real, and then we will have to stop to avoid cutting trees while the timbers are out doing thier thing.

Laura sitting down for pretty much the only time all day.

The after shot for 4/4/16

April 10, 2016

It was a cool rainy morning when we set out for day five of Phase One of the project. It warmed up a little, but stayed rainy on and off all day long as Don Becker, Jeff LeClere and I spent five hours on the hillside today. We continued to work our way around the hill towards the east, cleaning up the area near the den and further down the hill into the lower rock outcrops. We made a lot of progress today. At the end of the day I walked the old farm road that skirts this side of the hill, and there are few enough cedar now that I was able to count that there were only twenty-four cedar left along the entire eastern portion of the hlll. We didn't have it in us to finish them off, but I hope to so before next week. These last trees are far enough from the den that we wouldn't disturb the timbers even if they were out on the ledges of the densite.

I didn't take my phone out to take many pictures because of the rain, so here are some shots by Jeff LeClere.

I did get my camera out to get this "Portrait with Jeff LeClere and Chainsaw".

The after shot for 4/10/16.

March 11, 2017

After taking the winter off from working at this location, Matt, Don and I are starting back up early this spring to knock out somemore cedars. As luck would have it, new overhead photos were taken late last spring after we finished cutting but before the trees had leafed out. This photo shows pretty clearly the area we cut last spring.

You have to compare it to the old photos above to really get the idea, but a lot of progress was made. This year we are tackling the area to the west of what we cut last year. I didn't take any photos today, so you have to take my word for it that we cut down a bunch of trees. The process will be different this year as we have nowhere to put the trees we are taking down. We are going to have to leave them on the hillside for a while until they dry out and then possibly burn them in place on the hill. This year our progress won't be quite as noticeable with the trees laying all over the hillside, but we have no choice.

March 27, 2017

Don and I cut trees again today. While it sucks not being able to clear the downed trees off the hill, it does really speed up knocking the trees down not having to clean them up. On this first photo I highlighted the area where we have dropped all the cedars so far. We have killed nearly as many cedars in two days this year as we did in five days last year.

Here is an after photo for 3/27/17. You can see all the cedars laying on the ground to the left of the photo. It's a huge mess.


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