Whiterock Conservancy supports nearly 123 acres of oak savanna dominated by majestic bur and white oaks draped over an understory painted with native prairie. We host close to 26 acres of remnant prairie with another 360 acres of reconstructed prairie. As such, an immense amount of work must be devoted to maintaining the native biological diversity of our habitats and managing these systems. Some of our dedicated projects include:
Land Management Goats
Goats are used to manage invasive species such as honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and blackberries. They are moved between several paddocks over the course of the summer to browse plants that have invaded an oak savanna restoration project area. Repeated browsing will kill these undesirable species, which allows light to reach the understory and encourages the growth of native species.
Across the street from the Bett’s rental house in our Agriculture Zone sits our ISU prairie strips project. Research conducted in these strips reflected that they are functional wildlife habitats, with nine reptiles and amphibians inhabiting the strips. These species include tiger salamanders, plains garter snake, prairie skink, and western fox snakes. Six mammals have been recorded using the strips, including the Least shrew. 26 species of birds were also recorded.
Fire is used as a tool for reducing brush in the understory, stimulating germination of certain plant species, and increasing native plant diversity. Fire also helps maintain healthy prairies and assists with our oak savannah restoration. Fire reduces thatch and helps control the spread of weeds and undesirable woody vegetation while putting nutrients back into the soil.
Timber Stand Improvement
Ecological management also includes fighting back invasive species with timber stand improvement (TSI), which clears secondary successional tree and invasive species if prescribed burns have not been done regularly. Some of the invasive species include red cedar, thorny locust trees, and oriental bittersweet.
Gary Olsen, from Audobon, Iowa has three hives at the Garst Home Farm near the fishing ponds and recently added more hives deeper in the valley. Honeybees are important pollinators of many flowering plants, including crops. However, pollinator populations have seriously declined in the past several decades. Native pollinators are especially at risk due to habitat loss. Through conserving and restoring prairies and oak savannas, we ensure these critically important creatures can keep doing their jobs.