Oriental Bittersweet: A particularly insidious invasive species

Oriental BittersweetBrush clearing and tree canopy thinning has been ongoing at Starr's Cave and Big Hollow over the past couple months and will continue in some places until spring. At Starr's Cave, DMCC field staff have been cutting bush honeysuckle and the particularly insidious invasive species known as oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).

This vine, originally from Asia and brought here as an ornamental, is a relative newcomer to our forests but it has wreaked havoc since arriving. Oriental bittersweet grows faster than its native cousin, American bittersweet, and can tap into the fungal networks within the soil that native trees use, sapping resources from the trees it climbs. It can grow in almost total shade, doing so while climbing quickly into the forest canopy. Once there and exposed to full sun, it's growth rate accelerates as it wraps itself around the tree to which it's attached, girdling the tree and slowly killing it. As the host tree withers, the oriental bittersweet captures more sunlight, increasing its leaf and fruiting capacity thus spreading itself even further throughout our native ecosystems. And unlike bush honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet is not susceptible to control by prescribed fire, meaning it has to be cut and/or sprayed with chemicals. 

Throughout the Des Moines County park system, Starr's Cave seems to have the worst invasion of oriental bittersweet. We hadn't fully noticed how bad it had gotten until we began clearing operations there. Since most of it resides in the canopy, it's hard to really tell how prevalent it is. But once you start pulling it down, the extent becomes evident. And as we took down some of the trees it was attached to, we were shocked at how much damage had been done to what otherwise looked like healthy trees.

Controlling this invasive species is something we'll have to keep after for many years going forward. 

Outside in winter: It's a Hoot!

Barred owlJanuary and February are active months for barred owls because it is when they begin looking for a partner. They use sound and body language to try to impress each other in hopes of finding a mate. Those who would like to learn more about owls are invited to join one of our Owl Prowl events coming up on Feb. 9 and 23, both starting at 7 p.m. at Big Hollow Recreation Area.

This program is an hour and a half long and will be led by a Des Moines County Conservation naturalist. The program will begin with a short presentation regarding owls and calling for owls using recorded calls. The participants will head out for a 2-mile round trip night hike, and if all goes as planned, owl prowlers will hear owls talk back and might even get to see one swoop silently down for a closer look.

Since silent listening is required, children must be accompanied by an adult. Dress for the weather and prepare for a 2-mile hike in the dark. There is no fee to join this event, but registration is required, as space is limited. To register, contact Starr’s Cave Nature Center at (319) 753-5808.

Another reason to go outside: Ice Fishing

kid ice fishingDes Moines County Conservation will be hosting an Ice Fishing Clinic on February 11th from 9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. This program will be held at Big Hollow Recreation Area. The program will begin with a quick lesson on ice fishing and ice safety at the Hickory Shelter. Participants will then get a try at ice fishing. The Ice Fishing Clinic is open to any participants interested. There is no fee to join the event, but registration is required. Participants can register by calling Starr’s Cave Nature Center at (319) 753-5808. 

Participants should bring their own ice fishing gear if they have it. There will be limited materials for rent at the event. It is recommended to bring a bucket to sit on while fishing. Ice holes will be pre-drilled and bait will be provided. Participants under the age of 16 do not need a fishing license to fish in Iowa. All Iowa DNR fishing regulations apply. Participants should be sure to dress appropriately for the weather as this program will be held outdoors. If the temperature is below 15°F or if the ice is not adequate, the event will be canceled. You can follow this event on Facebook or call the Starr’s Cave Nature Center at (319) 753- 5808 for updates.

Speaking of Fishing...Catch-photo-release tournament encourages Iowa walleye anglers to report their catches
Iowa DNR News Release

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is partnering for a second year with MyCatch by Angler’s Atlas to conduct a statewide walleye fishing challenge starting May 1 through June 30. The Iowa Chapter of the American Fisheries Society has joined as a research partner for the 2023 challenge.

Anglers will have the chance to win weekly prizes while also contributing to fisheries research, helping improve walleye fishing in the state.

The Iowa Walleye Challenge uses the MyCatch mobile app to record the length of a fish. Participating anglers take a picture of the fish on a measuring device using the app. Once the fish is reviewed by the catch team and meets the rules, it automatically appears on a live leaderboard where anglers can see who is in the lead to win prizes.

Participating anglers are encouraged to report all the walleye they catch in May and June through the MyCatch mobile app. The mobile app maintains anonymous location data, so angler’s secret sports stay secret. DNR fisheries biologists will use the generalized lake and river catch data entered to assess and manage walleye populations across Iowa.  

“Results from year one were very promising,” said Jeff Kopaska, DNR fisheries research biometrician. “Iowa anglers can expand the data available, simply by reporting their walleye catches.”

Anglers can register for the Iowa Walleye Challenge at https://www.anglersatlas.com/event/680/2023-iowa-walleye-challenge-2023. There is a $25 fee to enter the tournament.

published Friday, February 3, 2023

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