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Versatile Hunter

Building Backyard Prairies and Wetlands

Sun, September 17, 2017

As a Field Biologist, I’ve spent a lot of time designing, building, maintaining, and monitoring native plant restoration sites throughout the U.S. Although all of those projects were a blast to work on, none were as fulfilling as working on my own 5 acres of bluff ground here in central Illinois. 

When I first purchased our property it was in poor shape, with severely eroded hillsides, lots of invasive plants, and a Sugar Maple population that was quickly overtaking the native oaks and hickories.  Not to mention huge logs that had been felled and left in place and years of construction trash. There was a good seed bank of native species that could be found in pockets and part of the ground was flat and had been clear cut which could serve as an excellent spot for a native prairie planting.

I began by doing what I always recommend to homeowners and contacted the local USDA NRCS office and had the local Soil Conservationist come out and walk the property with me.  We discussed potential cost sharing programs and the general condition of the plants and trees on the property. After discussing with them and the local IDNR Forester I realized that my property was too small to qualify for any of the larger farm-based programs I typically dealt with.  So, I started looking into locally-based grant programs.  I was about one year too late for a local grant program from the Tri County Regional Planning Agency that did cost sharing for restoration on local bluff ground but ultimately found grant money through a Trees Forever pollinator and tree restoration program.  I put together the grant application and soon learned that I qualified for several thousand dollars’ worth of cost share money from them. 

The plan I drew up consisted of a rain garden/wetland that captured water from my rooftops and pool runoff to prevent additional erosion to the ditch.  It also consisted of a short grass prairie (something I always suggest to landowners over the more popular and traditional tall grass prairie which grows above the average person’s head and does not therefore allow for good wildlife viewing and/or simply walking through the property once implemented).  That took care of the open clear cut areas and then for the rolling timber ground I prescribed a removal of all woody invasives (mostly Bush Honeysuckle) as well as Sugar Maples.  This would allow the native oaks, hickories, and native undergrowth to receive sunlight and begin to once again cover the forest floor and prevent future erosion. Erosion on the wooded bluffs of central Illinois is a major issue and one that any homeowner should be aware of if they own ground here.  Take a look at what happened to homes in East Peoria a few years back to understand just how serious the issue is (they lost their entire back yards during a rain event).  The Peoria Park District has some amazing demonstration sites if you’d like to see what those ravines/bluffs SHOULD look like.  The best example I’ve seen being Camp Wokanda.

With use of a good skid steer, some quality seed from a local seed source, and some good old fashioned hard work the native prairie was planted, wetland/rain garden dug and planted, and much of the invasive species and Sugar Maple removed in year 1.  Subsequent years have consisted of expected maintenance such as cutting and spraying the woody growth stumps with a heavy dose of Roundup, hand pulling invasives, herbiciding, mowing, and even a couple well-controlled spring and fall burns.

The advantage to doing all of this? 1) Piece of mind on not losing more of my ground down the creek every year, 2) less mowing, 3) better growth of quality wildlife food trees, 4) increased property value, 5) trails for my son and his friends to ride their four wheelers and bikes down, and for me especially—a science experiment right in my own backyard.  I was asked for a property name for the sign that Trees Forever provided as part of the cost sharing grant I received—we aptly named it “Birkey’s Bluff.”

Don’t lose sight of creating or improving wildlife and native vegetation on small parcels.  There are plenty of options out there for grants and cost share if you are willing to put in the time and effort to research and the results can be amazing.

Attached Photos:
1-Maples shading out ground cover resulting in erosion of hillside
2-Removed honeysuckles and maples to allow sunlight in and grow ground cover
3-Shortgrass native prairie restoration
4-Wetland/rain garden at top of hillside to capture rainfall from roof

Maples shading out ground cover resulting in erosion of hillside

Removed honeysuckles and maples to allow sunlight in and grow ground cover

Shortgrass native prairie restoration

Wetland/rain garden at top of hillside to capture rainfall from roof


Woodford County Pheasants Forever Restart

Wed, September 06, 2017

Good Afternoon,

Thank you to everyone who was able to attend our Woodford County Pheasants Forever Chapter Re-Start Meeting. I truly believe Woodford County Pheasants Forever can be one of the greatest chapters Illinois has to offer. It was obvious to see everyone’s passion for the organization and the mission! The information for our next meeting and location is listed below. I encourage each of you to consider recruiting at least one more individual to attend this meeting. Everyone possess their own strengths and resources that they can bring to the chapter. Your drive and determination will make Woodford County Pheasants Forever a success, and a strong committee of passionate individuals is the first step. Feel free to contact me with any questions and your RSVP. I look forward to meeting all of the new members willing to carry on the great efforts of Woodford County Pheasants Forever!  Special thanks to Chris and Jess Roberts for offering to host this meeting and the next at their home.

Woodford County Pheasants Forever
Chapter Restart Meeting
Date: Wednesday September 20th 2017
Time: 6:30pm
1508 U.S. Highway 150
Congerville, IL 61729

Yours in Conservation,
Ross Fogle

McLean County Pheasants Forever Chapter Annual Banquet on September 9th 2017 in Bloomington.
Purchase your Tickets:

Ross Fogle|Northern IL and Western IN Regional Representative
Pheasants Forever, Inc. and Quail Forever
(309) 310-7958 | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Northwoods Adventure

Mon, June 12, 2017

Is it just me or are our lives spiraling out of control these days in that as we age we seem to have more and more responsibility and stress—be it families, work, home upkeep, hobbies, bills, and the countless other things pulling at our time—and with that, time seems to just move faster and faster.  Each week goes faster the older we get and the stress of being a good husband, wife, co-worker, and friend only increases. 

As we become more involved in the things we need to do, we lose more time from the things we want to do, be they hobbies in the outdoors or other things.  I’ve spent a good deal of time since starting a family contemplating these things and by no means do I think I have it exactly right.  What I do believe is, based on my experiences, and those of some prominent writers and experts on the subject of leadership and time management, we need to strike balance between what we as individuals need and what we as parents, workers, and the various other pulls we have needs are met.  Balance is easy to talk about and hard to achieve. 

What the outdoors provides for many of us is a chance to get away and to forget all of those things that stress us out in our daily lives.  What my friends and I experienced in the Northwoods recently was only one such example.  The four of us decided to attempt a 4 day canoe camping adventure and began planning months before.  We had grown up canoeing, camping, fishing, and hunting together and back in the day it was easy to get out and do those things.  As we’ve aged, and as our responsibilities have mounted, like many of us, our time outdoors has shortened.  We all have children, wives, homes, jobs, and the like.  Prioritization is key these days, and sometimes the outdoors just doesn’t make the cut. I do believe that getting outdoors is still a priority for me and my family and I do a lot of it just in different ways.  These days, that time is often logged in minutes rather than hours.  A hiking trip to a local creek here, a short fishing trip to the local pond there, and even a few short hunting trips with the little man.  All of those trips, however involve much preparation, thought, and at least some level of stress given that children and family’s safety is always paramount.  Truly “unplugging” is just so difficult to do.

Our trip was planned to a tee given that we would be starting 30 miles above our takeout with not much opportunity for miscalculation.  This would be very similar to a boundary waters experience in gear planning and obviously primary mode of transportation.  The Flambeau River State Forest was intentionally left as a wild and scenic area, nearly devoid of development for a reason that we would soon come to understand.  We packed what we thought we could fill 2 canoes with and that would last us the 3-4 days on the water.  We also rented an extra canoe just in case we got there and had more gear than we could fit in 2 canoes as a backup plan.  Having never done this before we needed to have some basic outs.  This stretch of river contained 8-10 rapids and although they were considered Class I and II (the least dangerous), we were in canoes and at least two of the rapids would trip up all but the most experienced canoers without portage.  A dump on day one would potentially spell disaster for the rest of the trip but we were also prepared for that with a ton of bungees, dry bags, and industrial strength, double wrapped garbage bags. 

My suggestion on a trip like this is to call ahead—the WI DNR, like many State DNRs, can be extremely helpful when it comes to planning.  The particular people at the Flambeau River office went out of their way to provide us with helpful, up to date information for things like water levels, preferred campsites, fishing tips, and more.

The fishing was slow given that the water was about a foot high and we were unexperienced on this river.  That being said, piloting a canoe down a river, manipulating rapids, making sure you keep on time and ensuring you don’t miss take outs for campsites doesn’t mean full time fishing. We managed to catch a dozen or so smallies and two really nice channel catfish on crank baits.  We kept one of the channels approaching ten pounds and I must say that it was one of the cleanest and best tasting catfish I’ve ever eaten (and so thought my four year old when I brought it home).  We also had a follow from a Muskie.  Talking to the locals it’s pretty obvious that the River is a real sleeper for big Muskie (mention them and you get the old nod and smile but little discussion on the topic).

The campsites were absolutely amazing with freshly mowed spots right on the river and outhouses for each one.  The sites were set up in some great spots along the river with the most amazing one we stayed at being literally right next to one of the major rapids.  That might have been my best night’s sleep as the rapids did a good job of drowning out the sound of multiple dudes snoring in symphony. Ha.
The last day’s paddle was rough given some lack of sleep, a four foot drop Class II shelf rapid, a lot of open water with a headwind, and knowing that our adventure was soon to be over.  We ended wisely, however, deciding that instead of making the 7 hour trip home mid-day we would instead stay at a local cabin on the river, enjoy a hot meal in town, and then hit up the country bar that lay on the banks of the river to top it all off.

With no cell phone coverage to speak of, 6 people seen in 3 days, and being in the outdoors with some good old friends, this trip is ripe for an annual follow up adventure.  Perhaps we find a new adventure each year and perhaps the next trip is the Boundary Waters or something similar. I know my boys will be with us in the not so distant years to come.  Regardless, the ability to unplug and leave responsibilities behind, even if for only a few days, was something every person needs to experience more often.  Once again, the outdoors does its job as a soul-cleansing, life changing place that brings us back to sanity and reminds us of just what “the good life” should perhaps really look like. . . . .




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