Soap Creek, Stephens State Forest to become Bird Conservation Area

OTTUMWA ? A public ceremony to dedicate Soap Creek and Eldon Wildlife Areas, Stephens State Forest Unionville Unit, Lake Wapello State Park and a portion of the Soap Creek watershed as Iowa?s newest Bird Conservation Area will take place at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at 1:30 p.m.

The meeting will be held at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Center; located about 6 miles south of Ottumwa on the east side of Highway 63 at the Wapello County Conservation Board headquarters.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is hosting the dedication that will include presentations and the unveiling of a special Bird Conservation Area sign.

This unique area is one of southeastern Iowa?s most species-rich grassland/savanna/forest habitats.

?Designating this complex as a Bird Conservation Area will add to its recognition by indicating its importance for nesting and migratory grassland, savanna, and forest birds,? said Bruce Ehresman, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR?s Wildlife Diversity Program. ?It provides important nesting habitat for declining grassland birds, such as meadowlarks, state threatened Henslow?s sparrows and northern bobwhites, for declining savanna birds like red-headed woodpeckers and state endangered barn owls, and for declining forest birds like Kentucky warblers, wood thrushes and Acadian flycatchers; plus this BCA provides migration stopover habitat for a large number of other bird species suffering nationwide declines.?

This area also is rich in cultural history, including thousands of years when it was inhabited by Native Americans and the time-period when Euro-American settlers first arrived and benefited from the native people who already were present.

The new BCA will likely attract bird enthusiasts from throughout the region and beyond, Ehresman said.

?Watching wildlife is a $350 million industry in Iowa, and more birders visiting this area will support the growing local tourism economy and encourage investment in local bird conservation,? he said.

?The designation of the Soap Creek-Stephens Forest Bird Conservation Area serves to recognize the excellent teamwork of many partners, cooperating to emphasize the importance of habitat for birds and other wildlife. State, federal, and county conservation agencies, working together with private conservation organizations and citizens have made this possible,? said Jeff Glaw, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR managing the Sugema Wildlife Unit.