"River Bend Wildland Trust"

The Foreign Invader and the Bloody Glove of Death

Posted by on Oct 26, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

In the spirit of Halloween, the 2016 management work at the Milan Bottoms Preserve will be presented in seasonally appropriate story form.

burning prairie

Jake keeps watch of the Spring prescribed burn. This is the first burn for this prairie which was initially planted in 2013.


Milan Bottoms wetland post-prescribed burn

Waking up from its winter slumber, a prescribed burn stimulates new growth.

On a beautiful summer day River Bend Wildland Trust staff and interns were busy cutting sweet clover and looking for new plants that emerged following the spring time prescribed burn at the Milan Bottoms Preserve.

wildflowers and student interns

Summer interns are learning about invasive species, how they get into our preserves, and how to manage them before they take over.

When suddenly, Eric, their leader, lost concentration and launched into a chain of angry expletives under his breath. He approached the largest of the restored ephemeral wetland. The evil Phrag and his invasive horde were attacking an innocent plant community. “This is WAR!!” Eric shouted! “As soon as the water goes down, I am coming after you!”


A 50-foot by 100-foot patch of phragmites managed to grow unnoticed until it put on seed heads in the summer of 2016. Left unattended, It will out compete all native wetland vegetation in a few years.

It rained all through July, August and into September. Every wetland wondering was haunted by the laugh of Phrag and the cries of slow death a slowly dying wetland. Phrag stared down the restoration crews that came to add supplemental wetland plants and kill his ally Reed Canary. He thumbed his nose at the tractor and mower tending to the burn breaks and teasel patches knowing that such equipment was no threat.

women with potted wetland plants

Interns Krista and Allie plant wetland plants purchased by a local business (The Cellular Connection) in support of our work.


Summer 2016 interns celebrate finishing the killing of reed canary grass.

Summer 2016 interns Steve, Brian, Grant, and Taylor celebrate finishing the killing of reed canary grass.

white cone shaped flowers

Cream gentians take several years of growth before blooming. Finding them in late summer is exciting for prairie lovers.

blue wildflowers

The late summer bright blue of closed gentians among tall grasses can catch you by surprise.

When October arrived, so did the sun. The rain subsided and the wetland began to dry. In a plan to wipe out the other plants Phrag and his clan put on seed heads ready for a hard frost so they could rest for the winter. But that frost didn’t come. In late October, on an unseasonably warm day Eric decided to get his revenge going for the green jugular! Knowing that the wetland had so many great plants (rushes, button bush, cord grass, blue flag iris, and more), he chose the Bloody Glove of Death and its poison grip to take on the invaders.

glove with purple herbicide

The Bloody Glove of Death: To prevent off target plant damage especially in wetlands, appropriate herbicide (with dye) is sprayed on a cotton glove. Watch out Phrag!

With milkweed fuzz in his face, Eric sneaked through the autumn colored prairie. A flock of vegetarian turkey buzzards soared in circles on the winds above the Mississippi River knowing that death would soon come. The invader was still bright green in the crowded brown vegetation. He armed his weapon and pounced!

herbicided glove killing phragmites

The Death Grip: holding the target species and slide up. The dye helps to see which plants have been treated. Early detection makes this labor intensive process quicker.

For several hours they struggled. Eric’s iron grip held on to Phrag spreading poison over the army a stem at a time. Young sprouts tried to hide in the cord grass but they were too slow. The rhizome sprouts were no match to Eric’s Chuck Norris like reflexes.

wetland in fall colors

These small wetlands are very important for migratory birds, amphibians, and other wildlife. Native plants offer safe cover and food for waterfowl in transit. Invasive plants eliminate both.

As the full moon rose on the horizon, He let out a howl of victory wiping sweat and mud from his brow. The sickly Phrag let out a ghastly laugh. “You think I can be defeated this easily? You are wrong! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Exhausted, Eric replied, “We will pick up this fight next spring after I burn your sorry carcass. You will not win on my watch!”

bonfire at night

Volunteers gather around a bonfire fueled by dead wood, and invasive plant material.

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If I Die Before I Wake, Prairie I Will Give, Not Take

Posted by on Oct 25, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

cemetery prairie nature preserve

A few acres of township cemetery prairie surrounded by miles of corn and soybeans.

This past summer I was taken aback by the sensory overload of crowded plants, peculiar leaf shapes, flowers, insects, and bird calls. Driving past miles of corn and bean fields to the handmade sign directing us down a rolling two-track farm path to the Munson Township Cemetery, a few acres of high quality, wild prairie juxtaposed to orderly crops. Bob white quail call as if on cue as I climb out of the car.

I often find myself asking people to take a step back when they criticize framers for clearing fence row habitat to gain a few more rows of crops. Everyone wants a 2% or 3% annual cost of living increase. The farmer is no exception. With high land prices, clearing fallow areas is more cost effective than purchasing more property.

Land next to the cemetery has been farmed for more than 100 years.

Land next to the cemetery has been farmed for more than 100 years.

The way River Bend insures that relative natural areas can stay that way is to protect the land with a conservation easement. Farms can still be farmed. Certain features like stream buffers and edge habitat which control flooding and improve water quality can be legally protected. The legacy left by protecting working farmland and other natural areas will stay for generations.

prairie plants around grave stones

Blooming rattlesnake master takes its turn keeping granite markers of family grave plots company.

The Future of Rural Pioneer Cemetery Prairies. I contemplate what legacy I will leave and who will benefit. I hope to leave land or a gift to my local land trust. We are losing the pioneers of prairie restoration and first lovers of these cemetery prairies. Leaving a financial legacy to support these natural areas ensures a future long past your ability to volunteer. With planning, perseverance, and financial resources, we might even give an extra acre or two to grow. It takes work and resources that can only come from individuals that care. A conservation land trust thinks and plans for perpetuity. We make conservation goals permanent. If you want to leave a permanent conservation legacy for the future of the Quad Cities, River Bend Wildland Trust can help make your goals a reality.

white orchid in grass

Soil moisture, mature grasslands, full sun, and complex mycorrhizal relationships are needed to host this orchid. Loss of habitat, draining of wetlands are the leading cause of its decline.

bush with white flowers

This conservative, short shrub is a favorite of butterflies and other pollinators.

diverse prairie near a cornfield

Most prairie plants are perennial, but their dominance changes with time. Some like disturbed early succession sites some thrive only after years of growth under the proper conditions. Rain fall amounts and timing, burn timing, and mycelium population are a few factors.


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What Will Your Land be in 25 years?

Posted by on Jun 29, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

wildflowers in a prairie

You know a prairie is special when the pale purple coneflowers and the big bluestem are balanced.

“68 acres saved in Mecklenburg and Lincoln Counties” the headline reads. No doubt the Catawba Lands Conservancy in North Carolina was working on this project for a year or more before it pieced the partners, resources, and will together to protect an urban forest and a corridor to a regional trail. Huge development pressure around Charlotte, NC makes deals like this both difficult and high priority.

What do we think about in terms of development pressure and relatively natural areas in the Quad Cities Area? How did you feel when the stately bur oak next to the Milk House in Viola was removed as the property was being redeveloped? What about that forest that is now a field, or the field that is now a lit-up parking lot surrounding a massive new building? How close does development need to be to your favorite view before you take action? When the family property sells, will the new owner care about the migrating birds, the water quality, or the generations of children that had their first experience of the great outdoors on this land?

children in the distance walking through a prairie

Remember when you first learned that prairies have wildflowers.

Long term conservation is a conscious choice that River Bend makes possible. Catawba is 25 years old with 15,000 acres protected and hundreds of supporting members. River Bend is starting its 4th year and growing our member support. Where will we be at 25? Will your favorite place exist? Contact us to discuss how permanent conservation can be incorporated into estate planning. Even if you cannot give the property away, we can probably help make conservation permanent. There is more information on our website under Conservation Options.


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Readying for Success

Posted by on Mar 5, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

An oak leaf, from a tree we planted or transplanted by the wind?

An oak leaf, from a tree we planted or transplanted by the wind?

If every seedling produced by the Illinois state tree nurseries were to survive, Illinois would no longer be called the Prairie State. So maybe I should not feel so bad after viewing the results of a 2012 tree planting.

Industries are built up around growing the perfect turf grass, high yielding commodity grains, and designer nursery plants, though when it comes to growing plants that support birds, bees, and butterflies, we are often on our own. This reality, combined with the tricks nature can play (and there are many), can ruin the best intentions.

Going by memory past a dozen or so homes on a dead end road, I parked as the sun was just above the horizon. The neighborhood was tired and questioned my presence even without a person in sight. If anyone was awake they are definitely wondering who I am and what I am doing, but no would call the police. They handle their own problems here. Trekking along the old access road over logs and debris left by the last flood, I could not imagine how I drove down this same path just a few years ago.

How tall would the trees be? Were they taken care of? Did the river impact their survival? Am I in the right place? The walk seemed much longer than when I drove. Rounding the final bend the memories rushed back.

It was mid-June. High water and wet conditions prevented the usual early spring planting. I pulled into the site well after dark. Candace had a fire started and her tent set up. Brad was joining us first thing in the morning. The 1989 Beast truck rumbling juxtaposed to the river’s edge stillness, illuminated by the Milky Way felt like a dream taking a turn, switching the smell of anxious diesel fumes to subtle campfire smoke and acoustic music on a radio in the distance. It was the night before the big game, this is what we were put on earth to accomplish.  At sunrise we offload the tractor and plant 5,400 river bottom hardwood trees.

One can imagine the feeling when I rounded the same bend almost four years later to see an empty, snow covered, mowed field. “Damn it!” I whispered under my breath walking out into the open field looking for clues under the snow. A redwing blackbird in the distance tried to cheer me up with its spring song. I kept walking, looking for signs of mowed off trees in the blanketed soft ground.

snow covered field

The first round of planting did not fair well. The sun rises over the river and so will this forest.

Would killing the invasive reed canary grass, as we recommended, have made things better? Spraying it at the exact time to get a good kill could have been difficult and would have had to be done on foot if the road was impassable. 2012 had a wet spring that turned to drought. I remember a rain shortly after planting, but do not recall if that was the last rain before October. If trees had survived, did the person mowing know to look for them? An oak leaf in the snow! Did they know that coppicing bareroot seedlings (cutting at the ground, mowing in this case) after 3 or 4 growing seasons is a good way get straight, fast growing trees from deer browsed oak bushes? Maybe another flood wiped them out a year later. I’ll bet the deer came down each row and ate the tops, uprooting each stem, laughing at our effort.

The advice of Joe Slater, a now retired wildlife biologist for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, resounded in the cold air. “River bottoms are a harsh environment. We plant hardwoods here because this is where they belong. If they die, get washed away, crowded out, or drowned, we replant and adjust our management for what we can control. If it happens again we replant. Conditions for survival may occur only once every few years. We have to be ready for success.”

oak leaf in the snow

Maybe there is a survivor.

How much time do we spend caring for a newly planted lawn in the first season and every year after? Farmers prepare the fields, plant in windows between springtime rains, control weeds, check for insect damage, and manage accordingly. What successful flower bed goes unweeded, unfertilized, and unwatered? When we plant a field of trees, what changes? If John Chapman had stayed in one place to manage his apple orchards would our culture around tree planting be different. The last time I planted an apple tree without a fence and armed guards it was destroyed by deer in two days.

I will make a call next week and speak with the landowner. Maybe there is something we can do. This land has been manipulated by humans for 150 years. Rejuvenating natural processes is going to take more than one day’s effort in late spring and a token mowing. When you hire someone, RBWT or other, to plant trees and 2 or 3 years of maintenance is included as part of the bid, no one is trying to milk your bank account. They are readying you for success.

Below freezing temperatures cannot keep the commercial fisherman at home.

Below freezing temperatures cannot keep the commercial fisherman at home.

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Spring is upon us, or I am just looking for it.

Posted by on Feb 25, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Man walking across a beaver dam

Jacob Smith crossing a beaver dam in the Milan Bottoms.

I have fondness for every season, but when the transition to the next occurs I am always excited. Friday’s (February 19) warm temperatures and high winds really got me going. Coming back from a meeting in Muscatine, Iowa, I gave Jacob Smith our intern a call. “Meet me at the Milan Bottoms in 30 minutes. It is time for an education.” Yearning for Spring we went for a walk into the still dormant wilderness. Young oak trees still had last year’s leaves. Ice still covered most of the Mississippi backwaters. Beavers had not started back to work, but someone forgot to tell the waterfowl it is still February.

Canada geese rarely get me excited anymore. Every golf course, storm water retention pond, and riverside park features a flock or two. Walking back to the road, conversation with Jacob, kept getting interrupted by the honking of geese flying over. Their silhouettes were outlined by the nearly full moon lighting our walk. We stopped, breathed in the warm, humid air and listened. For 5 minutes we listened to waves of geese, one after the other, gliding in to the Bottoms to rest for the night on their journey north.

Sycamore tree beside a frozen river

The Rookery Sycamore awaits it Spring companions.

This land is a special place. It is part of nature’s process. I have described the Milan Bottoms as a stopover on the Mississippi River flyway at least a hundred times in the past decade. But somehow it feels different now, witnessed, or maybe I am just longing for Spring and the geese my personal harbinger.

We conserve and restore land with support from our members. Join today to show your support.

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Member Meeting tonight!

Posted by on Feb 18, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

question mark butterfly

Third Thursday of Each Month: Member Meetings

When: Thursday February 18th Doors open at  6:00 program begins at 6:30 and should last less than an hour.

Where: Singing Bird Nature Center in Black Hawk Park (approximately 4450 15th Street, Rock Island, Illinois)

Who is invited: Past, Present, Future Members and Friends

Program: An Investigation of Butterfly Species Diversity in Rock Island/Moline, Illinois

Kassandra Tyra (Augustana College Class of 2016)

Summary: Urbanization is dramatically impacting our ecosystems, and we are losing biodiversity at unprecedented rates. These losses are occurring across all levels, from genetic to organismal. This study aimed to discover the extent to which urbanization has impacted butterfly biodiversity in the urban forests of Rock Island/Moline, Illinois.

Following the presentation there will be question and answer.

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S130/190 Field Day Training

Posted by on Feb 11, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

This is the Field Day portion of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) S130/190  Basic Wildland Firefighter Training.  If you are interested in learning prescribed burning techniques and safety for prescribed prairies and woodlands burns this is the course for you.

Course Date: Friday April 15, 2016, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Location: Illinois City, Illinois (Directions provided upon registration) 2 miles west of Muscatine, Iowa

Deadline for Registration: April 1, 2016

Deadline for online course completion (it takes about 36 hours): April 7, 2016


The intended audience is:

  1. Land Managers and Owners interested in learning how to use the natural process of prescribed fire to restore and maintain prairie and woodlands.
  2. Volunteer Land Stewards interested in doing land restoration with their host organizations.
  3. Rural Fire Departments: Grassfires and agricultural field fires account for most rural fire incidents. This course will apply standard firefighter techniques to this wildland setting teaching to fight fire with fire while earning a nationally recognized certification.
  4. Agency, NGO, and Contractor Employees: This course meets the standards for individuals participating in prescribed fire on federal lands and wildland fire incidents.

Woodland Burn

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