WAPPAPELLO — While the primary mission of Wappapello Lake is as a flood-control reservoir, wildlife and land management also fall under the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and recently, it has partnered with the Black River chapter of Quail Forever to improve wildlife habitat in the Asher Creek area.
“We actually started working on this area to try to restore it to old field habitat, just to have a different type of ecosystem on the project. We’ve got lots of open lands with farming, and we’ve got lots of hay ground. We’ve got tons and tons of forest, so this area we want to manage more as old field growth,” said Wappapello Natural Resources Specialist Eric Lemons while surveying the Asher Creek area last week.
The quail habitat restoration project, said Black River Quail Forever’s Corey Tucker, was the perfect fit for what his organization wants to do.
“This is the beginning of a long-term project. The long-term goal here for Quail Forever is put our money to work in local lands. We keep our money local,” Tucker said.
The habitat partnership was born after then-new Wappapello Project Manager Bart Dearborn asked Brian Thompson, a student employee, what kind of habitat work was being done around the lake and if there were any partners. Thompson found the Black River chapter of Quail Forever and the ball got rolling.
“Dr. John Blaich and Bart Dearborn got together, and Bart was telling him about this project they already started, and we thought it just got right in with what we want to do,” said Tucker.
“It’s exciting for me to see the partnership bloom with Black River Quail Forever,” said Dearborn. “One of the best parts is how it got started and through a catalyst from one of our student employees who was excited by the project and really went after it.”
Thompson, Dearborn said, reached out to Quail Forever, drafted a quail management plan and proposed changes to the lake’s natural resources management staff.
The 640-acre habitat project in the Asher Creek/Blue Water area north of Highway KK includes a diverse mix of habitat, including forest and fields.
“A great thing about Asher Creek is it doesn’t flood, so most of our efforts are well over the 400-foot elevation. We can do all this work and floods won’t knock it back,” said Park Ranger Eric Limanen.
Habitat work, Limanen said, includes planting wildflowers, which are beneficial to all wildlife, mowing, discing to provide bare dirt, prescribed fire, forest stand improvement, edge feathering and more.
“Our key is we want to have a diverse component of vegetation out here so we’re not putting all of our eggs in one basket,” explained Limanen.
The diversity of vegetation, Limanen said, will be better for all wildlife in the area.
“It is a quail habitat restoration management plan, but it’s going to be advantageous to all wildlife down here. It should supplement quail in the future, and hopefully songbirds and any other kind of wildlife throughout the year. That’s our goal,” Limanen said.
Lemons noted the “great thing about this type of habitat is anything a quail or rabbit likes, then turkeys, deer, everything else likes it.”
Work began in the area about four years ago, Lemons said.
“We started edge feathering in this area four years ago, and started trying to get some transitional stuff into our forest component,” Lemons said.
Such feathering is important for wildlife, Limanen noted.
“We want to make gradual transitions out of the fields. We don’t want any hard edges,” he said. “We want everything from forbs to grasses moving up into the woods.”
Periodic prescribed fire is used to not only manage vegetation, but also to stimulate its growth and to help insect production to provide a valuable food source for wildlife.
“Last spring we burned,” Limanen said, “and our plan is to do it on a three to four-year rotation. It’s weather dependent.”
Lake staff also periodically spray vegetation, primarily to control invasive species.
“We spray serecea in August and fescue in early spring,” Limanen said.
Quail Forever has helped the project with the purchase of wildflower seeds, and in the future it plans to help with much of the work.
“We offered them financial support so far, and we’ve even talked to Bart about volunteer hours to help them do some of this work,” explained Tucker.
The seeds provided by Quail Forever, Tucker said, are “99% wildlife based. It’s got a lot of sunflowers in it, tickseed coreopsis, butterfly milkweed, prairie blazing star, brown-eyed Susans and black-eyes Susans,” among others.
“With the brown-eyed and black-eyed Susans, before they bloom, the deer would rather eat them than they’d eat a clover patch,” Tucker said.
The goal of both the Corps of Engineers and Quail Forever, Tucker said, is to provide the best habitat for quail to get them back into the area.
“Our goals are really the same, and our main one is to provide the habitat and give them a place to come back to. We have got to provide habitat for them,” Tucker said. “Once we get them back, we want to really actively manage for them.”
The partnership between the Corps and Quail Forever, Limanen said, is important.
“It may work out where Quail Forever can help us with manual labor and maybe bring in some equipment,” Limanen speculated. “We do need help, and they’re willing to help.”
The beauty behind the partnership, Dearborn said, is “how the two partners meld together and accomplish their goal to improve quail, wildlife and pollinator habitat.”
“It’s just a great partnership because they have the ability to match certain things. They have more freedom than some other agencies with their habitat plans,” Tucker said.
The project also is local, “right here in the middle of our core area,” Tucker added.
The project is easily accessed by the public, and officials hope it spurs others to consider similar work.
“Anyone can come out here and look at this,” said Tucker, who described the project as a showcase area.
Dearborn said he hopes the program catches on and “other local landowners will join the effort to improve habitat here in Southeast Missouri and across the state.”
“We’re really excited about it. Our management has got our back, and people have noticed what we’re doing. That’s encouraging,” said Limanen.
This story, authored by Paul Davis, is being re-published with written permission by the Daily American Republic for USACE use only.