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Resource Enhancement and Protection

What's New!
 Director's Desk | Nature Talk 

Our Quarterly Newsletter now On-line

Naturally Speaking is now available in PDF. Click here for November 2015 Edition.

Other issues also available. Click here for August 2015 Edition. Download Adobe Reader

Also, if you want to look at last summer's Dutch Oven Cook Off, the 2014 Dutch Oven Cook Off newsletter is also available. Click here - may take a while to load.

(PDF files require Adobe Reader - click on the logo to download it)



Upcoming Public Programs

Basket Making: Two-Pie Basket. Friday, December 4th OR Saturday, December 5th: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. This basket is named a two-pie basket because it is a size that will indeed hold two pies, but it can serve so many other purposes as well. Fee: $15.00. Pre-registration is required. E-mail or call 472-4421. Participants will need to bring along their lunch plus an old towel or an apron. Class meets at the Jefferson County Park nature center.


Meteor Shower Watching. Sunday, December 13, 2015: 7:00 p.m. Join Naturalist Therese Cummiskey at the nature center and we’ll head outside for an hour or two of meteor watching. The Geminid Meteor Showers will peak after midnight between December 13th & 14th but we’ll start earlier so we can get some kids in on the experience. Let’s hope the skies are clear! Make sure you wrap up warm, wear a hat, and bring along a lawn chair. You might also want to bring a thermos of hot tea or cocoa. Pre-registration is appreciated but not required. Call 472-4421 or e-mail


Young Birders Club: Winter Bird Watching. Friday, January 13, 2016: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. There’s no school for the Fairfield Public Schools this day so the naturalist is offering a morning of birding activities for 2nd graders and above. There is no fee involved but pre-registration is appreciated. E-mail: therese@jeffersoncountyconservation.

Breakfast with the Birds: Adaptations of Beaks, Feet & Wings. Saturday, January 16, 2016: 8:30 a.m. We’ll have hot drinks and something sweet to eat so you can sit by the nature center window and join the birds for breakfast. At 9:00 a.m. you’ll be introduced to some of the fascinating adaptations of our local bird species. Pre-registration is appreciated by calling 472-4421 or e-mailing Therese at

Full Moon Owling. Saturday, January 23, 2016: 7:30 p.m. This full moon in January may be known as the Wolf Moon, but we’re going in search of owls. We’ll start at the nature center in Jefferson County Park for an introduction, then head out on a short hike, where we’ll stop along the way and attempt to call in the local barred owls. Be prepared to be outside for 30 to 45 minutes in winter weather. No registration required. Youth 11 years of age or younger must be accompanied by an adult.


Need more info? Call Therese at 472-4421, or e-mail to



From the Director's Dennis Lewiston

Enjoy Your County Parks This Summer! Did you know that every county in Iowa (99) has a county conservation board? The Iowa County Conservation system was established in 1955. Since that time, over 1,832 county conservation areas, encompassing over 193,624 acres have been established. 24 million park users spending 851.5 million dollars visit Iowa’s county parks each year.



Nature Talk... by Therese Cummiskey

In Mom’s Yard (Written January 2014)

Of the over two dozen trees in my mom’s yard there are five that many people would say have seen better days. All of them are box elders. Two still have some life left in them, but the others are all but dead...and they’ve been that way for some time. But while others might see “dying trees in need of a chainsaw”, my mom sees “character”. Haggard and gnarled, limbs lost, profile lopsided, these old trees appeal to her artistic nature. And so, since they pose no threat to the house or the neighbors property, they remain standing.

Box elders are actually in the maple family and like all maples they produce sap in spring which can be boiled down into a sweet syrup. Most people would label the box elder a “weed tree” since it tends to pop up just about anywhere, as long as it has enough sunlight. John Eastman in his book The Book of Forest and Thicket says that although box elders “generally ignore human standards for an attractive tree” that in the past “farmers and city planners, however, needed a tree that would grow fast and reliably….thus today we see old box elders lining city streets, shading yards and farmstead, and rising from vacant lots and old fields.”

While my mom’s reason for keeping the aging box elders is aesthetics, they have turned out to be a valuable asset to the local wildlife. Their nooks and crannies are used by critters to store food while other cavities in the dying wood provide a place to live for birds, bats, and squirrels. Thirty years ago I never saw a nuthatch or a chickadee in my mom’s yard but her now-dying box elders provide an important ingredient in the habitat requirements of these cavity nesters. Not only can they find a place to nest and roost, but the dead wood contains a smorgasbord of insect eggs, larvae and pupae.

The largest box elder, located in the backyard, was once our “swing tree”. Forty years ago it also held my brother’s tree house. Made out of scrap lumber, the tree house came complete with a sun roof, two escape routes, electricity and, I believe, some shag carpeting (it was the 70’s after all!). While the tree house in this large box elder once gave us kids a bird’s eye view of the yard, this past winter a Cooper’s Hawk, perched in the tree’s dead branches, had a bird’s eye view (pun intended) of the backyard bird feeders, which confirmed the fact that one of the benefits of snags (standing dead trees) is that the higher branches often serve as excellent look-outs for birds of prey!

According to the National Wildlife Federation “dead trees (either snags or fallen logs) provide vital habitat for more than a 1000 species of wildlife nationwide…. By some estimates the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in an ecosystem.” While mom’s box elders and the trees around them hardly make up a forest ecosystem, I do believe that the removal of the dying box elders would be a loss to the small ecosystem that surrounds my mom’s home.

The five remaining box elders in mom’s yard have guarded the property since before the family home was built in the mid-1950’s. No doubt, if my mom has anything to say about it, they’ll continue to do so for years to come, appealing to her artistic nature and proving to be a valuable asset to the local birds and mammals.


Need more info? Call Therese at 472-4421, or e-mail to

See some articles from our newsletter, Naturally Speaking.