Working with the River, Road, and Land

Steve Archer has a working farm outside Moulton, Iowa, (Appanoose County) very near the Missouri border. He has had a variety of careers, but now he is a man raising cattle, managing wildlife, and sharing practical knowledge about wetland conservation practices. I am nominating him as another Wetlands Hero. And he has been recognized by others for his successful practices, too. Let’s take a look at his work.

Steve drove me around, showing the wetlands and other features of his operation. Here, he discusses weed control and one of the numerous ponds he manages

Two important characteristics of his land must be reckoned with. First, an old railroad embankment went through the property (actually one of the rail lines running through the nearby Sedan Bottoms site). Second, much of the property was bottomland, with the Chariton River running through it; flooding is to be expected. Steve has adopted a strategy of working with, rather than against, these aspects of the land.


The old railroad bed provides good passage for his vehicle, even when surrounding ground is muddy or flooded. Being slightly higher, it also can support trees that might not grow in wet ground nearby. Steve has successfully grown a variety of wetland and upland tree species, and even provided tree stock for use in conservation projects elsewhere.

Hydrology drives this wetland, as is true in any wetland. Steve has cleverly set a culvert pipe with a control structure at one wetland, at an appropriate height to receive water when the adjacent river runs high. Other areas on the property have been excavated, islands formed, or berms set at great effort and expense, all to allow water to strategically connect the land and river. The result is a series of wetlands,  with varying hydrology, all functioning as part of the floodplain ecosystem. This is important because when the river runs high, his wetlands absorb excess water—a fact downstream residents/landowners should appreciate. His wetlands will also receive nutrients, sediments, plants, fish, amphibians…the river will benefit, and be benefited by, his wetlands. And all the wildlife in the food chain will likewise benefit.

And so we get to the star of the show: wildlife. Steve has actively managed the land and water to provide an excellent home for wildlife. He provides animals with a variety of structure (cover, like tall vegetation or brush piles). He feeds them with special crops like millet and with mineral licks. He provides nesting structures. And he really enjoys observing and interacting with them, gleefully sharing fun stories with me about the various game, and non-game, wildlife. We paused to admire a couple of swans, complete with numbered collars, but they never did honk.

Hey Trumpeter Swans, aren’t you supposed to be at Coffey Marsh…?

In addition to success building and managing wetlands, and all his work promoting wildlife populations, Steve does something else, something really heroic: he shares with others. He was happy to show me around, and I’m just one of many interested individuals to learn from Steve. He has hosted visitors from government, academia, non-profits and private landowners. His detailed observations, care in making decisions and completing work, ongoing adaptation and improvement serves as a model—we should all be such good land stewards. Better still, Steve is both a smart and down-to-Earth guy, knowledgeable about farming practices, government programs, local environmental conditions, and human nature.

More of us need to follow Steve’s lead, and I hope his story inspires others. He inspires me!


Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

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