On the (wetland) Road Again

DSC_0286I’m glad to be exploring Iowa again after my hiatus, working my way through those 99 counties. To help pass the miles. I made a “mix tape” of road-worthy songs, and first on the list (naturally!) was On The Road Again by Willie Nelson. Little did I know that I’d find a wetland “on the road,” or perhaps a “road on the wetland,” during my travels. In Monona County, the Badger Lake WMA complex sprawls across, and is bisected by, Interstate 29. It’s a good spot to think about highways and wetlands, a topic we’ve considered a bit in past travels, such as at Heron Marsh in Henry County, Brush Creek in Jasper County, and Indian Slough in Louisa county.

Here at Badger Lake, we have a series of natural and human-made/modified wetlands, some being old meanders of the nearby Missouri River, and the whole site part of the Missouri River floodplain. Laid onto this low, wet land is a large divided highway, County Roads K-42/E-24, several smaller roads, and associated overpasses, ramps, ditches, and other road infrastructure.

DSC_0294I’m always amazed when plants and wildlife successfully adapt to our built environment. The traits to weather flooding and drying, to withstand assault from salt and oils and exhaust fumes, to navigate across huge mountains of roadbed and whizzing vehicles, the drone of road noise…I am a bit overwhelmed thinking about it! And yet I saw and heard plenty of life around the roads. Kingfishers perched on a tree branch over water tells the story of an aquatic food chain—the birds are eating fish which in turn eat other life. Calling Red-Winged Blackbirds and Common Yellowthroat advertise a vibrant marsh community. Raccoon scat and tracks in the mud tell about a variety of food sources and cover for that animal. Waterfowl on the water at least find a “rest area” along their travel routes, even if not sticking around to raise a family (although they might, at least in the large marsh east of the highway??).

DSC_0298On my travels, I’m looking for pretty sites to share with readers, and stories of the organisms living in the wetlands. But…I am also asking questions, and I hope you do, too. What changes in the landscape accompany our highways? What consequences of site selection, construction techniques, maintenance practices, and traffic patterns are important to nearby ecosystems and their organisms? Can we make changes to our highway infrastructure to provide the transportation services we require, while minimizing hazards to the non-human neighbors and visitors? If we create wildlife habitat near roads, can we assure they are nurturing environments for wildlife, rather than “traps” which kill the life we wish to encourage?

Let’s explore our roadsides and the wetlands nearby—but please be safe, obeying the law and using common sense. Happy motoring!

Author: Paul Weihe

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

One thought on “On the (wetland) Road Again”

  1. Good thoughts and questions about highways and wetlands in this post.

    This summer, I had the welcome opportunity to visit Engeldinger Marsh in Polk County and see exactly where a highway would have bisected that very special beautiful wetland if the DOT hadn’t decided to build their new highway around the wetland instead. The bisection would have been horrible. A lot of Iowans spoke up and worked hard to encourage the DOT to make the right decision, and I am grateful to all who helped (Loren Lown deserves special credit).

    Just in case anyone from the DOT reads this message, however, this one’s for your agency. You did the right thing for Engeldinger, and your good decision has had good consequences and will be remembered. Thank you very much.

    Liked by 1 person

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