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Happy ducks and happier hunters

Conservation group puts the emphasis on local wetlands

SHUEYVILLE– Since 1911, Delta Waterfowl has been committed to preserving the future of waterfowl and waterfowl hunting. For a year now, the Hoosier Bay Chapter has been organizing and making plans for the future of local waterfowl and hunting, specifically in their namesake Hoosier Bay, located south of Ely in the Atherton Wetland.
The group with around 30 members is headquartered in Shueyville and covers a 50-mile radius.
Chapter founder Jeremy Stolba started a word-of-mouth campaign to organize after realizing that, despite having several conservation groups in the area, there was very little being done locally to preserve and improve wetlands. Ducks Unlimited, for example, has several chapters in the Cedar Rapids area alone, but most of their money goes to projects elsewhere in the state other areas of the country.
“The money we raise stays local,” said Zach French, a Hoosier Bay member. “A lot of local chapter dollars go out the door, but doesn’t come back. With Delta, there is a concentrated interested in keeping the bucks local.”
“We wanted to concentrate on this (the east side) side of the reservoir in the Atherton Wetland,” Stolba added.
The Atherton Wetland is U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land leased by Kirkwood Community College. Jerry Reisinger, an instructor in the college’s Parks and Natural Resources program, said Kirkwood uses nearly 600 acres of the wetland as an outdoor laboratory for its students. “The students apply their conservation and wildlife management skills on this land, including wetlands development, prairie establishment and maintenance, wildlife habitat development, trail construction and maintenance, and wildlife research and studies.” The area is named after the late Steve Atherton, a conservationist and longtime Parks and Natural Resources professor at Kirkwood. “He was a lead college instructor and strong advocate for the program for more than 25 years,” said Reisinger.
The college plans to increase wetlands by planting literally thousands of wildlife habitat trees, shrubs and other prairie species. The college works closely with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS, through the Dept. of Agriculture), and other private conservation organizations to make improvements to the land, Reisinger noted.
The Hoosier Bay Chapter has entered into a partnership with Kirkwood to help with the effort. The group will begin working with the college this spring, and both Stolba and Reisinger are optimistic about what the joint venture could bring.
“Delta Waterfowl is a natural and perfect fit for what Kirkwood plans to do with the land, much of it creating and managing wetlands for more abundant waterfowl. The fledgling Hoosier Bay Chapter plans to provide assistance in the form of waterfowl management expertise, funding and labor to make our dreams become reality,” said Reisinger. The group hopes to help with predator management (skunks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, otters and minks), and build nesting houses for ducks to increase their population. “Kirkwood took on the Atherton Wetlands project with the intent of getting the job done largely with students who need opportunities at real life experiences,” said Reisinger. “We simply couldn’t do it without students and organizations who believe in the project and want to help.”
The bottom line is “there’s more ducks out there,” said French. The Atherton Wetland is open to the public, with much of it open to hunting and trapping during designated seasons unless otherwise posted. The state’s hunting and fishing laws apply at all times.
Providing additional hunting opportunities is part of the Hoosier Bay Chapter’s goal for the area, as is instilling and developing in kids the ethics of hunting, hunter safety and respect for the outdoors. In Stolba’s case, he has been a hunter since he was a kid, even taking up bow hunting while in high school. He went duck hunting once with a friend and was hooked for life. Now a parent, his son Dain, age 13, is following in his footsteps. Dain has also taken up duck calling, traveling the region to compete in tournaments. Stolba said his son, and the sons of other hunters, inspired him to form the chapter and try to make a difference.
“Nobody does anything around here (to improve the wetlands). It’s depressing taking a kid out, and the area is a dump.” Stolba said there seems to be more duck hunters than there are places to hunt. “A lot of duck hunters have nowhere to go.”
“Its desirable to create more places to hunt,” said member Mark Groth. It’s also desirable, he said, to instill a culture of courtesy and respect not only among adult hunters, but especially in kids like Dain. The way to do this, Groth said, is to “set a good example, take them out often, and make it a good experience for them.” The group also hopes to participate in the Corps of Engineers’ Youth Day this fall to further interest kids and help develop the next generation of duck hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.
More immediately, though, is the chapter’s first banquet, a gathering which hopefully will become an annual event. The banquet is set for Friday, Feb. 22, at the Cedar Rapids Horseman’s Club at 11818 Club Rd., just north of Shueyville. The doors open at 5 p.m. with a general raffle, game raffle, silent and live auctions. The dinner starts at 7 p.m. and will be catered by Phat Daddy’s. A variety of vendors will also be on-hand at the event, a feature French said was something a little bit different from most banquets.
Tickets start at $50 for singles, $65 for couples. The first youth ticket is $25 and each additional kid gets in for $10 each. A 50/50 raffle will also be held with tickets at $5 each and 500 sold. To purchase tickets or to find out more about the chapter, contact Jeremy Stolba at 319-521-4860 or email jeremydscc@southslope.net.