Nature Nut: Wildlife Management Area is 'the other Whitewater'

Besides hunting and fishing, the Whitewater WMA has countless ‘Kodak moments’ like this one of a giant swallowtail on swamp milkweed.

We were on one of the back roads I did not recognize when we both caught it out of the corner of our eyes. Was it a blue jay, or a shrike? Oddly enough, we had both commented minutes earlier at not having seen many shrikes in the past few years. Jon backed up to take a closer look.

This shrike treated us to about two minutes of aerial chasing through a maze of branches. While Jon seemed to be pulling for the chickadee, I was rooting for the shrike since there are lots of chickadees around and very few shrikes. The chickadee became part of the web of life.

It was near the end of a two-hour trip through "the other Whitewater," with Jon Cole showing me the domain he oversees as the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) manager. This 27,000-plus acres of land is adjacent to the much more well-known Whitewater State Park. Although it is 10 times bigger than the park, it gets less than half of the park's 350,000 yearly visitors. My guess is most of those park visitors don't realized there is an adjacent WMA.

The Whitewater WMA is one of the state's 14,000-plus WMA's which account for more than a million acres of preserved land throughout the state. The main focus of the WMA's is to provide habitats for wildlife, whether for hunting or wildlife viewing. However, with the primary source of the funding for WMA's coming from hunting- and fishing-related revenues, the overriding goal is to manage them for optimum hunting and fishing experiences.

While the numbers of passive recreational users of WMA's like birdwatchers and nature photographers has increased over the years, the numbers of hunters and fishermen has probably decreased. However, the Whitewater WMA is still most heavily used by hunters and fishermen.


Jon notes on opening day of deer season more than 1,000 hunters converge on the WMA.

Jon also pointed out this past year 35 trappers registered to trap muskrat, beaver, raccoon, and a few otters. Other forms of "hunting" include harvesting hard-to-find morel mushrooms and ginseng, as well as wild berries.

Among the many things I learned from Jon during our drive was that WMA's need to be managed in a variety of ways. In Whitewater this includes doing controlled burns to preserve oak savannas, wetlands, and bluff prairies, or logging areas to allow for regrowth of new forests valued by grouse, woodcock, deer, and other wildlife. In addition, the many pools in the valley are managed by raising and lowering their levels periodically to provide growth of plants for ducks and other critters to feed on.

I was pleased to learn that management plans are often made with not only fishing and hunting in mind but also take into consideration habitats used by certain songbirds, raptors, or even butterflies. Since much privately owned wildlife habitat is falling to bulldozers, it is important for the state to continue to look for unique parcels to purchase. When able to do so, the DNR must pay the appraised value and compensates counties for lost tax revenues.

I still view the Whitewater WMA as one of the richest wildlife areas in the country and have never driven through or walked in it without seeing something exciting.

So next time you visit Whitewater Park, allow some time to continue on a leisurely half-hour drive through the valley to see what you own. And when you hit the other end at Weaver, you'll be treated to another treasure, the mighty Mississippi.

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