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DeVoss-Foster Wildlife Area Offers Visitors a Unique, Solitary Experience in Southern Van Buren County

Written by on October 4, 2022

Just north of Cantril in southcentral Van Buren County, is the DeVoss-Foster Wildlife Area, a 330-acre mix of grassland, wetland and timber.

“It’s an easily accessible area, but once you get on it, you have to hoof it – and not many people are willing to walk to the timber on the far north section of the area to hunt deer,” said Jeff Glaw, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Sugema Unit.

The timber is next to the Fox River, which also serves as the DeVoss-Foster’s northern boundary, and roughly a mile from the parking lot. The area is boxed in by agriculture to the east and west, and Hwy. 2 to the south.

Blue wing teal circle the wetland at DeVoss-Foster Wildlife Area.
(Photo Courtesy of the Iowa DNR)

“The area is underutilized,” Glaw said. “It’s a place where you can have a solitary experience.”

DeVoss-Foster was named for its previous landowners and developed in the late 1990s. Much of the management work has been to control brush encroachment on the grassland, battle pockets of the invasive black locust, sericea lespedeza, and autumn olive, and expand and improve the grassland and the 60-acre wetland.

Glaw said the Sugema Wildlife Unit team has been adding food and cover by planting a mix of forage sorghum and buckwheat in select areas to benefit pheasants and quail. He said they are also working to establish a type of dynamic habitat, called early-successional, adjacent to the mature trees to the north, that will offer a mix of grasslands, shrubs and young trees that over time, will over time become a young timber.

Early successional habitat is when an old field transitions into young trees that will eventually become a young timber, then a mature timber. This early stage creates a dynamic habitat important for many different wildlife species.

Managing the area requires continuous attention to improve and expand the grasslands, and control the brush from encroaching. To the north, the timber is on track to become more diverse with the added component of early successional habitat.

Wetlands were added on the northern section of the area in the early 2000s. Water flows in from the south and west. Pockets of water connect to make a series of wetlands that on this late August morning are ringed with bidens and other wetland plants.

Work to enhance the wetland network focuses on adding a control structure to the west side to help maintain shallow water through the system. It’s a good location to see shorebirds and to hunt ducks.

“We’re trying to mange this as a puddle duck area,” Glaw said. “By doing that, it gets to be a really good shore bird area, too.”

DeVoss-Foster is within the Lake Sugema-Lacey-Keosauqua Bird Conservation Area (BCA), which supports significant wildlife diversity.

More than 250 bird species have been documented in the BCA, including 81 considered species in greatest conservation need, four state-listed endangered and two state-listed threatened species, including Henslow’s sparrow, northern harrier, eastern meadowlark, red-shouldered hawks, Bell’s vireo, yellow and blackbilled cuckoos and more.

The Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring team within the Wildlife Diversity Program visited DeVoss-Foster in 2012 and again in 2015 to survey the wildlife population and confirmed a number of species in greatest conservation need, including the state threatened diamondback water snake, northern leopard frog, Edwards’ hairstreak, pipevine swallowtail and regal fritillary – all of state special concern.

Visitors also have the opportunity to fish at DeVoss-Foster Wildlife Area, and it doesn’t require a long walk. Just off the parking lot on Hwy. 2 to the northwest, is a small pond that can offer good fishing, especially for bass and crappies.