Nature Brings Out the Kid in All of Us!

Mark Dungan, Natural Resources Manager, tells us how his unit manages our precious natural areas.

As a kid, I was always playing in the dirt, swinging through the air, climbing trees, splashing in the water, hiking trails, and even playing with fire (much to my parent’s chagrin). This fascination grew when I built my first tree house in the backyard apple tree. This was a mystical place where I could hide from my siblings or hang out with my friends. Plus, I also had an endless supply of apples to keep me from being hungry!

I have grown up and grown older, but I am still a kid at heart.  My current position as Natural Resources Manager allows me to connect with nature as I did as a kid. The Natural Resources Unit is responsible for managing our natural resources within Polk County Conservation areas. This responsibility encompasses many unique ecosystems including wetlands, woodlands, prairies and savannas.  We also maintain the vegetation (turf and trees) in and around our highly popular areas such as campgrounds, shelters, picnic areas, roads, and trails.

Our management philosophy changes across the different ecosystems and is influenced by the number of people using an area. The more users…the greater the management need. A main focus is to provide the users with a safe and pleasurable experience. This is especially important where we have a number of people congregating.

Our highest use is in the summer months when many people are looking for the ideal camping or picnicking spot. Most of these ideal areas have some form of shade whether it is a majestic white oak or a cottonwood that is providing respite from the summer heat. My unit routinely inspects and removes trees which may pose some degree of risk to our users.
Shown in the photos (below) are two trees that were removed because they didn’t meet our standards. The tree on the left is split and has the potential to fail. The tree on the right has a fungal conk (mushroom) that is known to cause internal decay and subsequent testing confirmed the need for removal.

Polk County Conservation has a number of tools it uses to manage its natural areas. Our goal is to return these areas to some resemblance of its pre-settlement condition. For example, to restore our prairies we have used grazing, herbicides, manual and mechanical weed removal, and my favorite “fire” to remove the unwanted plants from this prairie environment.               

Fire which I will now refer to as “prescribed fire” has many benefits. Prescribed burning removes accumulated fuels and therefore the risk of intense wildfires. Prescribed burning also changes the composition and density of existing vegetation producing a more diverse ecosystem. Burning at regular intervals reduce encroachment of shrubs and invasives and is one of the most cost-effective methods for maintaining a prairie….not to mention it is fun.

The photo on the left shows us preparing for a prescribed burn and the photo on the right shows a burn in process.

Please take a moment to stop and join us at Polk County Conservation. Play in the dirt, swing through the air, climb trees, splash in the water, and hike trails. However, leave the playing with fire to the professionals. It will give you a chance to recapture your youth because deep down everyone is still a kid at heart.


  1. I think there are multiple authors. Without photos near the top of the post, it's a little confusing -- a few posts begin with a similar opening paragraph. Could there be a byline so readers can understand who the author might be immediately?

    1. Thanks for your suggestion, Julia! You're absolutely right about multiple authors; each month, a different staff member writes an entry. We'll be sure to make this more clear in future posts.


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