Love for wildlife fuels firefighter’s habitat project

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Few professions offer get the heart pumping faster than being a firefighter with a major metropolitan fire department.

John Koslowsky, a 20-year member of the Wichita City Fire Department, knows those emotions first hand.

To alleviate some of the stress that comes with his job, Koslowsky reverts to the solitude of his Marion County farm-a farm on which he delights in improving wildlife habitat.

Thanks to his continuing efforts in habitat improvement, Koslowsky and wife Susan of Towanda have been named winners of the 2004 Wildlife Award for Marion County.

The award is sponsored by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Quail Unlimited and the Kansas Bankers Association.

“I knew when I began this, I’d get into it because when I take on a project I go all the way,” John Koslowsky said. “It’s given me more satisfaction than I ever thought it would.”

A native of Marion, Koslowsky purchased the family ground with expectations of providing as much wildlife habitat as possible.

“We bought this ground from our own family,” he said. “My grandpa had it and I would guess it’s been part of our family for between 75 and 100 years.”

Koslowsky, an avid hunter, said his initial goal was to improve habitat for all wildlife on the property.

“I wanted to improve the conditions for the deer, quail, pheasant and even for the fish in our pond,” he said. “I felt like I needed to be a good steward of this ground.”

Koslowsky’s habitat interests were heightened by the fluctuating population of quail on this farm.

“It would be good for a few years and then the numbers would go down,” he said. “So I started investigating how producing wildlife habitat would affect that.

“I wanted to take my little 160 acres and make it as good as it could be for everything.”

Koslowsky proceeded to develop two wetlands, planted hundreds of trees and shrubs, and created an island in a pond for geese nesting, a project he began in 2000.

Utilizing the funds and knowledge of the Natural Resources and Conservation Service and the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, Koslowsky has created a haven for wildlife of all kinds.

Koslowsky embarked on an ambitious tree-planting project.

“We planted 800 sand plums and we’re going to plant another 800 this spring,” he said. “They produce berries and the birds will also nest in that area.”

The plum seedlings were purchased through Kansas State University in Manhattan.

“They’ve got incredible plant stock up there,” Koslowsky said. “I wish more people would use them because they’re self-supported-the university doesn’t support them.”

Koslowsky said the first planting was accomplished by making a furrow with a sweep, planting the seedlings and then covering them back up.

“The next time we’ll use a tree planter,” he said with a smile. “It’ll be faster and a lot less effort. That last time about killed me.”

To improve the seedlings’ odds of surviving, Koslowsky inserted a fertilizer tablet purchased through the Forestry Supply catalog on each seedling.

An added bonus for Koslowsky came when the ground he cultivated for the trees grew back into weeds.

“By the time those weeds came back, the plums had a chance to get started,” he said. “It was really interesting because the birds started using it to eat the weed seed.

“I actually got benefits faster than I thought I would.”

Another natural benefit for Koslowsky was the weather.

“We watered about three times, but God blessed us with a perfect spring and summer,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

In addition to the sand plums, Koslowsky transplanted 200 cedar trees from his own pasture land into a shelter belt.

“I figured God had them growing out there already, so we just moved them over to where we wanted them,” he said. “We planted 200 the first go, and didn’t lose a single tree.”

Koslowsky hopes to plant an additional 236 cedars this spring after the ground thaws.

By planting the cedars in a row surrounding his field edge, Koslowsky hopes to establish a “travel lane” for the quail.

“That way the quail can travel the entire property and still have some protection from avian predators,” Koslowsky said. “I’ve taken some classes about quail and they tell me they’ll nest between 20 and 40 feet away from the thickets.”

Koslowsky hopes the endeavor will provide a plethora of nesting sites for his feathered friends.

Other plans for Koslowsky include burning his pasture back once his cedars have been harvested.

“I was using the pasture as a nursery for our cedar plant stock,” he said. “We’ll burn it off and plant clumps of plums in the pasture so the birds can utilize the wide open space and not be subjected to avian predators.”

Wetland development has also proven successful for Koslowsky.

“They’re designed to fill up in the springtime, go dry in the hot part of the summer and catch rains in the latter part of the year,” he said. “In a perfect world, we could plant food plots in them or let weeds come up and in the fall they’d fill up again.

“That way the birds can nest in them and by the time they dry up, the little birds are up and flying and have fledged. That’s the cycle of intention.”

Koslowsky also constructed an island in his pond for nesting habitat.

“We actually had a pair of geese nest on that and had some young this year,” he said. “Seeing those geese nest, the plums thicken and seeing my plan come together have given me a great deal of satisfaction.”

Koslowsky also provides ample food plots on his property.

“If you break the ground and let the weeds come up, that’s about as good as planting soybeans or milo,” he said. “There’s a seed bank in the ground and some of those seeds lay there for up to 20 years.”

Koslowsky estimates his food plots cover about three acres and have also been planted to soybeans, milo, corn and triticale.

“Last year I planted a lot of Japanese millet in the wetlands and that worked out well,” he said. “They’re just little roots that ducks and geese really like.”

Winning the Wildlife Award is not something Koslowsky takes lightly.

“It’s a big honor, although I didn’t do it to win any awards,” he said. “But when you go to the effort, it’s very satisfying to know someone else recognizes the work that went into it.

“Apparently, by getting this award, we must have done something right when we put it together,” he added. “I’m not doing it for anybody else, but it’s kind of cool that others notice what’s going on our there.”

Planning is a necessity when orchestrating a wildlife habitat sanctuary, Koslowsky said.

“You have to have long-term vision,” he said. “My eyes are looking at five or 10 years down the road.”

Koslowsky knows he’s created a good environment to unwind.

“I feel really good when I hear the birds singing out there,” he said. “I feel kind of like I’ve set the table and everybody came to dinner.”

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