John Nichols (left) is taking over management of the Cardinal Valley Habitat from the first manager, Randy Haas. 

Habitat restoration management handed over from Randy Haas to John Nichols

Bob Foos

Randy Haas says he’s confident the progress he’s made in restoring the Cardinal Valley Habitat – to what it would have been like had it not been damaged by mining – will continue after he retires soon.

Haas was hired by Webb City in 2015 to encourage the return of native plants and wildlife to areas where hazardous materials had been removed during the EPA superfund cleanup.

Haas was retiring from the Missouri Department of Conservation at the time and was also selected by the habitat’s trustees representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

As Haas retires again, there was a chance he wouldn’t be replaced by someone whose primary responsibility would be to continue restoring Cardinal Valley.

Instead, Haas is handing over that responsibility to John Nichols, who was most recently an assessment and restoration specialist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“I was fortunate we got John,” says Haas. “I feel much more comfortable (about retiring) now.”

Nichols says he’s fortunate, too, because the restoration project here has always been one of his favorites. He became familiar with it by coming here once a month as a DNR project manager.

In fact, Nichols was one of the trustees that developed the 2018 plan to restore Cardinal Valley.

‘I hate to see him retire’

– City Administrator Carl Francis

City Administrator Carl Francis says Haas has been “extremely valuable. We knew nothing about habitat restoration or working with state and federal officials to acquire the property.

Haas has also worked with the waste water department to convert sludge from the Center Creek 201 Wastewater Treatment Plant to compost for use as a soil amendment.

There were bare areas in the habitat that are now covered with compost and growing grass. Just this past winter, some 60 acres were planted on the compost.

Haas also established plants in the cells north of the treatment plant to help remove zinc from the treatment’s output before it enters Center Creek.

“I hate to see him (Haas) retire,” says Francis.

Like when Haas was hired, though, Francis says the city’s fortunate that Nichols is available.

The arrangement between the city and trustees is different now.

Until now, the agencies have reimbursed Webb City for all of the costs, including Haas’ salary and expenses, including equipment.

The new 25-year agreement, subject to City Council approval, is for Nichols to primarily maintain the habitat, with the city being responsible for half of his salary and all other costs.

Nichols will also work with the waste water department on the sludge-to-compost project.

Back in 2015, when Haas began restoring the habitat, he says there were some areas in which, “I couldn’t see anything in there that was native at all.”

What the EPA had planted was being overrun by Haas’ nemesis – sericea lespedeza.

Sericea is “just a scourge,” says Haas. “You can’t get rid of it because it gives off thousands of hard seeds that can stay dormant for 40 years.” He controls it by burning it or spraying it with herbicide.


The habitat has expanded to 900 acres, with one of the largest acquisitions being across the highway to the south, which hadn’t been cleaned up by the EPA. It showed a progression of trees since grazing had stopped. Haas burned, cut, chain sawed, mowed and used a brush hog “trying to get all that woody stuff under control and back to grass. From items we found, we could tell at one time hay had grown there and there was grazing.”

For a smooth transition, Haas and Nichols have been working together for the past month.

Now, eight years since he started, Haas has a collection of photos showing native plants that have returned.

He’s especially proud of a spiderwort native wildflower, which tends to be found only in undisturbed sites.

Also, look for yellow flowers blooming on rocky bluffs where Haas has thrown seed.

Ben’s Branch, the creek between Webb City and Carterville “was just mud” when Haas began. He’s planted shrubs and grass to filter out the sediment.

“Now, we’re getting habitat,” Haas says, remarking on finding a meadow lark nest.

“It’s cool to see everything going out here: birds, small mammals, reptiles.

Haas is also encouraged by an increasing number of people drawn to the habitat.

A high school fishing team is fishing in the lakes on the northeast corner of North Madison Street and Hawthorne Road. Anybody with a state license can fish there.

There’s birdwatching across the street in the wetlands, and along the two trails that Haas has developed. Some are logging which birds they’ve seen on line at In fact, the Webb City waste water treatment plant (Webb City WWTP) is where “ebirders” have seen most of the species by far in Jasper County.

The Cardinal Valley Trail, located north of Sharon Drive near Carterville, “is getting used all the time,” notes Haas.

Members of the local Missouri Master Naturalist chapter have volunteered to help in the habitat.

“I think we’ve made a big difference,” says Haas. “It’s been a challenge – a good challenge. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.”