Category Archives: Conservation

Freshwater Mussels of Iowa

Photo by Chris Wendel 

Freshwater mussels are known as bivalves (mollusks with two shells). They live in the lakes, rivers and streams of Iowa. Currently Iowa has 42 species, down from an original count of 54.  North America has approximately 300 species of mussels. In Iowa, nine mussels are endangered and six are now threatened.  Currently, mussels are the most imperiled animal across North America and deserve our protections. The most species exist in the mid-western states but are in decline here as well.

Mussels are an indicator of water body health and are vulnerable to poor water quality due to pollution, sedimentation and impairment.  Dams can also prevent travel of host fish species, thus trapping the species dam to dam.  Mussel populations improve when dams are removed.

Mussels are very tough, temporarily in impaired waters and are great at water filtering with an average of 9 to 10 gallons of water per day per mussel being filtered. It makes sense to help and conserve them so they can help purify our 750 impaired rivers and waterways of Iowa. They can be very long lived, living 10 to 100 years in the right conditions.  They develop growth rings on their shells similar to tree rings.

Mussel babies called Glochidia, get attached to their specific host fish by assorted methods by the female mussel. They live on the gills and fins of fish for weeks or months, then are released to the water body bottom to live out their life filtering water and enjoying the nutrients that float by.  They will not travel far during their lifespans and sometimes you can see their path in shallow water.  If you see one in shallow water, it makes sense to move them to deeper water. Do not try to bury them, let them place themselves back into their preferred position.

Many river animals rely on mussels for food. They are muskrats, mink, otters, raccoons, turtles, fish and birds like crows, geese, egrets and heron.  As a result, you will see many dead shells on banks, sand and gravel bars.

During the early 1900’s mussels were over harvested due to the large pearl button industry in Iowa. Buttons were punched out of shells creating blanks that became buttons.  Button factories were located in Lansing, Muscatine, Guttenberg and many along the Iowa river. Over harvesting lead to much mussel decline.  As a result, laws were created and plastics replaced the pearl button craze. There still exists mussel poaching, with shells being sent to the Japanese cultured pearl industry.

It is best to not collect or dig out these vulnerable species and instead, enjoy looking at and comparing dead mussel shells on sandbars while you recreate. It is illegal to possess live or dead threatened or endangered mussels of Iowa. Stiff fines up to $50,000 can result. Mussel species are difficult to identify, so be careful if you do.

Turtle Turtle, Where are you?

 Photo Credits to: Iowa State Fair 4-H Top 20 Photo Winner:  Haidyn Snyder, Waverly, Iowa

 

Turtles are declining in Iowa and remain at best a very vulnerable, fragile population. They have many challenges facing them. It includes habitat loss and destruction through drought, flooding, and human disruption. Other challenges are a long harvest season, over-harvesting by Sport and Commercial hunters and an unquenchable export business to Asian markets.

Iowa’s 750 impaired polluted waterways, low hatch-ling survival, and high nest predation by several species of common animal predators will continue to keep these beloved reptiles vulnerable.

During nesting timelines, there are a large number of car-turtle collisions for the egg laying females as well as being easy targets for capture for pet use when crossing roads, parks and common areas.

It takes 7-11 years to reach sexual maturity for females, so their loss is magnified. Once they are gone from a habitat, it is difficult to re-establish them.

There is hope for a future readjustment to their long harvest season and high possession limits.

Bill #HF2357 requires the Iowa DNR to complete a turtle study to see if the current regulations provide a sustainable population.  The study will be provided to the Iowa Legislature by January 1, 2021. Let’s hope it is not too late.

Dams, Then and Now!

Littleton Dam and Mill, 1800’s.  Wapsipinicon River, Buchanan County 
Photo Credits to Robert Ungs 

 

Dams have had their place in Iowa history. Originally built out of timbered wood, they were used to power various mills such as flour, gristmills and sawmills. Their power was later harnessed for hydro-electric needs and timber was replaced with concrete structures.

Most dams have seen their value depleted and a need for removal due to age, human safety and are a barrier for fish reproduction and do create a decline in vulnerable mussel species.
Some municipal water supplies are assisted by dams as well as some recreational pools. By and large however, dams have served their purposes long ago and rivers can be set free to their original wild and natural ways.

 

Littleton Dam removal:  winter, 2019. Photo Credits to Iowa DNR 

Littleton Dam:  summer, 2019. Conversion, currently in process. 
Photo Credits to Pam Wolter 

Clean Water Advocates and Experts Gathered at Iowa Water Quality Summit

Clean Water Advocates and Experts Gathered at Iowa Water Quality Summit
Izaak Walton League Brings Community Together To Address Water Pollution Across Iowa

Des Moines, IA – Water pollution is a persistent threat in communities across Iowa. Last weekend, the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) brought together advocates, academics, and agency staff to discuss water quality challenges specific to Iowa and map out steps to create a state-wide volunteer network to monitor water quality and push for changes to improve water quality.

“Monitoring is the first step to improving water quality,” says Sam Briggs, IWLA Clean Water Program Director. “You have to know what’s wrong to be able to fix it. Our goal is to train more stream monitors across Iowa and provide a home for their monitoring results that the public can use to find water quality information for their communities.”

IOWATER, the state’s volunteer water quality monitoring program, no longer has funding to continue, so the League is working to find other ways for individuals and organizations to collaborate on a state-wide volunteer water quality monitoring program. The League partnered with our local Des Moines Chapter to host an Iowa Water Quality Summit.

“Iowa has over 750 impaired waterways and is one of the main contributors to the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico,” says Mike Delaney, Conservation Director for the IWLA Iowa Division. “Public health and recreation continue to be threatened by polluted waters. Monitoring waterways is critical to gauge how we are doing – for better or worse.”

Delaney opened the summit, followed by a warm welcome from Richard Galloway, President of the IWLA Des Moines Chapter. Sam Briggs shared information about how the League’s Clean Water Hub (cleanwaterhub.org) provides a nationwide database to share local water quality monitoring results. Due to the urgency of Iowa’s water quality problems, the League recently dedicated a full-time position staff person to Iowa to serve as the Midwest Save our Streams Coordinator. This is a huge step forward to help expand water quality monitoring efforts in Iowa.

Speakers, panel discussions, and breakout sessions incorporated knowledge, experience, challenges, and successes based on long-term programs. Presenters and panel members included Mary Skopec (Iowa Lakeside Laboratory), Steve Konrady (Iowa DNR), Chris Jones (IIHR), Dan Haug (Prairie Rivers of Iowa), Ted Corrigan (Des Moines Water Works), Susan Judkins (President, Watershed Management Association), and Rich Leopold (Polk County Conservation). Attendees left the summit feeling optimistic that collaboration will continue and expand with the support of the Izaak Walton League of America.

The Iowa Water Quality Summit followed two other important water quality events in Des Moines this summer. The League’s annual National Convention was held in West Des Moines July 16-19, and the Iowa Water Festival was held at the League’s Des Moines Chapter on June 23.

To learn more about how to get involved in improving water quality in Iowa, contact Save Our Streams Coordinator Zach Moss (zmoss@iwla.org) or visit www.iwla.org/cleanwater.

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Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America (www.iwla.org) protects America’s outdoors through education, community-based conservation, and promoting outdoor recreation.

Monthly Feature: Species 101: Iowa’s Aquatic Turtles

Snapper Photo Courtesy of pixabay.com 

Iowa has 17 species of turtles with most being aquatic out of the 356 species found worldwide. Turtles are the oldest reptile and fossils found date during the Jurassic time period, older than snakes and crocs.

Tortoises and fresh water turtles are the most threatened with extinction than any other vertebrate. They have a lot of human pressure against them with the large Asian trade, over harvesting, water and land pollution and habitat destruction.

Another challenge turtles face is they do not reach sexual maturity until they are several years old and do not mate annually. Unfortunately, turtles are difficult to re-establish once gone from an area. They can be defined as in a “fragile” state with fingers crossed for their sustainability.

Most are considered in the common category, however there are some species that are threatened in the state and all around turtle abundance of common species of years gone by is no longer their current status and overall are declining. It is no longer typical to see logs and logs of turtles sunning as you recreate on rivers. You may paddle some rivers and sections and not see any turtles.

Iowa turtles have many challenges with loss of habitat and over harvest and only recent regulations placed.  Many are sold to Asian markets by commercial hunters resulting in lower populations of turtles across some of their past locales. Iowa’s regulations and limits began in 2017.

Current Iowa Turtle Season and Regulations: 
 
Spiny softshell, smooth softshell and painted turtles
  • Open December 15 until May 14.
  • Closed May 15 until July 15.
  • Open July 16 until January 10.
Common snapping turtle
Continuous open season.
Iowa Turtle Limits:
You can take and possess a maximum of 100 pounds of live turtles or 50 pounds of dressed turtles.
Spiny softshell, or smooth softshell, Daily catch limit – 1
Painted turtle, Daily catch limit – 1
Common snapping turtle, Daily catch limit – 4
Iowa Turtle Regulations:
  • You need a fishing license to take common snapping turtles, spiny softshells, smooth softshells, and painted turtles.
  • Nonresidents can only take common snapping turtles, spiny softshells, smooth softshells, and painted turtles from the Missouri, Mississippi and Big Sioux rivers.
  • You must have a special license to sell live or dressed turtles.
  • You cannot take turtle eggs from the wild.
  • You can take turtles only by hand, turtle hook, turtle trap or hook and line.
  • You cannot sort, cull, high-grade, or otherwise replace any turtle in possession.
  • Turtle traps must have no more than one throat or funneling device.
  • All turtle traps must have a functional escape hole provided with a minimum diameter in all directions of 7-1/2 inches to let fish and small turtles pass through.
  • The 7-1/2 inch escape hole on hoop type traps must be in the last hoop to the tail-line.
  • Set all turtle traps with the top of the trap visible above the waterline at all times.
  • You must attach an all-weather gear tag above the waterline to each piece of gear. The gear tag must plainly display the name, address, and license number of the licensee.
  • Check each trap and empty the catch at least every 72 hours (3 days). When checked, turtles shall be taken into possession or released immediately.
Blanding’s Turtle
Painted Turtle 
False Map Turtle 
Turtle Photos Courtesy of Kip Ladage
For more information on the Iowa’s aquatic turtles, click here:
Info credits to:  Iowa DNR, Wikipedia, “Turtles in Trouble” by the Turtle Conservation Coalition, Iowa Sierra Club.

News from Genoa National Fish Hatchery

The Higgins’ eye pearlymussel is native to the Mississippi River and some of its northern tributaries. It is usually found in areas of swift current and buries itself in mud-gravel bottoms in water up to 15 feet deep with only the edge of its shell and its feeding siphons exposed.
Higgins’ eye populations are in immediate danger of being eliminated in the Upper Mississippi River. One of the strategies to save the species is the propagation of the Higgins’ eye at Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin.
Article Credit to Genoa National Fish Hatchery
Photo Credit: Gary L. Wege, USFWS

Heavy Rainfall Causes Multiple Wastewater and Manure Releases

Following heavy rainfall and flash flooding throughout much of Iowa, the DNR encourages Iowans to stay out of Iowa streams until after the waters recede.

While fast stream currents are the biggest risk for people, high waters can also carry dangerous debris and bacteria. “For their own safety, we encourage people to stay out of the water until several days after streams return to normal,” said Scott Wilson in the DNR’s Spencer field office.

“About 70 wastewater discharges have been reported over the Memorial Day weekend, and the calls are still coming in,” Wilson said. With more rain predicted, additional discharges are expected.

“Some cities have reported multiple wastewater discharges, and two have reported storm water backups into basements,” he added. Both the Iowa DNR and the Department of Public Health have helpful links for people dealing with disasters and flood cleanup.

Some livestock facilities, particularly in northwest Iowa, have had two to four or more inches of rain. “Most of these facilities are OK, but we are working with a few to stop runoff,” Wilson said.

Facilities that are discharging or expecting to discharge should contact their local DNR field office. “We’ll work with them to identify solutions and minimize impacts to nearby streams,” Wilson said.

After hours, facilities can call the DNR emergency spill line at 515-725-8694. The DNR website has more information about spill reporting requirements.

For the Iowa DNR article go to: https://www.iowadnr.gov/About-DNR/DNR-News-Releases/ArticleID/2470/Heavy-rainfall-causes-multiple-wastewater-and-manure-releases

Tips for Helping a Turtle Cross the Road

Eastern Box Turtle

Article credits to: By Danielle Brigida, USFWS

Photo credits to:  by Danielle Brigida, USFWS

This time of year many wildlife, like turtles, are on the move. As the weather warms, turtles go in search for new territory, breeding opportunities and quests for food. Also, many females will travel to find ideal places to lay their eggs and will often cross the roads. Please keep a lookout for them while you’re driving this season.

Helping Turtles Cross the Street

  1. Always keep your own safety in mind — watch out for oncoming vehicles, signal properly when pulling over and recognize your surroundings first before working to help save an animal.
  2. Be very careful when moving the animal (it could be injured or it could bite you depending on what species). If possible, sometimes it is best to just stand guard as the animal crosses the road on its own.
  3.  If the animal needs to be moved, move it to the other side of the road in the same direction it was going. Using a car mat can be a good way to help the turtles across without actually picking them up. By using a car mat or putting something under the turtle, you can slide the turtle in the direction it was going.
  4. Do not pick the turtle up by the tail. Some turtles may be frightened and will try to bite (like snapping turtles). Do not pick them up by the tail! Here’s a great video showing ways to safely help a snapping turtle in the road such as the car mat trick, or by holding them at the
  5.  Do NOT take it with you — please only focus on helping it get safely to the other side.
  6. Get involved with roadside restoration and transportation projects: We’re working to make our roads and roadsides work for transportation and the environment. Learn more about road ecology and wildlife for ways to get involved at a local level.
    base of the shell and not the side.
  7. Learn more about wildlife laws in your state. Contact your State and Territorial Fish and Wildlife Office to verify what is legal for your state and ways you can get involved. You also are always welcome to contact your closest National Wildlife Refuge to learn more about what species to look out for.

    8. If possible, snap a photo and report sightings Herp Mapper to help track the movements of these reptiles.

Clean, Drain and Dry to Avoid Aquatic Hitchhikers

 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds all boaters and anglers to “Clean, Drain, and Dry” their boats and equipment to protect Iowa lakes and rivers from aquatic hitchhikers.

Aquatic hitchhikers are invasive species – everything from zebra mussels to Eurasian watermilfoil – that move from one waterbody to another by hitchhiking on boats, in bait buckets and on other equipment used in the water. They often grow quickly and spread fast when brought to another lake or stream due to lack of natural controls.
“The best way to control the negative impacts of aquatic invasive species in Iowa is to prevent their spread to new waterbodies,” said Kim Bogenschutz, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Iowa DNR.

These aquatic invasive species can create serious problems for Iowa waters by reducing native species and making lakes and rivers unusable for boaters, anglers and swimmers.
Boaters and anglers can unintentionally spread aquatic hitchhikers if they do not take the proper precautions each time they leave a lake or river.

  • CLEAN any plants, animals, or mud from your boat and equipment before you leave a waterbody.
  • DRAIN water from all equipment (motor, live well, bilge, transom well, bait bucket) before you leave a waterbody.
  • DRY anything that comes into contact with water (boats, trailers, equipment, boots, clothing, dogs). Before you move to another waterbody either: Spray your boat and trailer with hot or high-pressure water; or Dry your boat and equipment for at least five days.
  • Never release plants, fish, or animals into a water body unless they came out of that water body and empty unwanted bait in the trash.

It is illegal to possess or transport prohibited aquatic invasive species. It is illegal to transport any aquatic plants on water-related equipment in Iowa. Signs posted at public accesses remind boaters to stop aquatic hitchhikers and identify infested waters.

Boaters must also drain all water from boats and equipment before they leave a water access and keep drain plugs removed or opened during transport. It is also illegal to introduce any live fish, except for hooked bait, into public waters.
Find more information about aquatic invasive species and a list of infested waters in the current Iowa Fishing Regulations or at https://www.iowadnr.gov/ais.

Iowa Threatened & Endangered Species

You cannot take, possess, transport, import, export, process, sell or offer for sale, buy or offer to buy, nor can a common or contract carrier transport or receive for shipment any of the following species of fish, frogs, turtles, mussels or salamanders:
Fish:
Lake Sturgeon, Pallid Sturgeon, Pugnose Shiner, Weed Shiner, Pearl Dace, Freckled Madtom, Bluntnose Darter, Least Darter, American Brook Lamprey, Chestnut Lamprey, Grass Pickerel, Blacknose Shiner, Western Sand Darter, Black Redhorse, Burbot, Orangethroat Darter, Topeka Shiner
Frogs:
Crawfish Frog
Turtles:
Yellow Mud Turtle, Wood Turtle, Ornate Box Turtle, Common Musk Turtle, Blanding’s Turtle
Mussels:
Spectacle Case, Slippershell, Buckhorn, Ozark Pigtoe, Bullhead, Ohio River Pigtoe, Slough Sandshell, Yellow Sandshell, Cylinder, Strange Floater, Creek Heelsplitter, Purple Pimpleback, Butterfly, Ellipse and the Higgin’s Eye Pearly Mussel
Salamanders:
Blue-spotted Salamander, Central Newt and the Mudpuppy.
Info credits to Iowa DNR
Photo credits by Wikipedia