Category Archives: Conservation

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Diversity News!

Photo Courtesy of Steven Niewoehner

 

Iowa is one of the most important wintering grounds for Bald Eagles with thousands of the huge raptors moving into the state from the north to join our resident breeding birds. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan all have some of the highest densities of nesting Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states and many of those eagles, especially from MN and WI move into Iowa during the winter months and frequently gather in large numbers around areas of open water to feed and roost.

Since the early 1990s, the Iowa DNR, plus a small army of volunteers has recorded this phenomenon during the Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey that takes place in the first two weeks of every year.  Surveyors scope the trees, air and ice for Iowa’s largest raptor while driving snowy roads which wind along next to many of Iowa’s biggest rivers.  There are 52 set routes in Iowa that cover over 1500 miles in 45 counties and along at least 13 rivers.  The 2019 survey was run from January 2nd through the 16th and was mostly characterised by extremely mild winter temperatures and weather leading up to the survey.  The average percentage of river covered with ice was only 18%, the lowest since 2007 and most surveyors indicated that the weather was “mild” to “very mild”. Hard to believe coming out of the polar vortex!

What did all this mild weather mean for the eagles?  There were fewer than last year’s close to record numbers but at 2,924 there were still plenty of birds counted.  When the weather is mild and rivers are open, we expect fewer birds to be counted because birds from up north may not feel driven to move south to look for food and the birds that are here are more spread out, making them harder to count. Also, at least four routes could not be surveyed because of the federal government shutdown.

The count of birds is usually split into adult and immature (and some unidentified) and those totaled 1,893 adults and 952 immatures.  This is important because the percentage of immatures in the population is a metric we use to make sure that successful reproduction is happening.  The percentage this year was 32.6%, almost identical to 2018’s percentage and it has been stable since 1994.

Notable this year, was the Missouri River, which had its highest count ever with 498 bald eagles counted!  The second highest count was in 2012 and was only 195.  The Mississippi and Des Moines rivers tend to have the most birds and while they were highest again this year, the Missouri came in a close third.

The data collected on Iowa’s bald eagle midwinter survey show an upward climb of eagle numbers from 1994 to 2019.  It’s an important survey for the annual trend it provides and along with eagle nest monitoring helps the Iowa DNR keep an eagle eye on this important species!

The Bald Eagle Midwinter survey is a national survey, currently coordinated at that level by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps analyzes data from the many states that participate which allows them to have an idea about eagle population trends at the regional and national scale. These type of data played a key role in determining in 2007 that the Bald Eagle was doing well enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

For more information, contact www.iowadnr.gov

Frog and Toad Survey Workshop

All across the state of Iowa, citizen scientists are making enormous contributions to wildlife conservation with some training through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program.

“The Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program provides an opportunity for adults who love the outdoors and wildlife to be directly involved with the conservation and monitoring of Iowa’s resources. The work done is crucial to the well-being of these species,” said Stephanie Shepherd, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Program.

Every March and April, Shepherd travels around the state to lead training workshops that ready folks to collect data on some of Iowa’s critical wildlife. So what are these critical wildlife species?
Volunteers are trained to listen to and recognize the 16 species of frogs and toads in Iowa based on their breeding calls. In 2018, volunteers surveyed 54 survey routes which translate into more than 400 wetland sites monitored for frog and toad activity.

“The frog and toad surveyors are particularly special because to perform the surveys volunteers have to drive back country roads at night along a specific route using only their ears to collect data,” Shepherd said. “I think most feel that exploring the Iowa wilds at night is a unique experience and opportunity.”

Interested volunteers must register for and attend a training workshop.

Frog and Toad Call Survey Workshops

April 2: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Pioneer Ridge Nature Center, 1339 Highway 63, Bloomfield
Hosted by Wapello County Conservation

April 8: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Wapsi River Environmental Center, 31555 52nd Ave., Dixon
Hosted by Scott County Conservation

April 9: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Boone Wildlife Research Station by Ledges State Park, 1436 255th St., Boone

April 13: 1 to 4 p.m.
Oak Grove Lodge at Oak Grove Park, 4051 Cherry Ave., Hawarden

Hosted by Sioux County Conservation

There is a $5 fee to cover workshop materials.

For more information, go to http://www.iowadnr.com/vwmp/or e-mail vwmd@dnr.iowa.gov

Trumpeter Swans 101

Photo Courtesy of Steven Niewoehner

Trumpeter Swans were once common in Iowa, but the last wild mated pair nested in Iowa in 1883. They were completely gone from the state by the late 1880s. They were prized for their meat, skin and beautiful pure white feathers. By the early 1930s, only 69 remained in the lower 48 states.

In 1998, a wild pair were spotted in Dubuque County and hatched 3 that year.  In 1999, the pair hatched 5 and again in 2000.  Iowa DNR have been active in Trumpeter Swan releases. Interestingly, it has been found that released Swans do not migrate far from their release site. It has only been the past twenty years that they have rebounded through many conservation efforts. Trumpeter Swans are considered a conservation success story by many. However, they do have current threats with habitat loss, lead poisoning, power line accidents and are occasionally shot. It is illegal to hunt Trumpeter Swans.

These beautiful all-white birds are the largest North American waterfowl species. They can weigh from 25- 32 pounds with an average 8-9 foot wingspan. They have black beaks and black legs. They are often confused with Tundra Swan. The Trumpeter Swan’s scientific name, Cygnus buccinator, is from the Latin Cygnus (swan) and buccinare (to trumpet).

The male and female mate for life. If the male loses his mate, he often does not take a mate again. In the wild, they live to be up to 24 years old and in captivity around 33 years. Mating does not occur until they are at least three years old. Egg laying begins in late April or May with 4-6 eggs hatched being average. The eggs take 32-37 days to incubate and young take 90-120 days to fly after hatching. Their breeding habitat consists of large shallow ponds, undisturbed lakes, pristine wetlands and marshes. They use the same nesting site year after year. Their adult summer diet consists of aquatic plants with a winter diet of farm field grains and grasses. In a group, they fly in a V-shaped pattern. They are very affected by human disturbance and will abandon a nest if disturbed. They typically will nest within 600 feet of shore and need at least 100 yards of open water for take off to fly.

An estimated 160 trumpeter swans are currently wintering at the Dale Maffitt Reservoir and surrounding area southwest of Des Moines. This provides a rare opportunity to view good numbers of free flying Trumpeter Swans. Visit them soon before they move onto other areas.

Trumpeter Swan can also be spotted while paddling or hiking at Sweet Marsh Wildlife Area in Bremer County in the early spring.

To listen to Trumpeter Swan sounds, go
Information credits:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Wikipedia, Iowa DNR, Trumpeter Swan Society.

“Chickadee Check Off” or Fish / Wildlife Diversity Fund

Last year, a little over 7,500 Iowa taxpayers helped boost wildlife conservation with donations to the Fish and Wildlife Fund on their state tax form. This is roughly 400 fewer contributors than in 2016. Donators represent about 0.4% of total tax payers in Iowa.
“We are so thankful to all the people who choose to donate to wildlife conservation with their tax refunds,” said Shepherd. “I have a hope that we can do even better to increase funding levels which go directly to habitat development and restoration programs for some of Iowa’s most vulnerable animal species. The funds are so important for natural resources.”

The Fish and Wildlife Fund, known popularly as the “Chickadee Check-off,” is a mechanism the Iowa Legislature created in the 1980s for Iowa citizens to donate to wildlife conservation on the Iowa state tax form. Before this time, so called “non-game” wildlife had no dedicated funding. Non-game wildlife are the 1000+ species such as songbirds, bald eagles, salamanders, turtles, monarchs and bees that make up the majority of wildlife in Iowa. It is one of the only funding sources for the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Diversity program which is responsible for all these species. The program uses the funding to help improve wildlife habit, restore native wildlife, provide opportunities for citizens to learn about our natural resources and much more

According to Shepherd, Iowans donated roughly $145,000 last spring when completing their 2017 tax forms. This translates to an average gift of $19.25 per donor. The number of donors has mostly stayed level or decreased but thanks to more generous giving, the amount donated has also stayed level or even increased.

The tax check-off line is pretty inconspicuous and can be easy to pass over or forget. “Many tax preparers may not remember to ask whether a client wants to donate,” said Shepherd. “It may be up to the taxpayer to remind their preparer, or make a point of looking for it whether they are doing their form on paper or electronically.”
Once you find the check-off, donating is easy, according to Shepherd: simply write the amount to donate next to the Fish and Wildlife Check-Off, line 57 on Form 1040, and the sum is either automatically deducted from the refund or added to the amount owed. As with all charitable contributions, the amount is deductible from next year’s taxes.


If every Iowa taxpayer donated just $1, it would mean $1.5 million for wildlife and natural resource conservation!


DNR CONTACT:
Stephanie Shepherd | 515-230-6599 | stephanie.shepherd@dnr.iowa.gov

US Fish and Wildlife Report: USFW Fisheries received three Pallid Sturgeon in December to help with species recovery

 

Pallid sturgeon are bottom dwelling, slow growing fish that feed primarily on small fish and immature aquatic insects. This species of sturgeon is seldom seen and is one of the least understood fish in the Missouri and Mississippi River drainages. It is an ancient species that has existed since the days of the dinosaurs.

The recovery efforts include research to learn more about its life history and habitat requirements, artificial propagation to improve its numbers, habitat improvement and reducing mortality from commercial fishing.

Species Description: The pallid sturgeon has a flattened, shovel-shaped snout, possesses a long, slender, and completely armored caudal peduncle, and lacks a spiracle and belly scutes. Pallid sturgeon are bottom-oriented species. Pallid sturgeon can be long-lived (40+ years), with females reaching sexual maturity later than males. Pallid sturgeon at the northern end of their range can obtain sizes much larger than fish at the southern end of their range.

The pallid sturgeon experienced a dramatic decline throughout its range since the mid to late 1960’s. Nearly all of its habitat has been modified through river channelization,
construction of impoundments and related changes in water flow. These changes blocked the pallid sturgeon’s movements, destroyed or altered its spawning areas, reduced its food sources or its ability to obtain food, and altered water temperatures and other environmental conditions necessary for the fish’s survival.

Pallid sturgeon are bottom dwelling, slow growing fish that feed primarily on small fish and immature aquatic insects. This species of sturgeon is seldom seen and is one of the least understood fish in the Missouri and Mississippi River drainages. It is an ancient species that has existed since the days of the dinosaurs.

The recovery efforts include research to learn more about its life history and habitat requirements, artificial propagation to improve its numbers, habitat improvement and reducing mortality from commercial fishing.

Species Description: The pallid sturgeon has a flattened, shovel-shaped snout, possesses a long, slender, and completely armored caudal peduncle, and lacks a spiracle and belly scutes. Pallid sturgeon are bottom-oriented species. Pallid sturgeon can be long-lived (40+ years), with females reaching sexual maturity later than males. Pallid sturgeon at the northern end of their range can obtain sizes much larger than fish at the southern end of their range.

Species Factsheet:

Location: Pallid sturgeon are found only in portions of the Missouri and Mississippi River basins. More specifically, the species is known to occur in the following areas:
  • Missouri River in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota
  • Mississippi River in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois (downstream from Melvin Price Locks and Dam), Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri (downstream from Melvin Price Locks and Dam), and Tennessee
  • Platte River in Nebraska downstream of Elkhorn River confluence
  • a portion of the Kansas River downstream from Bowersock Dam
  • Yellowstone River in North Dakota and Montana downstream of the Bighorn River confluence
  • and the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana
    Habitat: Mississippi River downstream of its confluence with the Missouri River; Ohio River below Dam #53; Missouri River
There have been occasional observations in the lower Big Sioux River of South Dakota, the Grand River in Missouri, and the Mississippi River near Keokuk, Iowa.
For more information, please click on this link:
The Pallid Sturegeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) is currently listed 
as Endangered as of Sept 6, 1990. 
 
 Photo by South Dakota Game Fish and Parks; Sam Stuke
 

Lime Creek, Buchanan County Mussel Success Story

 
 Water quality improvements lead to mussels’ return, Lime Creek off state impaired waters list.
MEDIA CONTACT: Steve Hopkins, 515-725-8390 or Jennifer Kurth, 515-725-8381.BUCHANAN COUNTY – For Lime Creek, it’s a tale of two lists; it’s a story that moves from the state’s impaired waters list to the distinction of landing on the Outstanding Iowa Waters list. The effort was also just recognized as a water quality success story by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.The move took the work of the local Buchanan County community, and all hinged on the return of one valuable stream resident.

A survey of native freshwater mussel species in the creek in 1984 found nine different species. But by 1998 there were no live mussels found. With that, one segment of the stream was considered impaired for biological aquatic life.

Locals formed the Lime Creek Watershed Council and launched a watershed project in 2006, aiming to reduce the amount of silt and sediment washing off the land into the creek, as well as reducing the amount of phosphorus and nitrates reaching the water.

The project focused on helping farmers and landowners use practices on the land to better hold sediment and nutrients on the land and keep them out of the creek. With a number of partners and funding sources, including the Iowa Watershed Improvement Review Board (WIRB) and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the project helped locals reduce tillage, adjust crop rotations, change nutrient application and install grassed waterways.

More than half of residents in the Lime Creek watershed – the area of land that drains to the creek – participated in the project. After the project officially ended in 2009, locals kept it alive with voluntary practices and efforts.”Year after year, we’ve seen interest growing in cover crops and in other practices that improve soil health and water quality,” said farmer and conservation leader Dick Sloan of Rowley, who leads the Lime Creek Watershed Council.

As a result, 959 tons of sediment – that’s about 64 dump truck loads – no longer reach the creek each year. The work also reduced phosphorus levels in the creek by almost 1,500 pounds per year and nitrate-nitrogen levels in the creek dropped 19 percent.

Most importantly, because of the improved habitat, the mussels returned. A Statewide Mussel Survey in 2011, led by the DNR and funded by U.S. EPA Section 319, discovered six species of mussels where there were previously none. That includes three species considered threatened in Iowa.
“It’s especially impressive that the most common mussel we found in Lime Creek, the ellipse, is a threatened mussel,” said DNR biologist Jen Kurth, who led the survey. This led to Lime Creek coming off of the state’s impaired waters list in 2014.

Now, as one of Iowa’s Outstanding Waters, this scenic stretch of stream is well-known to visitors to Buchanan County Conservation’s Lime Creek Park and to Smallmouth bass anglers in the area.

To learn more about Lime Creek and its success story, visit the U.S. EPA’s website: https://www.epa.gov/nps/success-stories-about-restoring-water-bodies-impaired-nonpoint-source-pollution#iaWater quality improvements lead to mussels’ return, Lime Creek off state impaired waters list.
MEDIA CONTACT: Steve Hopkins, 515-725-8390 or Jennifer Kurth, 515-725-8381.

BUCHANAN COUNTY – For Lime Creek, it’s a tale of two lists; it’s a story that moves from the state’s impaired waters list to the distinction of landing on the Outstanding Iowa Waters list. The effort was also just recognized as a water quality success story by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.The move took the work of the local Buchanan County community, and all hinged on the return of one valuable stream resident.

A survey of native freshwater mussel species in the creek in 1984 found nine different species. But by 1998 there were no live mussels found. With that, one segment of the stream was considered impaired for biological aquatic life.

Locals formed the Lime Creek Watershed Council and launched a watershed project in 2006, aiming to reduce the amount of silt and sediment washing off the land into the creek, as well as reducing the amount of phosphorus and nitrates reaching the water.

The project focused on helping farmers and landowners use practices on the land to better hold sediment and nutrients on the land and keep them out of the creek. With a number of partners and funding sources, including the Iowa Watershed Improvement Review Board (WIRB) and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the project helped locals reduce tillage, adjust crop rotations, change nutrient application and install grassed waterways.

More than half of residents in the Lime Creek watershed – the area of land that drains to the creek – participated in the project. After the project officially ended in 2009, locals kept it alive with voluntary practices and efforts.”Year after year, we’ve seen interest growing in cover crops and in other practices that improve soil health and water quality,” said farmer and conservation leader Dick Sloan of Rowley, who leads the Lime Creek Watershed Council.

As a result, 959 tons of sediment – that’s about 64 dump truck loads – no longer reach the creek each year. The work also reduced phosphorus levels in the creek by almost 1,500 pounds per year and nitrate-nitrogen levels in the creek dropped 19 percent.

Most importantly, because of the improved habitat, the mussels returned. A Statewide Mussel Survey in 2011, led by the DNR and funded by U.S. EPA Section 319, discovered six species of mussels where there were previously none. That includes three species considered threatened in Iowa.
“It’s especially impressive that the most common mussel we found in Lime Creek, the ellipse, is a threatened mussel,” said DNR biologist Jen Kurth, who led the survey. This led to Lime Creek coming off of the state’s impaired waters list in 2014.

Now, as one of Iowa’s Outstanding Waters, this scenic stretch of stream is well-known to visitors to Buchanan County Conservation’s Lime Creek Park and to Smallmouth bass anglers in the area.

To learn more about Lime Creek and its success story, visit the U.S. EPA’s website: https://www.epa.gov/nps/success-stories-about-restoring-water-bodies-impaired-nonpoint-source-pollution#ia