Category Archives: Conservation

Dam Mitigations All Around Iowa

Sure. You may be delighted those frigid temperatures are a thing of the past. But in a wet year, the low temperatures from January through March kept water levels low enough in rivers around Iowa to get contractors moving on dam removal and mitigation projects statewide. These projects were each years in the making, and the latest wave of them will change how Iowans recreate and navigate. Here’s a run-down:

Ames

https://www.cityofames.org/government/departments-divisions-i-z/water-pollution-control/construction-projects/north-river-valley-low-head-dam

This project replaces the River Valley Park Dam with a divided channel, half for whitewater waves and half for fishing and fish passage. It also preserves the dams water supply function.

 

Fort Dodge (2 dams)

Little Dam (also called Lower Dam) was removed in February, completing the project. Paddlers can safety float from the Phinney Park Access on Lizard Creek down to Dolliver State Park unimpeded, and fish can move freely as needed as far upriver to the remaining portion of Hydroelectric Dam. A rocky bed was uncovered in this area.

Hydroelectric Dam, formerly a 16-high dam, is removed down to a few feet high through summer, when it is expected to be completely removed. The removal is staged into 2 steps in order to prevent all sediment in the impoundment from being released at the same time. HOWEVER, recirculating currents will continue to be a safety hazard remaining portion of the dam until the dam is fully removed because the dam’s height will still be about 5 feet. All boaters should avoid the stretch between the Hydroelectric Park Access and mouth of Lizard Creek until the rest of the dam can be removed – most likely later this summer.

Speaking of that first stage of removal, check out this time lapse video:

https://www.facebook.com/115815355132446/videos/349587482317072/

 

Quaker Mill Dam

Phase 2 of the project was completed this winter and the Maquoketa River takes a meandering course through the former bed of the Quaker Mill Pond.

 

Littleton Dam

The Littleton Dam on the Wapsipinicon River is completely removed. High water after ice-out prevented completion of the rock arch rapids that will take the place of the dam, and contractors will resume work after flows are reasonable for work to be done.

Monthly Feature: Species 101: American White Pelican

Photo by Pam Wolter 
Sweet Marsh, Bremer County

 

The American White Pelican can be seen this spring in fresh water lakes and marshes across Iowa and North America on their way to their summer grounds up north. They have the second largest wingspan of  North American birds with a span of nine foot, only behind the California Condor in size. They can weigh up to 30 pounds with 11 -20 an average.  They are bright white except for blacks edges on their wing ends. They eat around four pounds of fish and crayfish daily by fishing for it as the fish swim by. They are unlike the Brown Pelican who dives for their dinner.

The spring migration to the breeding grounds occurs in March and April. During spring breeding both male and females develop a small horn on their top beak that later falls off after breeding and egg laying.

Nesting begins early April through early June. After one week of courtship and egg laying, the male assists the female with incubating the nest of 2 to 3 eggs with 6 the maximum laid. They incubate for a period of one month. The juveniles leave the parents care around three weeks after learning to fly. The Pelicans leave for their winter grounds along the Mississippi River (south of Saint Louis), Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastal lakes in September and October.

Currently the North American Pelican has a stable population. However, due to human impact, they suffer habitat loss, nest abandonment, fishing gear entanglements, poaching and boating disturbances.

Credits to and for additional detailed info, click onto this link.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_white_pelican

Forgotten Endangered Species: Freshwater Mussels

Photo courtesy of Cedar Valley Paddlers Club

Article by Alexandria Vollman. Originally published on ModernConservationist.com.
Reprinted with permission.

The phrase “endangered species” elicits many images: fluffy grizzly bears, majestic gray wolves, stealthy panthers, lovable manatees. But many of the 1,467 current endangered or threatened species on the endangered species list (ESL) are unfamiliar to the average American.
In a 2018 survey conducted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the majority of respondents said they believed there were approximately 100 species on the ESL. Young people were even more off, with most putting the number at 80.
Out of sight and mind, the other 1,300-plus animals on the ESL garner less public support and thus fewer funds for their recovery. Yet these less flashy, cuddly and majestic creatures – like all flora and fauna – play a critical role in the ecosystems they are a part of and are deserving of the time, energy and money necessary for them to once again thrive.
Freshwater mussels, for instance.
With nearly 300 subspecies in North America, mussels make up an important component of the biodiversity of America’s rivers and streams.

Their Contributions:

Although North America has the largest number of species of freshwater mussels – or clams – in the world, approximately 72 percent of those are endangered, threatened or designated as a special concern by the states in which they are located. The majority are found in the Midwest, where more than half of the region’s 78 species are classified as such. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), “No other group of animals in the Midwest is so gravely imperiled.”
Compared to 16.5 percent of mammalian and 14.6 percent of bird species, 70 percent of mussels in North America are extinct or imperiled, according to The Nature Conservancy. This is particularly alarming as they are such hardy creatures capable of surviving harsh conditions.
Because they act as a purification system, filtering water for food, mussels are vulnerable to water pollution – from herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, mining waste and residential and livestock sewage. Although they can close their shells for short periods of time to avoid toxins, long-term exposure is often what kills them.

“The fact that so many mussels are imperiled in the Midwest shows that there have been significant, long-term changes to our lakes and waterways,” the FWS website reads. “And those changes have been so dramatic that these aquatic animals have trouble surviving.”
The fact that so many mussels are imperiled in the Midwest shows that there have been significant, long-term changes to our lakes and waterways.
Easy to overlook, mussels line the bottom of rivers, streams or lakes in large groups called “beds,” covering as much as several acres. Beyond purifying bodies of water, they act as a food source for a variety of animals, including otters, egrets, herons and raccoons.

Their Demise:

In addition to the conditions caused by pollution – sedimented, muddy and contaminated river bottoms – many elements have contributed to the demise of mussel species, with dams being another leading cause.
Because of the way in which mussels reproduce – larvae attach to the gills or fins of certain fish, where they remain for several weeks as they transform into juvenile mussels before detaching – dams have been a large impediment to their existence. Present on most large waterways, dams limit fish movement and thus the ability of mussels to reproduce. They also affect the water flow, harming some subspecies that are unable to survive in slower-moving or lower-water conditions.

Non-native, invasive species are another threat to freshwater mussels. The invader currently wreaking havoc on native species is the zebra mussel, which is believed to have been introduced in the Great Lakes by large European ships. By attaching to boats, the zebra mussel has spread to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

“They increase in numbers faster than non-native mussels and attach to almost any hard surface, including native mussels,” the FWS website reads. “They reproduce so fast and in such abundance that the native mussels’ movement, feeding, and reproductive behaviors are stifled.”
Although they may not be as endearing as other endangered species, mussels contribute in considerable ways to our aquatic ecosystems, and their presence is indicative of healthy water – good for both humans and wildlife. And while the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts have done much to aid in the recovery of mussels, much work remains to ensure they will thrive again one day.

Speaking Up For Wildlife: How To Report Wildlife Crime:

 

Blanding’s Turtle crossing the road. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for protecting America’s wildlife from poaching, illegal commercialization and other kinds of wildlife crime. While our special agents and wildlife inspectors within the Office of Law Enforcement work with our federal, state and tribal conservation partners across the country to investigate these crimes, we also depend on tips from concerned citizens. People just like you step up and share information that helps us protect everything from native turtles and pallid sturgeon to bald eagles and white-tailed deer. Help us close the next case and you may be eligible for a monetary reward.

Wildlife crime is much more than elephant ivory and rhino horns. America’s native plants and animals need your help across the country. While it’s true that we are actively fighting illegal commercialization, commonly referred to as wildlife trafficking, wildlife crime is far more domestic than you may realize. It can happen in your local parks, wildlife refuges and even on your own land. Many of our law enforcement investigations are solved because people who see unlawful activities reach out to us or their local game warden. In tandem to this community effort, we established the use of financial rewards to people who provide critical information. This program allows us to thank everyday people who help us investigate and stop these crimes, all while protecting their anonymity in the process.

Be situationally aware and trust your gut when things just don’t seem right. This happened to a woman in Minnesota while she was on a bike ride and saw someone putting Blanding’s turtles in their trunk. She knew that these mild-mannered turtles are protected and extremely vulnerable during breeding season as they move to nesting habitat to lay eggs. She reported the vehicle’s license plate number and other identifiable information to an officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and her tip ultimately helped to uncover a multi-state, illegal trafficking scheme based in Wisconsin. The man involved pleaded guilty to a felony Lacey Act violation, served time in prison and paid heavy fines. During the investigation, officers recovered an incubator with 120 native map, painted and softshell turtle eggs that he had illegally collected in the wild. This wildlife trafficker also left an incriminating digital footprint, using online retailers to traffic additional wild reptile and amphibian species. Just one person speaking for a couple of turtles made a positive impact on local wildlife. In this case, we were able to recognize her contributions with a $1,500 reward through the Lacey Act Reward Account, all while maintaining her anonymity. You can remain anonymous when reporting.

Know the law:

Another way you can help is by knowing the laws that protect wildlife. Migratory birds native to the U.S., including their nests and eggs, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. Knowing what’s in season under state and tribal law is important too, because poaching isn’t the only wildlife crime, hunting out of season and falsifying records are also criminal offenses. Ethical hunters and anglers respect the biological reasoning behind bag limits and speak up when something doesn’t seem right.
Do you have a wildlife crime to report?
If you believe you have information related to a wildlife crime, email or call us with information about where and when it occurred, along with what you witnessed. Include any photos or videos you may have.

How to report a wildlife crime:

If you think you’re witnessing a crime in progress, maintain a safe distance and protect yourself.
Make use of your cell phone and take photos or videos, if you can do so safely.
Write down any information about the person committing the crime, including any vehicle information, what you witnessed and where the event took place.
If you suspect that someone is trafficking in wildlife online, include the full website URL and take screen captures of the potentially illegal sale. Send us an email with all related information or call us using the FWS TIPs line at 1-844-FWS-TIPS (1-844-397-8477).
Please discuss the possibility of a reward with the special agent receiving your information.
Together, we can make a positive difference in the health of America’s fish, wildlife and iconic habitats.

Learn more about the federal conservation laws that guide our law enforcement work on behalf of America’s fish and wildlife. For more information, contact https://www.fws.gov/

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service.

Iowa Project Aware: Year 17! Boone River in Hamilton and Wright Counties

Registrations are now available online for sign up at http://www.iowaprojectaware.org.

HAMILTON & WRIGHT COUNTIES – The Boone River in north-central Iowa will be a lot lighter, and arguably prettier, in just a few short months. This July, hundreds of volunteers will spend their vacations muscling trash from sixty-one contiguous miles of the river between Goldfield and the Boone Forks Wildlife Area near Stratford.

Iowa Project AWARE, an abbreviation for A Watershed Awareness River Expedition, is scheduled for July 7-12. Now in its seventeenth year, Iowa Project AWARE is a one of a kind, multi-day, family friendly annual river cleanup. It is one of the few opportunities in Iowa for outdoor recreation and environmental education fully coordinated by volunteers, for volunteers.

“We are excited to be part of this year’s project on the Boone River,” explained Hamilton County Conservation Director Brian Lammers. “Not only will the cleanup directly benefit our local river ecosystem and improve water quality and recreation potential, the event also brings awareness to the community and brings volunteers together to work on the effort.”

During the cleanup, participants paddle canoes searching for river and riverbank trash by day and camping in local campgrounds and communities by night. Throughout the week volunteers also attend educational programs emphasizing local history, culture and nature. While the expedition lasts six days, participants can register for as few or as many days as they choose. Paddling equipment, boats, and daily meals are included with daily registration fees.

N-Compass, Inc. is the nonprofit organization who produces Iowa Project AWARE. The group is working with the Webster City-based Boone River Cleanup Committee, which has organized local cleanups in Hamilton County since 2007. Despite years of successful local cleanup efforts, local organizers report there is always trash to be found. With the expedition starting in the Wright County hamlet of Goldfield, cleanup volunteers will traverse nearly the entire navigable portion of the Boone River.

In the past 16 years, more than 2,610 volunteers from across the country have participated in the multi-day river cleanup. This includes paddling 1,200 river miles of Iowa waters, removing 436 tons of trash with more than three-quarters of which has been recycled.

For more information about Iowa Project AWARE, N-Compass, Inc. and to register as a river cleanup volunteer for the 2019 event please visit http://www.iowaprojectaware.org.

Iowa Great Lakes Curlyleaf Pondweed Management Plans

Spirit Lake – Invasive curlyleaf pondweed has become a common site in the spring on portions of the Iowa Great Lakes in recent years. The 2019 plan for managing this plant will be similar to 2018, but treat more acres.

A team of leaders from the county, local cities, lake associations, drinking water utilities, Iowa Lakeside Lab, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have been working together over the past two years to manage this invasive aquatic plant that has caused water access and navigation issues on portions of the Iowa Great Lakes.

“Curlyleaf pondweed has been in our lakes since the middle of the last century, but conditions have allowed it to gain a foothold growing to form dense mats impacting recreation and access,” said Mike Hawkins, Iowa DNR fisheries biologist. “This plant is common throughout the Midwest, causing similar issues on hundreds of lakes.” Unlike native plants, curlyleaf pondweed germinates in the fall, grows under the ice and hits the surface by early May. It dies back naturally in late June.

Terry Wilts, with the East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation, has helped spearhead the management effort over the past few years and explains there are no easy options to solve this problem.

“This plant impacts hundreds of acres. As a team, we realize we can’t treat all of it, but should prioritize our funds and efforts,” Wilts said. “The 2019 plan builds on efforts from past years. We’ve taken what we’ve learned and are applying this knowledge to maximize our impact.”

The 2018 project treated 61 acres of curlyleaf with a combination of mechanical harvesting and the use of an aquatic herbicide. The 2019 plan includes a similar combination, but an increase in treatment area to 85 acres. The team was able to increase the number of acres while keeping the overall cost the same.

The 2018 project was considered successful. Boater access was improved and the project stayed on budget and on-time despite the late ice out. Twenty acres along the shoreline was treated with an aquatic herbicide and 41 acres (1 million pounds) was harvested using a mechanical plant harvester. The herbicide was used more than five miles from any drinking water intake even though water testing at the treatment area showed levels well below the drinking water standard right after treatment. The 2019 plan increases the herbicide treatment to 60 acres while still proposing mechanical harvesting of 25 acres.

The DNR and project partners want to emphasize the importance of not illegally applying herbicides.

“We can’t tolerate lakeshore residents illegally applying herbicides. Iowa law restricts their use and only the DNR has the authority to treat plants in the lake with a herbicide. Everyone living or vacationing in this area gets their drinking water from our lakes. Not following the law endangers that precious resource,” said Eric Stoll, with Milford Utilities, which supplies drinking water for thousands of customers in the region states.

Funding for the project will come from local contributions to the East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation and the DNR’s Marine Fuel Tax Fund which is dedicated to improving boater access in Iowa.

Media Contact: Mike Hawkins, Fisheries Biologist, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 712-336-1840.

Curlyleaf Pondweed:
Photo credits to Wikipedia 

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Diversity News! Eagles of Iowa!

Eagles of Iowa


Eagles are essentially massive hawks that are often seen perched in the open or soaring on very long broad wings.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)


  • The most common eagle in Iowa. As an adult it is easily identifiable by the white head and tail, large yellow bill, and a 70″-90″ wingspan.
  • Juveniles are mostly dark with blotchy white on its underwing and tail. They take 4-5 years to reach full adult plumage.
  • They nest and overwinter in Iowa and are regularly found near rivers.
  • Feed mainly on fish, carrion, and roadkill.
  • For most, the nesting season begins in late February and March. If you see a nest, be sure not to disturb the birds and report the nest to the DNR.

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)


  • Most common in the bluff country of Northeastern Iowa, golden eagles can be found from November through March.
  • Golden eagles are brown with a variable yellow to tawny brown wash over the back of the head and neck. Adults have a faintly banded tail. Their wingspan is 80″-88″.
  • Immature bald eagles are frequently misidentified as golden eagles but the golden eagle juveniles have well defined white patches at the base of their primary feathers.
  • It takes 4 years for adult plumage to be acquired.

For more information, go to: DNR CONTACT:

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

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Diversity News! Eagle Survey Completed!

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.