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Iowa’s Wildlife Diversity Program

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has a lot of bases to cover. Most Iowans recognize that they make a fine state park system available to us. They manage several state forests and help private landowners manage their forest lands. They issue a wide variety of permits and licenses for everything from mining to fishing. Conservation law enforcement is among their responsibilities. The DNR manages a few dozen species of fish, animals and birds as game or fur bearers that can be harvested. Many folks may not know that they are also responsible for monitoring, management and education for hundreds of other species of fish, animals, birds and even insects that are classed as non-game. The DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Program is responsible for all these non-game species, but operates with one of the smallest staffs of all DNR programs.

Hunting and fishing aren’t as common a pastime as they once were, but quite a few Iowans still fish and/or hunt. The number of Iowans who enjoy just watching and learning about wildlife continues to grow, however, and far outnumber those who enjoy consumptive forms of outdoor recreation. The Wildlife Diversity Program publishes a quarterly online newsletter called (what else?) Wildlife Diversity News. The summer issue just arrived on my computer and offered 12 pages of interesting information. I thought I’d share some of the highlights of this fine little learning resource that can be found on the DNR’s website at www.iowadnr.gov.

The first page called attention to Iowa’s 19th and newest Bird Conservation Area (BCA), the Stephens Forest -Thousand Acre BCA in south-central Iowa. Large blocks of habitat that are not, and will not become, fragmented are rare in Iowa. They are critical for some of our most threatened species.

The next couple of pages covered breaking news in the world of wildlife – everything from a program trying to keep the last population of sage grouse from disappearing from Canada, to 15 million year-old ticks trapped in amber that show evidence of the Lyme Disease bacteria, to a new chemical the EPA has approved to selectively control zebra mussels, an alien invasive species that is spreading like a bad weed in our lakes and rivers.

I was very pleased to see that sandhill cranes continue to expand their breeding range back into Iowa. Once common nesting birds across the state, the cranes disappeared with the drainage and plowing of the prairies and were gone for nearly 100 years. They are now reported to be reproducing in at least 24 Iowa counties; including Hamilton and Polk counties. There just might be a large enough block of unfragmented prairie wetland habitat in the Colo Bog area east of Colo to attract a nesting pair there some day.

There was an update on prairie chickens that still cling to existence in one last area of far south-central Iowa, the Kellerton BCA in Ringold County. Although they once existed by the millions and were shot by the wagon load by early settlers, they all but disappeared as prairies were replaced by crop fields.

There was a story about an injured pileated woodpecker being taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator (another license the DNR issues), and another about cerulean warblers that happily still exist in some numbers in the Effigy Mounds - Yellow River Forest BCA. This BCA just became Iowa’s first and only Globally Important Bird Area.

There was lots more in those 12 pages, including many fine photos of Iowa wildlife, but maybe you’d like to read it yourselves. Just go to www.iowadnr.gov and look for the Wildlife Diversity Program.

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