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Wildlife surveys a summer necessity

July 14, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

SURVEYS help pull in the numbers. But to mean anything, the validity of the survey methodology must be scientifically based. For well over 60 years, Iowa DNR biologists and conservation officers have assisted in what has been known as roadside counts. The process was developed long ago by researchers at Iowa State University to help come up with a system to make relative counts of upland wildlife meaningful.The end result was standardized roadside counts, more than 200 of them in Iowa, each being 30 miles long. The routes represent the breadth and variety of habitats in Iowa's landscape. Each route has remained identical through time.

Over time, land uses adjacent to each 30-mile-long route may have changed little, somewhat or a lot. That does not alter the designated survey route. As habitats morph due to changes in cropping patterns, livestock interests or urbanization, the wildlife, seen or not seen, help reflect trend lines for all kinds of wildlife populations. Pheasants numbers are a focus point but not the only interest during each 30-mile roadside count. If the weather cooperates, such as a clear cool morning with a heavy dew from the moist air of the night before, many species of wild critters will use roadsides to help dry out as the sun peeks over the horizon and warms the air. Rabbits, quail, mourning doves, coyotes, fox or even stray house cats, deer, raccoons or skunks are tabulated on the survey route forms.

Each of us may do a very unscientific "survey" during our travels from point A to B. However, when one is in the right place at the right time, you may be lucky enough to observe one of Iowa's wild critters of the landscape. Enjoy while the opportunity is available. Just in the past week, by pure happenstance, this scribe has seen young pheasants, heard reports from others of young wild turkeys, seen female deer with fawns and even a trio of young skunks. A gracefully flying bald eagle, one morning over Timmons Grove, helped make my day. Hurray for all of them.

Article Photos

A summer, slick-haired doe is alert to what is around her as she prepares to make her escape into a nearby crop field. Biologists and conservation officers are getting ready to watch deer, raccoons, pheasants and lots of other native, wild game species as part of their annual survey system throughout Iowa. Aug. 1 is the earliest date the surveys may begin, starting at dawn on a relatively clear day with a heavy dew on the grass from the previous evening. The numbers obtained from the surveys help determine trends in upland game populations.


WATERFOWL numbers have been tabulated as we head toward the fall seasons. Here is what the cooperative effort of Canadian and US wildlife agencies have found. A record high is anticipated for ducks with an estimated 48.6 million for 2012 compared to 45.6 million last year. This is 43 percent above long-term averages. The annual report summarizes information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats collected by U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Canadian Wildlife Service after sampling more than 2 million square miles in both countries.

Mallards are pegged at 10.6 million for an increase of 15 percent. Gadwalls are 10 percent above average and Widgeon are up 3 percent. Green-winged Teal counts show 3.5 million, up 20 percent. Their cousin the Blue-winged Teal is up 3 percent at 9.2 million birds. Northern Shovelers show 5 million for an 8 percent increase. Pintail ducks are down 22 percent to 3.5 million birds. Redheads are unchanged from 2011, but the news is good for them since they are at 89 percent above long-term averages. Canvasback abundance is at 0.8 million or 10 percent above last year and 33 percent above the long-term average. Combined greater and lesser scaup populations tallied 5.2 million, 21 percent above 2011 and 4 percent above long-term averages.

Since waterfowl migrate across national borders, it takes a cooperative effort to conduct the surveys as laid out in plans of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and partner state DNR's work on the four flyways-the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific- to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates and bag limits for the upcoming fall waterfowl seasons. It is all interesting stuff. Hurray for the folks that put in all the hours just to collect good data.


SAFETY is always important. Take driving to and from work for example. Drive the speed limit, obey stop signs, yield for traffic and use common sense. Farm work is safe too if one is careful and fully understands the risks associated with machinery or livestock behavior. Sports are fun and by and large are safe to participate in when one follows the rules and adds lots of common sense into each and every situation. Take these examples from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc.

Hunting with firearms is safer compared to a number of other sports. Hunting ranks third in safety when compared with 28 other recreational pursuits ranging from baseball to wrestling. Hunting stats show an injury rate of 0.05 percent, which equates to about 1 injury per 2,000 participants. That is better than camping with an injury rate of 0.01 percent, billiards at 0.02 percent or golf at 0.16 percent. Tackle football tops the list at 5.27 percent. One is 11 times more likely to be injured playing volleyball, 19 times more for snowboarding, 25 times more likely for cheerleading or bicycling, 34 times more for soccer or skateboarding and 105 times for likely for tackle football.

But news being what news is, every safe, uneventful conduct by anyone participating in their choice of outdoor sport or recreation is not a news headline. Example: Hunters in 2011 went afield 16.3 million times. Of that total, there were nationally 8,122 injuries. Firearms were just one-half of one percent of unintentional fatalities in the USA. Can you imagine a news story headline that reads: " 16, 291,878 hunters went afield in 2011 and were incident free." Another example: Water-related recreation of swimming, boating, fishing, skiing are undertaken by huge numbers of people each year. If common sense and safety are high on the list, no problems are likely to result, therefore no headlines. But when the water of any stream, river, pond, lake or ocean takes a life, the incident is instant news. I realize that is how news works. It is the unusual event, the accident or injury, or death that makes a headline. It is not the safe conduct of the sport that makes headlines. Our safety in the outdoors is our responsibility.


The Marshall County Conservation Board has made a display for the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm entitled "Tallgrass Prairie: Past, Present and Future". It will be ready on July 21 and run through September 11. To help celebrate the tallgrass prairie heritage of the Midwest and Iowa, an open house will be held on Saturday, July 21 from 9 a.m. until noon. Local prairie enthusiasts and seed grower Carl Kurtz of St. Anthony will lead a prairie hike at 10 a.m. Be there and learn more about the landscape of Iowa's native grasslands. Diane Hall, naturalist, has also started a program called Prairie Passport. Participants get the passport stamped for visits to various prairies in the four corners of Marshall County. Each excursion will compel people to get outside and into the prairies to enjoy, learn and feel the rich tapestry of this natural plant community. Be there for the fun of it.



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