Extinct, extirpated? What’s the difference?

Occasionally individuals of certain species of wildlife not common to Iowa are seen in the state. Such is the case of a Black Bear that wandered into the central part of Iowa recently. Questions are asked, why does this happen, do they belong here and so on. To partially explain why animals wander out of their occupied range, at least here in Iowa, it is best to understand their natural history and biology. In the case of the recent bear sighting, it was most likely a young male that was confronted by more dominant bears and was forced out of the area it originated. Typically this happens when the population in an area grows causing individuals to become over populated and the carrying capacity of that habitat is exceeded and the animals are forced to go elsewhere. This is also the likely scenario for Mountain Lion sightings over the last few years in Iowa. There was also a relatively recent Elk sighting in Marshall County that occurred about 20 years ago. On a natural history timeline and to these animals, they are where they belong. European settlement of Iowa is only 200 or so years old and most species found in Iowa then are still here now. Some species however no longer seen in Iowa have become extinct, others have only been extirpated. Many reasons have caused these extinction or extirpations. Habitat loss is the primary culprit for most population declines and for some overharvest before hunting laws were enacted.

Extinction is a word most people are familiar with and means the last of a species died. Such is the case of a couple of bird species that people today have no concept of understanding let alone existed at all in Iowa. Imagine a wild native species of parrot in Iowa. Carolina Parakeets once lived and bred in Iowa prior to settlement. They held the most northern-range of any parrot in the world. Their disappearance occurred so quickly that the major reason was unknown but is speculated that new world parrot species were very susceptible to domestic poultry diseases.

Passenger Pigeons in Iowa are a species people today cannot comprehend in different ways. First, just the idea of seeing an individual of the species, aside from a museum specimen, let alone the numbers in which they were found. This extinct species was once thought to be the most numerous bird species in the world. One flock was estimated to number over 2 billion individuals. The Passenger Pigeon is a species that was once a major food source for people of all facets of life after the Civil Was in the United States. In 1863 the birds were shot and packed in barrels by the millions and by 1892 people saw that their total extermination was foreseen. The last recorded wild bird shot being shot was recorded April 1902.

Other species of wildlife extirpated from the boundaries of Iowa yet still thrive on other regions include the American Bison, Elk, and Prairie chickens. Some species found in Iowa at the time of settlement but were eliminated for a period of time have either been reintroduced or have expanded their range back into Iowa. Giant Canada Geese, Wild Turkey, White-tailed Deer, Sandhill Cranes and Wood Ducks, are a few of these species. Some of these species have gone from bust to boom and is some instances are considered pests. Older generations remember the landscape without these species. Younger generations do not know Iowa without them.

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Those planning to hunt in Iowa next fall and have not completed the Iowa DNR are reminded there is a course schedule in Marshall County for May 18. Anyone wanting to hunt in Iowa born after Jan. 1, 1972 must complete this course to be certified. Register for this course at www.iowadnr.gov. Preparing for fall now will prevent having to worry about getting certified when hunting seasons are opening.

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The Marshall County Conservation Board is accepting registrations for summer camps with deadlines for some on May 31. For more information on these camps and other programming offered by the MCCB please visit www.co,marshall.ia.us or on the MCCB Facebook page.

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Spring is the time when baby animals may be encountered. What may seem a lost or abandon animal is most likely just a time when the mother is taking a break from brooding duties. Unless you actually see the mother dead the best thing to do is leave the baby animal alone. The parent will return in time and take charge again of what is natural.


Mike Stegmann is the director of the Marshall County Conservation Board.