Because Iowa is home to many intricately connected ecosystems, wildlife management is an important component in protecting our natural resources. Learn about natural resource management and Iowa-specific projects in this section.
Iowa-Relevant Project WILD Activities
Activities with supplemental information are linked below.
|Back from the Brink
(3-5, 6-8, 9-12)
|Checks and Balances
|Dropping in on Deer
|Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
|Let’s Talk Turkey
|Limiting Factors: How Many Bears (Coyotes)?
(3-5, 6-8, 9-12)
|Pay to Play
|Quick Frozen Critters
|To Zone or Not to Zone
|Wildlife and the Environment: Community Survey
What is Wildlife Management?
Anything done to help wildlife can be called wildlife management, but a formal definition is the application of scientific knowledge and technical skills to protect, conserve, limit, enhance, or create wildlife habitat. Wildlife management also includes implementing laws regulating the use, kinds, and amounts of wildlife people can harvest. Laws that protect existing habitat are also wildlife management tools.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR): Iowa’s Wildlife – Brief information about the Iowa DNR’s conservation initiatives including species, habitats, and ecosystems in Iowa.
Habitat and Carrying Capacity
The abundance of all wildlife is directly related to the amount, quality, and availability of wildlife habitat. As a wildlife population increases, it uses more resources. No limited-size area of land can provide an inexhaustible supply of habitat for an ever-increasing number of animals. One area can support only a limited number of animals using similar resources.
- Iowa Hunter Education: Carrying Capacity – Brief information about carrying capacity and limiting factors of wildlife populations.
Many factors contribute to the death of wild animals and reduce wildlife populations. Mortality factors (causes of death) are related to climate, diseases, parasites, starvation, weather, predation, and hunting. They usually affect the overflow, or surplus, animals. It is normal for a certain number of animals to die each year. If the habitat remains healthy, wildlife will make up for the loss of individual animals by producing more young. Mortality factors help balance wildlife populations with their habitat.
- Iowa DNR: Deer Hunting in Iowa – Iowa’s deer hunting regulations as well as the deer management plan.
- Iowa Hunter Education: The Hunter’s Role in Wildlife Conservation – Information on the hunter’s role in wildlife management.
Forms of Wildlife Management
Wildlife management techniques are used to increase, maintain, or reduce wildlife populations.
Habitat Restoration and Management
Habitat restoration/management is a primary tool wildlife biologists use to manage, protect, and enhance wildlife populations.
- National Wildlife Federation (NWF): Creating and Restoring Wildlife Habitat – List of several programs for individuals to create/restore wildlife habitat.
- US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS): Habitat Restoration – Overview of USFWS programs.
- Iowa DNR: Wildlife Management Areas – Wildlife management area (WMA) information and locations and an interactive map of Iowa’s hunting areas.
- Iowa DNR: Iowa Wildlife Action Plan – First approved in 2006, the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan (IWAP) is a 25-year strategy for conservation of all wildlife in Iowa. The IWAP is a proactive plan designed to conserve all wildlife in Iowa before they become rare and more costly to protect.
- Restoring Iowa Wetlands – Managing Iowa Habitats – This publication (opens as a pdf) can assist landowners in the identification, restoration, and management of shallow-water wetlands similar to those once scattered across Iowa’s countryside.
- Iowa State University Extension: Restoring Iowa’s Wetlands – This publication can assist landowners in the identification, restoration, and management of shallow-water wetlands similar to those once scattered across Iowa’s countryside.
- Iowa State University Extension: Restoring Iowa’s Prairies – With increasing awareness of the valuable role prairies play in the natural world, prairie communities throughout the Midwest are being identified, protected, and restored. This publication is to assist landowners interested in prairie restoration.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Wildlife – A Minnesota DNR publication about food plots.
- Iowa DNR: Wildlife Landowner Assistance – Private land efforts help to reestablish habitat.
Management goals are dictated by the success or failure of rearing young. Changes in weather conditions over several years can have severe impacts on wildlife populations. Adjusting the harvest may be the best way to maintain certain game populations.
- Iowa DNR: Hunting – Information about controlled hunts, an effective solution for maintain a white-tailed deer population.
- Texas Parks and Wildlife: White-tailed Deer – An explanation of the buck:doe deer harvest ratio, another example of maintaining a healthy deer population.
Endangered Species Management
Endangered or threatened species require intensive management. Critical habitat and locations of existing populations must be identified so they can be managed successfully. Numbers of individuals and survival rates in existing populations are tracked. Specific habitat types may be created. Existing areas where endangered species are found are protected and/or managed.
- Iowa DNR: Conservation – Lists of Iowa’s threatened and endangered species available to download as pdf, as well as definitions of both.
Another wildlife management goal may be to re-establish species in suitable habitat. Eastern wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, peregrine falcons, barn owls, river otters, beaver, sharp-tailed grouse, giant Canada geese, greater prairie chickens, sandhill cranes, and trumpeter swans once were extirpated (entirely gone from Iowa) due to loss of habitat, unregulated hunting, and/or persistent pesticides in the environment. They are found in the state once again as a result of Iowa DNR reintroduction programs and management efforts.
Native Species Reintroduction Success Stories
Iowa DNR began reintroduction program in the 1960s. These are directed through the Wildlife Bureau. Most programs have been very successful. Biologists consider several factors before initiating a reintroduction effort: availability of appropriate habitat, concerns the public may have, availability of genetically suitable individuals of the species to be reintroduced, and much more, depending on the situation.
- Iowa DNR: Wildlife Species Restoration – Information regarding the peregrine falcon, osprey, trumpeter swan, and greater prairie chicken restoration projects.
Conservation and Preservation
Wildlife conservation and preservation help ensure future generations can enjoy our resources.
- Iowa Hunter Education: Conservation and Preservation – Definitions of conservation and preservation and how they work together to protect wildlife..
- United States Forest Service (FS): Conservation versus Preservation – A United States Forest Service blog about the difference between conservation and preservation and how they work together to protect natural resources.
- Nature Conservancy: Places We Protect – Search by zip code for Nature Conservancy areas in Iowa
- Iowa DNR: State Preserves – Preserves managed by the Iowa DNR.
Monitoring Wildlife Populations
The Iowa DNR is legally charged with responsibility for the protection, enhancement, management, and preservation of Iowa’s wildlife resources. Wildlife biologists use many techniques to monitor wildlife and gather information that helps determine wildlife management policies and practices. Similar wildlife management systems and techniques are used across North America. Biologists attempt to standardize information-gathering techniques so data can be shared and compared with other agencies.
- Iowa Odonata Survey: Inventorying Iowa’s Wildlife Populations – Information about population monitoring.
- Iowa DNR: Population & Harvest Trends – Information about Iowa’s trends in wildlife populations and harvest.
- Iowa DNR: Bowhunter Observation Survey – The Bowhunter Observation Survey is an annual survey conducted by the Iowa DNR to obtain information on deer, turkeys, and selected furbearers.
- Aerial Deer Surveys – Iowa PBS: Iowa Outdoors rides along with Iowa DNR deer biologists as they explain this survey.
August Roadside Survey
Roadside surveys are used to monitor population trends of small game animals.
- Iowa DNR: Pheasant & Small Game – Information about the August roadside survey and the most recent year’s results.
Harvest surveys are used to determine the number and types of wildlife hunted and harvested each year.
- Iowa DNR: Hunting – All successful deer and turkey hunters must report each deer and/or turkey they harvest. Information about how to report can be found here.
The Iowa DNR has the challenging task of managing over 1,000 species of wildlife. It would be impossible for the wildlife diversity staff to spend the amount of time needed to monitor all these species. Volunteers are essential in keeping track of our state’s diverse collection of animals.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Volunteer Monitoring – Volunteers collect data of a few important and sensitive groups of wildlife: Bald Eagles, Osprey, Peregrine Falcons, frogs, toads, and bats. Information about the surveys can be found here as well as how to become a volunteer.
- National Audubon Society: Christmas Bird Counts – The nation’s longest-running citizen science bird project.
- National Audubon Society: Christmas Bird Count History – History of the Christmas Bird Count.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Project FeederWatch – FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. Learn more about the program and how to get involved.
Wildlife research involves scientific study of animal species. This could include the effects of habitat fragmentation and degradation of Neotropcial migrant birds, endangered animals, radio telemetry, and more. Research also includes monitoring demographics and opinions. Iowans’ attitudes and opinions impact our wildlife management programs. Public opinion may affect laws passed by the Legislature, which in turn, may greatly impact Iowa’s wildlife.
Wildlife Research Projects
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Wildlife Status Reports – Wildlife research, either conducted by DNR research staff or about Iowa’s wildlife will be continually updated here. Topic areas align with the specialties of the wildlife research stations across Iowa.
- Cooperative Research Unit: Research – Past and present research projects of the Cooperative Research Unit (partnership among the US Geological Survey, Iowa DNR, Iowa State University, and the Wildlife Management Institute).
It is illegal to harm, harass, possess, or kill most wildlife species. Federal and state laws protect them. Bird nests, feathers, and eggs are also protected. Endangered or threatened mammals and those in taxonomic families that include game animals have legal protection. This means most moles, pocket gophers, and mice are not protected, but chipmunks and ground squirrels (both belonging to the squirrel family) are.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act – Information about birds that are protected under the MBTA and those that are not covered.
- Iowa DNR: Hunting Licenses & Laws – This is not a complete set of hunting, fishing, and trapping laws but contains the information you are most likely to need to safely participate in these outdoor activities.
- Iowa DNR: News Releases – 6 animals you might not know are protected.
People purchase land to enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, hunting, viewing wildlife, or prairie restoration. Current farm programs (traditionally oriented to saving soil) now include wildlife and habitat conservation/enhancement as important objectives. Iowa DNR and private businesses have biologists who help landowners design management plans that help them reach their wildlife goals on their land. They also help locate funding assistance to implement these plans.
Many things can be done to increase wildlife populations. Landscaping, nest boxes, and reintroduction programs for some of Iowa’s native species have been very beneficial for all of Iowa’s wildlife.
- Ducks Unlimited: Wood Duck Boxes – The need for wood duck boxes and plans to make your own.
- National Audubon Society: Welcome Bluebirds with Nestboxes – Bluebird nest box plans and placement information.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: NestWatch – Birdhouses for many different types of birds.
- National Wildlife Federation: Garden for Wildlife – Bat box plans.
- The Owl Pages: Owl Nest Box Resources – Nest box links for different species of owls.
- National Wildlife Federation: Schoolyard Habitats – Complete guide for assessing and improving wildlife habitat on your school grounds.
- USFWS: Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide – Comprehensive guide (PDF) to developing habitat on school yards.
- National Wildlife Federation: Garden for Wildlife – Creating and certifying wildlife habitat in your own backyard.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: Native Plants – Resources for people interested in learning more about how to use native plants for small-scale landscaping or gardening.
Future of Wildlife Management
Wildlife management involves political, social, and biological factors. Iowa DNR biologists must monitor wildlife through surveys and research to effectively manage all wildlife species. Citizens also play an important role in wildlife management by supporting conservation programs and legislation and creating wildlife habitat. Wildlife management has restored wildlife populations, including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, otters, peregrine falcons, and more. Additional wildlife species will benefit from future management efforts.
- Iowa DNR: Iowa Wildlife Action Plan – The plan’s vision for Iowa’s wildlife in 2030.
- USFWS: Conserving the Future – An outlook on the future of successful wildlife management (pdf).