Wildlife Diversity

We asked fellow Iowans who have experience in the fields of natural resources, either as professionals or amateurs, to contribute an essay related to one of the main Iowa Master Conservationist Program topics. The following essay was contributed by Doug Harr, Wildlife Diversity Program Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Doug has spent many years as a professional wildlife biologist managing Iowa's wildlife diversity.

The Importance of Wildlife Diversity to Iowa’s Economy

There’s little doubt that ring-necked pheasants, white-tailed deer, walleye and large-mouthed bass contribute to Iowa’s economy. Hunters and anglers purchase supplies and gasoline, travel to their favorite hunting of fishing sites, stay at motels or campgrounds and eat at cafes or restaurants—all amounting to millions of dollars of in-state expenditures.

Unrecognized until the past few years, however, is the economic contribution of all the wildlife in Iowa not considered game or sport fish. In fact, the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation indicates that wildlife viewing contributes approximately $304 million dollars annually to Iowa’s economy—actually exceeding the $296 million brought in by hunting. The biggest portion is due to a phenomenal growth in bird watching, or “birding”, in the past three decades, a pastime that today is bigger than golf in the United States. The growth in birding has led to new interests in viewing other kinds of wildlife, from large and small mammals to butterflies and dragonflies.

All this speaks to the necessity for preserving as wide a diversity of wildlife as possible. The Iowa Wildlife Action Plan (Iowa DNR, 2005 - see the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan here) identifies nearly a thousand species of vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife, including all the state’s birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, freshwater mussels, plus at least some varieties of land snails.

Certainly, a primary mission of agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the state’s 99 county conservation boards must be the conservation of all this incredible diversity of wildlife. But conservation of wildlife does not rest solely upon the backs of these conservation agencies; rather, it should be a concern for every citizen of a state in which so many of our natural resources were long ago lost on the journey to Iowa’s becoming perhaps the nation’s most important agricultural producer.

Through many nature centers operated by our county conservation boards, through new “birding trails” being established across Iowa, through the high-visibility efforts to re-establish trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, osprey, river otters and other creatures that had nearly or completely disappeared, citizens again have the opportunity to see and enjoy the incredible diversity and beauty that wildlife brings to our landscape. This brings along a greater citizen commitment to conservation.

As is happening all across the nation, Iowa’s demography continues shifting from a rural to an urban populace. Though not expected to die out, hunting and fishing inevitably will decrease in their percentage of contribution to our economy as the number of hunters and anglers--usually associated with a rural background--continues to dwindle. But even urban residents will still need to experience and enjoy the outdoors, and keeping a healthy and thriving diversity of many different wild creatures will assure those needs might be fulfilled. As more citizens take advantage of this diversity, they will need places to go and equipment to see, photograph and enjoy that wildlife, the importance of their expenditures to Iowa’s economy is bound to rise.