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NatureMapping Program

Introduction to Iowa NatureMapping

NatureMapping Presentation - view the slide show (requires Flash Player - click here) - Mac users, Safari is the preferred browser for use with Flash Player.

Formation of the NatureMapping Program

In 1998, Jim Pease, Ph.D., Iowa State University Extension Wildlife Specialist, and one of his graduate students were looking for ways to sample widespread wildlife populations, particularly freshwater mussels. At about the same time, they learned of a relatively new  volunteer wildlife monitoring program in Washington State, called NatureMapping.  In 1999, Jim and his student hosted the first such training in Iowa, and thus the Iowa NatureMapping began.

Why NatureMapping is Important for Iowa

There are not enough resources to conduct a paid inventory of all the nation’s flora and fauna. Long-term monitoring projects are scarce. However, it is without refute that children (and you) know where to find snakes and frogs. Many can identify birds in their neighborhoods. Children’s unlimited curiosity and energy can be focused into educational and fun environmental projects. People like you observe wildlife every day. The range of interest and size of conservation groups is immense, from small grass-roots projects to international organizations. The public has a wealth of knowledge, wants to make a difference in their world, and is willing to assist natural resource professionals and land managers. Many professionals and managers have not wanted the public’s assistance, but that is changing.

Resource agencies are charged by citizens of the state to manage resources for a sustainable future. Resource agencies have the option of using regulation and education, but can rarely achieve their mission through regulation alone. Education can help meet the mission by educating and enabling citizens to participate in what a resource agency does. The NatureMapping Program can become a key to fulfilling the resource agencies’ education mission while meeting formal management plans.  Environmental education connects learners to the environment that sustains them, and prompts learners to choose their level of responsibility for our collective futures. In this light, environmental education does not exclude cultural and economic values that affect the environment.

Iowa NatureMapping is a dynamic, hands-on environmental education program. NatureMapping is about involving the public in “finding the pieces of the puzzle." For the program's first phase in Iowa, we focused on mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. In future years, we expect to add an aquatic module that includes mussels and fish, an insect module, which includes butterflies, and, eventually, a plant module. Some advanced modules have been developed in cooperation with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). These modules focus on more advanced techniques to monitor colonial-nesting birds, raptors, and amphibians. These advanced trainings are a part of the IDNR Wildlife Diversity Program's non-game volunteer monitoring program. All are relevant to the primary focus of the Iowa NatureMapping Program: Iowa’s Biodiversity. We want to keep Iowa’s common species common.

Individuals, schools, and other community groups can participate. Individuals can provide much needed data by recording wildlife observations around their home, when hiking, watching their feeders, or other wildlife-related activities. School participation can vary depending on the size and scope of the projects they choose. NatureMapping can fulfill a valuable service to their community as well as engage students in a relevant project of data collection and analysis. Communities may wish to preserve or restore sites: their biodiversity report card is the beginning framework on which to construct their long-term plans. Mapping biodiversity is an important early step towards progressive community planning. Everyone is encouraged to become involved.

NatureMapping is a way that we can find out more about the animals and plants with whom we share this Earth. It is a way of finding out "who's out there" and where they live. Together with the other parts of the U.S. Geological Survey's Gap Analysis Program (GAP), NatureMapping can help us keep common species common. Using GIS satellite images of land cover, GAP and NatureMapping help us to map where species are and speculate why. For teachers and community leaders, this information can help develop critical thinking and analysis and intelligent community planning. NatureMapping can help fill many gaps in knowledge and understanding.

NatureMapping works by:

  • Individuals receive the basic Level I NatureMapping training in a one-day hands-on workshop;
  • These trained volunteers engage others (schools, businesses, community groups, family members, etc.) to plan and conduct a monitoring project;
  • The projects can involve monitoring any wildlife species or group on a variety of sized areas, of the volunteer's choosing, for any length of time and frequency;
  • Following the protocols for that species or group of species, the individual and/or group decides how and for how long to monitor the animals;
  • On a regular basis, the trained individual submits data forms to NatureMapping headquarters at Iowa State University via the Internet at;
  • Using the Iowa NatureMapping web page, individuals and groups can view and analyze their data along with that of others on a variety of formats (in development).

Financial Support

Funding for Iowa NatureMapping is acquired by Iowa State University Extension (ISUE) from various grants and donations, which are applied for and received annually by the Iowa NatureMapping staff. If you would like to donate financially to the Iowa NatureMapping Program, please contact us.

The Iowa NatureMapping Program is a collaborative effort with assistance from various groups. Those groups represented on the Iowa NatureMapping Steering Committee include:

• Iowa State University Extension (Wildlife and Forestry)
• IDNR Wildlife Diversity Program
• IDNR Aquatic Education Program
• Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
• County Conservation Boards
• Iowa Conservation Education Council
• Iowa Audubon
• Waldorf College, Biology Department
• Iowa Environmental Council

More groups are welcome! Contact the Iowa NatureMapping Program to learn if your group is the right fit for the Iowa NatureMapping Program.