Extension News

Citizens Can be Key Partners in Iowa NatureMapping


By Jason O'Brien
Interim Wildlife Specialist
Iowa State University Extension

AMES, Iowa -- What do an American robin, a bull snake, a tiger salamander, and a white-tailed jackrabbit have in common? Sure, they’re all native Iowa species, all vertebrates and all invoke a sense of wildness in our minds, but there’s more to it than this. It’s the job of the Iowa NatureMapping program to shed light on their commonality.

NatureMapping, an Iowa State University Extension wildlife program begun in 1999, is a citizen-based monitoring program designed to collect and map location and habitat data for Iowa’s common wildlife species, namely birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The aim is to recruit interested and knowledgeable individuals and citizen groups to assist in documenting distribution of these species. Iowa has nearly 500 individual species of terrestrial vertebrates. Scientists and wildlife managers need our help telling them what we see and where we see it.

It may seem unlikely that these professionals need the assistance of the general public, but the truth is this basic information, the “where,” is critical if species are to be intelligently managed and viable populations maintained in the locations where they live.

Very little is known of the present-day whereabouts of most Iowa species. Much has changed on the landscape since Iowa statehood, and most changes in wildlife distribution have gone undocumented. Additionally, with limited professional wildlife biologists and dwindling local, state and federal budgets, citizens become key partners to fill in these gaps of knowledge.

Hunters, hikers, canoeists, campers, bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts, farmers, business persons and other outdoor sport and recreation-minded individuals can help map Iowa’s wildlife. These individuals become volunteer wildlife monitors by attending a one-day workshop of training in the basics of wildlife monitoring. In the decade since the program started,

NatureMappers have kept track of wildlife abundance, locations and habitats, and have collected more than 73,000 observations throughout the state, representing more than 360 different species of wildlife. This is a tremendous accomplishment considering that most of this data is done selflessly by individuals on their free time. NatureMappers ought to be proud of their efforts and know they are giving Iowa a lasting legacy for improved wildlife management.

The value of NatureMapping is the potential it has to affect local management decisions.
While as a whole, NatureMappers provide a better idea of the statewide distributions of species, it is the ability of the volunteers to document wildlife in their own communities that generates the most interest in people. Local land use decisions often have significant impacts on a whole species, especially those with very narrow habitat needs. If the community is aware of the potential impacts, via NatureMapping data, then there is a better chance decisions can be made to minimize negative consequences.

To assist in this local decision making, the Iowa NatureMapping program is nearing completion on an interactive web site that will allow access to wildlife information at www.extension.iastate.edu/naturemapping. Wildlife data is often missing from land use planning efforts, but this web site will allow people access to the data in an easy to understand format with other information, such as rivers, watershed and public land boundaries, and up-to-date aerial photos of the ground.

The goal is to provide this data to individuals and communities who want and need it to make decisions. The NatureMapping data will be accessible at various levels of detail. The general public will be able to learn more about the wildlife in their communities, recreationists will be able to find out what species are in their favorite wild places, educators will be able to teach their students about local wildlife resources using real information not found in textbooks, and wildlife managers will be able to access the entire database for many of their habitat and species management projects.

Conservation-minded citizens have a wealth of knowledge about local wildlife populations, and can add their knowledge to NatureMapping efforts. For more information about NatureMapping, please visit the web site.

This article is from the May 2009 issue of Acreage Living.
Other articles in this month’s issue—
Spring is a Good Time to Test Well Water
Brush Management for Acreage Owners


Contacts :

Jason O'Brien, Natural Resources Ecology & Management, (515) 294-6440, jpobrien@iastate.edu

Lynette Spicer, Extension Communications, (515) 294-1327, lspicer@iastate.edu