AMES, Iowa --- Rebecca Christoffel enjoys setting up interactions between humans and wildlife, and studying the human response to those interactions. For people who have had little or only indirect contact with wildlife, these encounters are often the first step to nurturing an appreciation for natural resource conservation, according to Christoffel. As the new Iowa State University Extension wildlife specialist, she plans to introduce more Iowans to this natural resource.
In fact, she isn’t timid about sharing her program snakes and turtles with an audience when she is asked to speak. “I’m fond of introducing less well-known and less appreciated wildlife such as reptiles, amphibians and bats,” she said. “People judge them based on indirect, sensationalized information. And there is so much inaccuracy in that information. The majority of people have little or no experiences with snakes or bats, yet they fear them and want to destroy them.”
Appreciating the 'Unhuggables'
In a controlled situation where people can have contact with a snake, either from across the room or up close, Christoffel says they are more likely to begin to appreciate the benefits of the reptile. “Snakes are valuable and an important piece to their respective ecosystems,” she said. “They’re important in managing rodent and insect populations, and there are many ailments that can be treated by derivatives from snake venoms. To put it in Iowa terms, one bull snake on a farm can eat enough rodents to save more than $400 of grain during the active season.”
In the four months that she has been on the job at ISU, Christoffel has started acquainting herself with the two ISU Extension programs that she will manage – Iowa Master Conservationist and Iowa NatureMapping – and the partners involved with both programs. “I’m reviewing how the programs are offered and the expectations of our partners as we move forward,” Christoffel said. “I see Master Conservationist as an introductory training that gives interested citizens the tools to engage natural resource management. NatureMapping provides a further step in training and gives individuals the ability to assist in research programs when we need data collected from outlying areas of the state.”
She also wants to educate Iowans about bats – especially with the growing number of Iowa vineyards where bats have the potential to help manage pests. As a wildlife outreach specialist in Wisconsin, part of her programming focused on “unhuggable” wildlife – like bats. “I would love to know more about any Iowa research that is being done on bats, particularly related to integrated pest management,” she said. And to emphasize a crop perspective she asks, “Did you know that bats eat corn root worm?”
Sharing the Backyard with Wildlife
Urban dwellers and urbanites moving to rural areas are included in her plans for extension programs in Iowa. “There is much people need to know about sharing their backyard with wildlife; city dwellers have many opportunities to be responsible, good stewards of wild creatures,” she said. “There also is a need for ISU Extension to help people moving from the city to acreages be better informed – to keep their families, pets and livestock safe while being respectful of native wildlife. We need to help them see the benefits of providing habitat for wildlife.”
Extension Natural Resource Ecology and Management Team
Christoffel joins Jesse Randall, forestry, and Rich Clayton, fisheries and aquaculture, as a specialist on the ISU Extension natural resource ecology and management team. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.