Wild Iowa: Awareness, Appreciation, and Action
Wild Iowa highlights UI Recreational Services' outdoors programs including the Iowa Raptor Project, School of the Wild, Wildlife Camps, and savanna restoration at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area. Iowa is arguably one of the least "wild" states due to the loss of native habitats, but the UI's outdoors programs work to awaken Iowans to the importance of our native habitats through research, educational programs, and the savanna restoration project.
These education and research programs all focus on habitat and the importance of habitats and ecosystems to the well-being of our environment and the people and animals that live there.
What is a Habitat?
A habitat is the environment where an organism makes its home. Plants, animals, and even humans choose habitats to meet their basic needs for air, water, food, shelter, and space. If the habitat changes and no longer works for the species, they adapt or move on.
Habitats change over time, either gradually or quickly. Both natural changes and human activities impact habitats. Since the mid-1800s, Iowa has lost much of its native habitat:
|Prairies||Iowa has lost 99.9% of its prairies since the time of European settlement. Remaining Iowa prairies are so few and so small that many species of prairie wildlife are endangered. Tallgrass prairie once covered parts of 14 states in the Midwest, including about 80% of Iowa.|
|Wetlands||Iowa has lost 95% of its wetlands since the time of European settlement. The Prairie Pothole Region makes up just 10% of North America’s waterfowl breeding habitat, but produces 50% of the continent’s ducks in an average year.|
|Woodlands||Iowa has lost more than 50% of its original forest since the time of European settlement. Many creatures need tall trees, dead trees for food and shelter, and other woodland resources to survive.|
|Rivers and Streams||Animals, like humans, require clean fresh water to survive. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources uses data from a stream-monitoring network created in 1999 to provide objective measures of how the state's free-flowing waterways are faring. Analysis shows that from 2008 to 2011, water quality was rated "poor" or "very poor" in 60%of the 98 stream segments monitored by the Iowa Water Quality Index.|
Classroom Activities about Conservation
- Classroom resources from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (activities and lessons at bottom of page)
- Teachers Going Green by Keep Iowa Beautiful
- Habitats by National Geographic Kids
Iowa Raptor Project
The mission of the Iowa Raptor Project (IRP) is to connect students and community to the conservation of birds of prey and their natural habitats through research and education opportunities. IRP is a jointly sponsored program of University of Iowa Recreational Services and Kirkwood Community College. We achieve our goal to preserve raptor populations and habitats through educational experiences that awaken awareness, nurture appreciation and inspire action, as well as through field research on raptor nesting habitats, migration routes, and wintering grounds.
IRP is focusing on three aspects of Iowa raptor populations in order to assess habitat needs and population trends in our native raptors.
- Monitoring winter raptor populations and discerning habitat needs for wintering raptors.
- Monitoring nesting raptor populations and determining habitat needs through urban, suburban, rural landscapes.
- Monitoring migrating raptor populations through counts and banding projects.
- American Kestrel (Falco sparverius): American Kestrels are North America’s smallest falcon and range extensively throughout the Americas. Over the last century, their population has declined. Iowa Raptor Project staff are using student and citizen science-based research and monitoring efforts to better understand American Kestrel biology, conservation, and population decline. Learn more about the declines of American Kestrel populations.
- Barn Owl (Tyto alba): Due to conservation initiatives and citizen efforts, the barn owl is making a comeback in Iowa. They have been on the state's endangered species list since 1977. A 2017 article from the Gazette details this comeback and the conservation efforts behind it.
Classroom Activities about Raptors
- Activity books including coloring sheets, word finds, matching games, and more from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center
- Feathered Friends lessons from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Practice bird identification skills, explore your local habitat, develop STEM skills
- What is a Raptor? Elementary age lessons from Scholastic
School of the Wild
School of the Wild is a week-long nature experience that is attended by over 1200 students every year from the Iowa City Community School District. Its mission is to awaken an awareness of the wildlife and natural ecosystems in our area, develop an appreciation of the natural world, and encourage a balanced environmental ethic and caretaker attitude with respect for the earth.
University of Iowa Wildlife Camps take place at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area during spring, winter, and summer breaks, and during the summer at several state parks across Iowa. This mission of Wildlife Camps is to awaken an awareness and appreciation of the natural world in our campers, as well as to inspire campers to action through developing a sound “land ethic” (in the words of Aldo Leopold, a native Iowan).
Savanna Restoration at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area
Oak savanna is a type of fire-dependent habitat common in Iowa until the time of European settlement, then disappeared rapidly. Savannas are a transition zone between forests and prairies, and contain widely spaced trees including bur oak, white oak, and other species of oak and hickory. The understory has both sun-loving prairie plants and plants adapted to shade.
The Macbride Nature Recreation Area, in a partnership with the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, is restoring Iowa's oak savannas to what they were at the time of European settlement. This includes removing fire-intolerant trees that prevent prairie grasses and sedges from growing.
Resources on Savanna Restoration in Iowa
- The Iowa Bur Oak Savanna Project by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
- A newsletter article on Oak Savanna Restoration by the Iowa Chapter of the Wildlife Society
- The Southern Iowa Oak Savanna Alliance (SIOSA)
- A research article by the USDA Forest Service: Oak savanna restoration in central Iowa: Assessing indicators of forest health for ecological monitoring