WILDLIFE populations of all species ebb and flow, up or down, all driven by a host of factors. Each year is different. Weather from one winter to another, and each season in between, shuffles back and forth with spring rains too little or too much. Summers we know will be hot and dry. Fall brings cooler weather and usually more precipitation. Then we slowly and surely must prepare for another winter.
Wildlife goes about its yearly life cycles well adapted to most of the weather related factors that influence them. With adequate cover to escape into and to nest in, weather events become more tolerable. That is how Pheasant Forever food plots in conjunction with long term shrub and tree cover make the difference for birds, especially pheasants. Pheasants are still holding on but their numbers reflect the reality of declining habitat on the ground added to the problems long wet spring rains can bring. In 2013, the April and May rains brought at least 15 inches of rain to Iowa. This was at least twice as much as "normal." It was bound to have a negative effect on upland game birds. It did.
There is no escaping another reality. The pressure society puts upon the land to produce crops is huge. In Iowa, 53 percent of farmland is rented. That means that the farmer is pressed to produce in order to meet financial obligations. It seems that every acre possible is growing a commodity crop. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) enrolled acres have decreased significantly. For Iowa, if all past or lost CRP grasslands could be combined into one package, it would be represented by a strip of land 8 miles wide stretching from the Mississippi River the Missouri River. Those grassland acres at one time supported lots of pheasants and other wildlife. This happened at a time when commodity prices were low and land values were also much lower. CRP enrollments in the 1980s and early 90s worked under those conditions. Not so today.
T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG
Outstanding in her prairie, a doe deer and her fawn use big bluestem prairie grasses as her cover at the Green Castle Recreation Area near Ferguson. Of all the recent DNR wildlife fall population surveys completed, deer numbers are steady and very much in line with management goals. Not so for pheasants for instance, where only six birds per route were counted. Rabbit numbers are up slightly. A long overly wet spring rainy season was a huge factor contributing to low pheasant chick reproduction and survival.
Time changes faster than CRP programs can adjust. If land prices go up, in reaction to corn and bean prices going higher, then CRP takes a back seat quickly. Contracts are allowed to expire. Former grasslands are not grasslands anymore. With any long term meaningful conservation programs tied closely to the federal farm bill, a lack of progress on a new farm bill means that existing CRP programs are lost in the dust of government inaction. This is not a nice scenario to have to live with. But it is the reality of the times.
What is needed is a basic standard of care that goes beyond just owning land. A hard look at the most risky practices will have to be one consideration for some types of land uses not allowed on an agricultural landscape. Flexible conservation programs that can more quickly adjust to the times would be nice too. Add in innovative volunteer programs and partnerships with private wildlife organizations such as Pheasants Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation and others, then maybe, just maybe, the future survival of our wildlife heritage can be offered a steady playing field throughout our landscape. If wildlife is to have a chance to make it, they will need our help. That help means that conservation programs must not take a disproportional cut in the slash and burn philosophy within the federal budget's farm program negotiations currently underway in Washington, D.C.
The Pittman Robertson ACT celebrated its 76th anniversary this week. This is federal legislation goes by another more useful name, Wildlife Restoration Aid. Sportsmen and women lobbied for the law. By volunteering to pay additional taxes on sporting arms and ammunition at the rate of 11 percent, the financial resources it produced have been a backbone of cooperative efforts with all state wildlife agencies for fisheries and wildlife research and management. Since its beginning, this program has brought $2 billion to the investment in conservation. Even today, every purchase of a gun, its ammo, archery equipment and sport fishing tackle related items adds to the ability of state DNR's across the land to implement wildlife and fisheries programs for the improvement of our outdoor heritage.
Also long ago, during the first two decades of the 20th century, sportsmen from the United States and Canada developed a set of guiding principles for managing wildlife resources. Called the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, these seven principles provide the foundation for the success of fish and wildlife conservation in North America. There are seven points in this model. Here they are: One Wildlife is public property. The government holds wildlife in trust for the benefit of all people. Two Wildlife cannot be slaughter for commercial use. This policy eliminates trafficking in dead game animals. Three Wildlife is allocated by law. Every citizen in good standing regardless of wealth, social standing or land ownership and is allowed to participate in the harvest of fish and wildlife within guidelines set by lawmakers. Four Wildlife shall be taken by legal and ethical means, in the spirit of "fair chase," and with good cause. Animals can be killed for legitimate purposes such as for food and fur, in self defense, or for protection of property. Fifth Wildlife is an international resource. As such, hunting and fishing shall be managed cooperatively across state and province boundaries. Sixth Wildlife management, use, and conservation shall be based on sound scientific knowledge and principles. Lastly the seventh tenet states that hunting, fishing and trapping shall be democratic. This gives all persons - rich and poor alike - the opportunity to participate.
YOUTH FISHING at Green Castle is today from 9 a.m. until noon. Kids ages 15 or less are encouraged to try their hand at catching a finny critter. Very low water levels at Green Castle are part of a planned lake renovation process. Undesirable fish species have taken over the population. A complete kill of all remaining fish will be forthcoming later this month. Prior to that, relaxed fishing regulations are in effect. Take as many fish as one can with almost any means of doing so. Prizes will be given to youth for the smallest, largest and the most fish caught. Random drawings will also be held. Check it out. And while at Green Castle, look at the shoreline renovations taking place. Take note of these structures for the time when normal water levels are brought back in a future year.
Do you want to help capture and tag MONARCH BUTTERFLIES? Then be at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday for a butterfly roundup. Monarchs are migrating, making their way to the highland mountains of Mexico to spend the winter. Special tags placed on their wings now will tell where and when the butterfly was tagged. It may be found in Mexico this winter by researchers. It is fun to participate. Give this wildlife venue your time and interest. Thanks.
Look for the new PHOTO DISPLAY at the Conservation Center this month. This scribe's photo collection of wildlife and outdoor scenes is now available for viewing. I have a few images from Africa but most images were made locally of things that interested me. I hope they will interest you. Check them out during your next visit to the Conservation Center.
"Always smile. It makes people wonder what you're up to." -Mark Twain
Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.