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Iowa Citizens Playing Key Role in Tracking Imperiled Wildlife

Peering through binoculars, a citizen scientist is watching a huge nest in a tree that is home to two bald eagles and their young, or are there three young in that nest?  Hard to tell and a follow up visit will be needed; in the meantime, notes are taken and a peaceful hour is spent watching one of the most spectacular birds in North America. 

Every year, all across Iowa, citizen scientists make enormous contributions to wildlife conservation.  They are part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program (VWMP) which trains wildlife enthusiasts to observe and collect data on bald eagle nests, among other things. 

“Citizen scientists play a crucial role helping the DNR to monitor all the vulnerable species in Iowa,” said Stephanie Shepherd, wildlife diversity biologist and program coordinator for the DNR.

Every March and April, Shepherd travels around the state to lead training workshops that prepare attendees to collect data on some of Iowa’s critical wildlife. 

In 2015, trained volunteer monitor’s submitted data on 163 bald eagle territories from around the state.  Observations of nesting started in March and wrapped up June.  Across three visits to each nest, citizen scientists collected information on their assigned nest’s activity; how many young were produced and how many of those young successfully fledged from the nest. 

“This data collection requires lots of patience and some good optics in order to watch the nest from a distance and not disturb the birds,” said Shepherd. 

Volunteers also collected data on osprey and peregrine falcons, two species of raptor which have only been recently restored to Iowa. While not as widespread as eagles, volunteers were able to gather information on 14 nest sites. 

“The Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program provides an opportunity for adults who love the outdoors and wildlife to be directly involved with the conservation and monitoring of Iowa’s resources. The work done is crucial to the well-being of these species,” she said.  

Registrations are now being accepted for the 2016 workshops.  This year Sac, Clayton and Wayne County Conservation Boards are partnering with the DNR to host the workshops. Trainings will be held on three Saturdays in March: near Elkader on March 5, near Allerton on March 12 and near Sac City on March 19.  For more information visit: http://www.iowadnr.com/volunteerwildlifemonitoring/ or or e-mail vwmp@dnr.iowa.gov . 

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