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Iowa's Wildlife Diversity Program

The Iowa DNR's Wildlife Diversity Program (WDP) works to conserve the numerous nongame species found in Iowa, including shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, many small mammals and bats, most amphibians, reptiles, many small fish, butterflies, dragonflies and more. With over 1,100 species in Iowa, most of the species are not the traditional game or sport fish species that may first come to mind when talking about Iowa's fish and wildlife resources. Instead of deer, pheasants, walleye, ducks, catfish, turkeys, muskrats, and crappies, the Wildlife Diversity Program focuses on bald eagles, trumpeter swans, osprey, monarch butterflies, blanding's turtles, cricket frogs, little brown bats, and many more. 

Beginning in 1981 with a staff of two assigned to the Wildlife Bureau's research section, the Wildlife Diversity Program (first called the Living Resources Program) was created to serve the needs of this largely unrecognized wealth of wildlife. Early WDP efforts concentrated primarily upon restoring a few rare creatures, such as peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans, barn owls and river otters to Iowa's landscape, while also conducting various surveys for birds, frogs and toads, and other nongame species, along with public outreach and education. Funding was limited and relied mostly upon public contributions and the "Chickadee Checkoff" donation line on Iowa's state income tax forms. This small income stream allowed the program staff little room for growth, even though responsibilities mushroomed over the ensuing two decades.

Since 2001 Congress has provided annual appropriations to states in the form of "State Wildlife Grants" that may be used to target specific nongame research and management needs. These grants require a state or local match, which has been provided by numerous partners such as Iowa State University, Audubon, Pheasants Forever and many others. More recently, a portion of the annual income from the sale of Iowa's popular Natural Resource license plates has been dedicated to provide some of this match. These funding sources have added little to the WDP's annual operations budget, but have opened many new opportunities for increased program effectiveness. For example, they have been instrumental in protecting a large landscape of grasslands suitable to prairie chicken restoration in Ringgold County.

Today, the Wildlife Diversity Program is staffed by a Program Coordinator, two Wildlife Biologists, and two Natural Resource Technicians. Instead of focusing on specific species the WDP has shifted its focus to landscape and ecosystem management, statewide inventory and monitoring of all wildlife species, and training volunteer wildlife surveyors, while still continuing public outreach functions and a reduced species reintroduction program. The program also currently oversees implementation of the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that will help guide DNR's fish and wildlife management activities over the next 25 years.

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