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The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will discuss the proposed designation of the region including Soap Creek, Fox Hills and Eldon Wildlife areas, Stephens State Forest, Lake Wapello State Park and Pioneer Ridge Nature Area as a state Bird Conservation Area (BCA) during a public meeting on Dec. 7.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Center, six miles south of Ottumwa on the east side of Hwy. 63.
“This proposed Bird Conservation Area is extremely unique in Iowa, because it contains land cover that includes 35 percent grassland, 45 percent woodland, and much wetland habitat - providing homes to at least 114 nesting bird species, many of which are declining at an alarming rate,” said Bruce Ehresman, wildlife diversity biologist with the Iowa DNR.
“From birds of large forests, like red-shouldered hawk, whip-poor-will, and wood thrush, savanna species such as barn owl and red-headed woodpecker, to declining grassland birds like bobwhite quail, meadowlarks, and bobolinks, this unique area includes portions of the Des Moines River, Soap Creek and adjoining private lands, providing an ideal southern Iowa setting for improved bird conservation efforts,” Ehresman said.
Wildlife biologists and private lands specialists work with willing landowners to find ways to improve their properties for birds. This program is entirely voluntary, non-regulatory, and can result in extra incentives for landowners to make bird habitat improvements.
“Focusing efforts on a Bird Conservation Area helps draw attention to the needs of birds that are in trouble, and it allows the local community and concerned citizens an opportunity to take action to help these birds,” said Jeff Glaw, area wildlife management biologist for the DNR. “Declining nesting species ranging from game birds like bobwhite to nongame birds like screech owls will benefit from the creation of the Soap Creek-Stephens Forest Bird Conservation Area.”
Establishing this Bird Conservation Area will likely increase recreational opportunities and be an economic boost for southeastern Iowa.
While a high percentage of bird species are declining, watching birds is one of the fastest growing pastimes in North America. According to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, people in Iowa now spend more dollars on watching wildlife than on hunting wildlife and fishing. Together, these recreational activities bolster Iowa’s economy by about $1 billion each year.