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A unique relationship between Iowa bowhunters and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Research Section is entering its fourteenth year of partnering to collect observation data on wildlife they see while sitting in their tree stand.
The data is an important piece to the population estimates used to guide resource management and regulation decisions.
“It’s a good relationship,” said Tyler Harms, biometrician with the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife Bureau. “We have citizens collecting information that helps us manage their wildlife resources. It’s a valuable contribution by them and we’re grateful for that.”
Diaries are sent to 9,000 bowhunters selected from a core group who have purchased archery licenses for the previous three years and who identified as being interested in participating in the survey. A secondary group is used to fill in any gaps in statewide coverage. About 2,000 diaries are returned representing 90,000 hours of time in the field. Hunters are selected from each county in the state.
“Most of the hunters who participate are excited to do it, which provides consistency in the data sets,” Harms said.
The diaries have specific boxes to track the number of deer, badgers, bobcats, coyotes, gray fox, house cats, opossum, river otter, raccoon, red fox, striped skunk and wild turkey hunters see on each trip. Diaries also collect observations of uncommon species and the amount of time hunters spend in the timber.
“The amount of data we get back from those diaries is huge. It’s a good source of standardized data on furbearer species that we can use to estimate populations,” Harms said. “Our only data on gray fox has come from this survey.”
Diaries are sent out before the season opens on Oct. 1 and returned in early December. The data is entered using optical recognition scanner, analyzed and included with existing data in January when proposing management decisions or regulation changes. It has been most recently used to expand the open bobcat zone into new counties over the past few years.
Bowhunter observation survey information is released as an annual report in early spring at https://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Population-Harvest-Trends. The survey began in 2005.