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Partnership Provides Hands-On Experience for College Students, Helps DNR Data Collection

  • 3/1/2016 9:26:00 AM
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Forty students made their way into the main building on Hawkeye Community College’s farm lab in Waterloo on Wednesday morning where they joined staff from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources unloading a trailer of bobcats and otters for the day’s hands-on biology lesson.

The students are part of the Natural Resources Management program from Hawkeye Community College and from the Parks and Natural Resources program at Kirkwood Community College, in Cedar Rapids. 

Ryan Kurtz is the instructor and program advisor for Hawkeye.

“Our students have the opportunity to network with DNR personnel; see how things are done as a technician in the field. This experience is not available in the classroom,” Kurtz said.  “And they (DNR) need our help. It’s a good partnership.”

The subjects of the necropsy - otters and bobcats - were collected over the previous 12 months from trappers who either inadvertently caught them during the trapping season or they were hit by a vehicle. 

The workshop is significant as the animals are not wasted; they provide valuable data such as tooth age and have reproductive tracts collected.  The pelts are sold with the money going into the DNR Fish & Wildlife Trust Fund.

The workshop is also an opportunity for students to experience hands-on biological data collection which contributes to the DNR’s ongoing efforts to monitor and manage otters and bobcats in Iowa.

“This workshop is a win-win, we’re getting all these animals processed in a short amount of time, and you get the hands-on experience of working them up,” Vince Evelsizer furbearer biologist for the Iowa DNR told the students.

Students were taught the basics of hide removal and how to determine the animal’s sex by DNR wildlife technician Brad Mohr. Denny Weiss, noted trapper and retired DNR fisheries technician, discussed traps and trapping ethics with students. 

Female otters and bobcats were brought to Dr. Bill Clark, retired professor emeritus with the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University, who demonstrated how to remove the female reproductive tracks and how to identify the number of offspring – data which is added to the ongoing study of otter and bobcat reproductive rates useful for population monitoring.

The Iowa DNR and Iowa State University have been collecting data on the number of offspring per female bobcat and otter, plus their teeth are used for aging males and females and tracking distribution around the state since 2004. 

The team effort has yielded possibly some of the most extensive data collection on bobcats and otters in the country, which Evelsizer weaves in to his classroom presentation to the students on the history of bobcats and otters, and where bobcats came from. Hint: look to our neighbors to the south. 

This isn’t the only project between the Iowa DNR and Hawkeye Community College. The Natural Resource Management program has partnered with the DNR for years to collect deer tissue for chronic wasting disease. 

Students go to the Sweet Marsh Unit north of Tripoli after the first shotgun season to process deer tissue samples from deer heads collected. This effort has been going on for 6-8 years.

Previous workshops have included students from Upper Iowa University, Luther College and University of Northern Iowa.