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State Wildlife Grants

Since 2002, Congress has annually appropriated funds for state nongame wildlife programs through the State Wildlife Grants, or SWG, program. The goal of the SWG funds is to support the conservation of all wildlife within each of the states and territories especially those identified as "species of greatest conservation need". The species of greatest conservation need and the actions needed for their conservation are detailed in the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan. SWG Grant funds cannot be used for wildlife education or recreation projects. Money is awarded to each state on a project-by-project basis, with a match requirement using state or other non-federal sources.

Congress appropriates this money on an annual basis so the amount available changes from year to year. The program is frequently in danger of being cut altogether. The  Teaming With Wildlife Coalition has been instrumental in providing congress with the information they need to understand the value of this program. While the need for continuing pressure on Congress and finding dollar-for-dollar match money is demanding, the program has nonetheless been extremely important.

The State Wildlife Grants program has allowed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and its partners to accomplish so much more for Iowa's Natural Resources than was possible before its inception. State Wildlife Grants is the nation's most important program in keeping species from becoming endangered. It has brought an average of $720,000 a year (~$10 million during the first 15 years of the program) into the state which has been matched in kind by the Department of Natural Resources and multiple partners.

Examples of State Wildlife Grant Research Projects

Bobcat research

In order to conserve and manage populations of these interesting carnivores, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with Iowa State University (Wildlife Population Dynamics: Bobcat Landscape Ecology) began a study in 2003 to understand the distribution, abundance, and dynamics of bobcats in Iowa. This project has led to a much more in-depth understanding of Iowa’s bobcat population.

For more information: Wildlife Population Dynamics: Bobcat Landscape Ecology (


Bird Response to Enhanced Vegetation at Spring Run Study

Grasshopper Sparrow

This study compared the response of birds nesting in 4 different created habitat (grasslands) types commonly used on Wildlife Management Areas in Northwest Iowa.

This study compared grassland bird habitat use, reproductive success, nestling growth rates, nestling baseline corticosterone, and blood glucose levels among restored grasslands planted with seed mixes of varying plant species diversity.

Effects of Fire and Grazing on Butterflies in the Loess Hills

Butterfly Surveys

Iowa’s Loess Hills landform is home to many species of prairie-dependent butterflies. This study evaluated the effects of two common grassland management techniques, rotational grazing and prescribed fire, on the butterfly community in the Loess Hills. The response to habitat management practices varied among butterfly species, so a variety of management practices may be necessary to benefit a diversity of butterflies.

For more information: The Effects of Fire and Grazing on Butterflies in Iowa's Loess Hills

Dickcissel, photo credit Carl Kurtz

Birds and Vegetation at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge This project had two major goals: 1) to examine temporal shifts in avian diversity and community structure through stages of restoration of a tallgrass prairie and 2) to compare avian diversity and community responses to habitat structure across the restored prairie and woodland savannah. The research demonstrated that having a mosaic of habitats at different stages of restoration provided habitat for the greatest number of grassland birds.

For more information: Avian Diversity and Prairie Restoration

Springtime in Clayton County

This project evaluated changes to forest and woodland habitat in Northeast Iowa over a ten-year timeframe. It also provided information on the distribution of forest birds in the region. The research documented several changes to the habitat, including a shift from oak towards maple-dominated forests, as well as fewer woodland openings. It also documented shifts in the bird communities using the forest habitats.

For more information:
Response of Forest Birds to Changes in Woodland Habitat in Northeast Iowa

Iowa stream

This project established a prioritized and realistic plan for assessing Iowa's stream fish species of greatest conservation need (SGCN). It also documented the occurrence and distribution of high-priority SGCN in wadeable Iowa streams. The project provided a better understanding of the status of all fish SGCN, not just the high-priority subset of SGCN. This study found that several species of conservation need occurred in less than 40% of the streams where they had been documented in the past. It also suggested that using both large and small-scale variables is useful in predicting occurrence of fish species.

For more information: Status and Habitat Associations of Fish SGCN in Wadeable Iowa Streams

Common moorhen, photo credit: tyler hams

This project 1) developed methodology for surveying secretive marsh birds in Iowa, 2) designed and implemented a survey for estimating the abundance of secretive marsh birds (bitterns and rails) in Iowa and suggested how this could be used as a long-term monitoring tool, and 3) assessed general habitat associations of secretive marsh birds in Iowa relative to wetland characteristics. The study provided information on habitat associations of individual marsh bird species, which helps managers better understand their habitat needs.

For more information:
Population Ecology and Monitoring of Iowa’s Marsh Birds
Secretive Marsh-Birds in Iowa (

Study Pasture, Ringgold County

This study, which was one phase of a long-term research project in the Grand River Grasslands, explored approaches to the restoration of native grasslands and associated biodiversity within a working landscape. The target is a system based on grazing and recreational land use that is both ecologically and economically viable, as well as socially acceptable. This study was the first portion of a long-term project. It demonstrated that prior land uses impact how long a grassland can take to be restored. Researchers also found that invasive plant species such as tall fescue can hinder the effectiveness of prescribed fire in grassland restoration.

For more information:
Grazing and Fire as Management Tools

Bald Eagle

Lead exposure has been documented in many Bald Eagles admitted to rehabilitation facilities in Iowa. This project was designed to non-invasively evaluate lead exposure in free flying Bald Eagles and compare these rates with data from Bald Eagles admitted to rehabilitation facilities. The study also evaluated whether exposure varied based on location or time of year. The study found that the majority of excrement samples from wild Bald Eagles contained lead. Most of the lead levels were low, and levels did not vary based on season or location. Lead levels were higher in Bald Eagles admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers.

For more information:
Lead Exposure in Iowa’s Bald Eagle Population

Examples of SWG Research and Habitat Improvement Projects

Summer Prairie

This project implements habitat improvement projects designed to benefit a variety of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Grassland restoration in Northwest Iowa has been a primary focus of the project, along with shrubland and savanna restoration in Southern Iowa. This project has provided over 4300 acres across the Prairie Pothole landform with diverse, native prairie seed, cleared invasive woody plants from over 3000 acres, and maintained these areas through mowing and prescribed fire as needed. It has also restored savanna and grasslands and provided edge habitat for over 300 acres in the Southern Iowa Drift Plain landform.

For more information:
Habitat Improvement for SGCN

Habitat Improvement for Early Successional Species in the Driftless Area

Blackhawk Point

This project, in cooperation with Wisconsin, provided additional early successional habitat on private lands in the Driftless Area. This project was designed to benefit American Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse. Over 120 landowners worked with private lands biologists to develop comprehensive wildlife management plans to benefit early successional forest habitat. This project resulted in habitat management (tree planting, timber stand improvement, aspen stand maintenance, and edge feathering) on over 2100 acres of privately owned land in Northeast Iowa.

For more information:
Habitat Improvement for Iowa’s Species of Conservation Need

In Iowa, SWGs have:

  • Helped protect more public land to aid species conservation while providing additional recreational opportunities for Iowa's citizens,
  • Funded vital wildlife surveys through the Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring Project,
  • Funded research which has helped our land managers make the best decisions for wildlife, and
  • Funded habitat improvements on our public lands.

SWG Land Protection Projects

Wildlife Management Areas (or other properties to which State Wildlife Grant Funds have contributed since 2002) by county:

Allamakee (Lansing), Appanoose (Sedan Bottoms), Clay (Little Sioux river), Clinton (Goose Lake), Decatur (Sand Creek), Dickinson (Spring Run), Hamilton (Boone Forks), Jasper (Rock Creek State park), Louisa (Wapello Bottoms, formerly known as Turtle Bend), Lucas (Stephens State Forest), Lyon (Big Sioux River), Marion (Gladys Black Refuge), O'Brien (Waterman Prairie), Polk (Middle River) and Ringgold (Kellerton, Ringgold).