Ag Literacy Corps: Wildlife Habitat in Working Lands

Ag Literacy Corps: Wildlife Habitat in Working Lands

Hi, I’m Adam Janke, State
Wildlife Extension Specialist here at Iowa State University
Extension Outreach. We’re here today on a
working farm in central Iowa to talk to you about
creating wildlife habitat on working lands in Iowa. Wildlife are important for
Iowans from all walks of life. They’re an important source of recreation from outdoor wildlife viewing or hunting and bird watching, and they’re also an important piece of
our rural landscapes. The United States Fish
and Wildlife Service estimates that over
750,000 people identify as active wildlife watchers in Iowa, and they spend over 700 million annually on trips and supplies
for wildlife watching. Hunting is also a really
popular activity in Iowa, and 253,000 residents
annually participate, and they spend over $400
million in the state on hunting related expenditures. There’s lots of wildlife conservation success stories to be
proud of here in Iowa. We used to have no white-tailed deer, no wild turkeys, no
river otters or bobcats. Despite the number of
conservation success stories for wildlife populations here in Iowa, we still have a lot of challenges, and the number one factor
driving those declines is the availability of wildlife habitat. What makes ideal wildlife
habitat depends mostly on what species of wildlife
you’re talking about, so we find a lot of habitat in areas that we call early successional areas, weedy, grassy, shrubby
habitats on the edges of fields or in old pastures, or around farm lots, and these are really important for a lot of native and introduced game birds. And then of course our forested areas are really important
wildlife habitat as well for wild turkeys and white-tailed deer and all sorts of other critters. We also have important
habitats in our water areas. Any types of surface water in the state, and most importantly for wildlife are wetland habitats,
shallow water habitat, with emergent vegetation,
where lots of birds raise their young or
use throughout the year. We also find wildlife habitat on a lot of working lands, things like pastures and hay fields are really
important nesting habitats, and also crop fields are
an important food source for a lot of wildlife. They raise their young in crop fields where they can eat
insects, or all winter long they’ll find waste grain
or residual vegetation. Historically, in the
early 1900s, late 1800s, we had relatively diverse crop rotations with oats and other small grains, and a lot of pasture land, where we raised livestock to pull the implements that were used in agricultural production. And we also, because of the
scale of production practices had relatively small parcels of crop fields and pastures all
intermixed, and that created really good wildlife habitat. Wildlife were basically
just a byproduct of our agricultural land uses. Fast forward to today, we
have a relatively reduced diversity of crop rotations in the state, with mostly corn and bean rotation, and not as much pasture ground as we did. And all of our parcels are a lot bigger, and that creates fewer
areas for wildlife habitat, and today we need to focus
on sort of intentional wildlife habitat conservation measures in working landscapes. To conserve wildlife habitat
in our modern landscape here in Iowa, there needs to be sort of a two-pronged approach. The first step is to conserve what remains and manage what remains so we can find good quality wildlife habitat
in working landscapes. The second prong to
conserving wildlife habitat in working lands is to
recognize that everything we do on the landscape has
some sort of an impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat, and we can start to incorporate
wildlife considerations into everything we’re doing on the farm. Existing practices include
things like nutrient management, and so just a few simple
changes to practices to improve water quality can also have big impacts on wildlife habitat. Pollinator conservation, wildlife benefit from the same types of habitat, so rich diversity of flowering plants throughout the year in woodlands, edges of fields, and in
grassed areas and around fields can be really good habitat for wildlife. Precision agriculture is
an area that we see a lot of potential for wildlife habitat. And areas where we’re
losing money are really good opportunity areas to
increase wildlife habitat. So for example, a common
area where profit margins are really tight are wet spots, and wet spots are really
important habitat type for a lot of birds and
amphibians and reptiles. A final practice where
there’s a lot of potential to create wildlife habitat
in working landscapes is alongside soil conservation practices. Looking at areas on the farm
like highly erodible lands and taking them out of
production and putting them into perennial vegetation is a really good wildlife habitat conservation measure. All these wildlife habitat
conservation measures that we’re talking about today also come with a lot of support from state or federal agencies with cost-share or technical
expertise available to implement the practices on the ground, in some cases to receive rental rates for the land, and also to
inform how to carry out some of these wildlife
habitat conservation measures. Land owners and producers can get help from the Natural Resources
Conservation Service or NRCS, and also we have wildlife biologists with the Iowa Department
of Natural Resources. Their sole purpose is to
help private landowners do wildlife habitat conservation. Here in Iowa, we have the
richest soils and the best climate in the world for
agricultural production. So we have a big agricultural
footprint across the state. And so that means that
we have any wildlife left here in Iowa shows that small actions by individual landowners and producers can have a big impact on the
sustainability of wildlife and wildlife habitat in our state.

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