The Upper Iowa University Ecology and Wildlife classes have been involved in controlled burns to clear invasive weeds and allow spring green-up of native vegetation to improve habitat for wildlife. Students are shown assisting local landowner Jesse Pleggenkuhle, Hawkeye. Pictured (l-r) Derek Steele, Ely; Mike Barske, Independence; Tyler Wallican-Green, Waterloo; Rachel Sorenson, Ossian; Regina Elliott, St. Joseph, MO; Nicole Winegardner, Canton, IL; Kristin White, Postville; Curtis Miller, Cresco; Jason Foss, Riceville; Landon Barnes, Anamosa; Christian Kroemer, Lowden; Randall Halbur, Guthrie Center; Ryan Hupfeld, Marshalltown; and Zac Sedlmayr, Afton.
FAYETTE, Iowa (March 31, 2010) — Upper Iowa University Assistant Professor of Biology Aaron Haines has charged students in his Ecology and Wildlife Management classes with assignments he terms “Educational Action Tasks.” The tasks are the result of a collaborative effort designed with the help of his colleagues, Drs. Joseph Elarde, Scott Figdore, and Jenny Stoffel and must be relevant to the course, something the students are actively involved with during the length of the term, and beneficial to the local community.
The Ecology class was given the task of surveying the Volga State Recreational Area for breeding woodcock. Nationally, woodcock populations have been in a steady decline since the 1960s, due to loss of early succession forest habitat that woodcocks need for feeding, nesting, and rearing young. Having students survey for woodcock and identify areas that contain active displaying males can help the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) identify key woodcock areas to manage and to work with neighboring landowners in hopes of increasing habitat.
“The students also get to witness one of the most unique courtship displays in North American birds and associate these birds with a unique habitat type that is on the decline nationally,” said Haines. “Students have been given maps of the Volga River Recreational Area and armed with field notebooks and surveys points so they can record the presence of these unique birds.” He added, “At the end of the term, they will submit a lab report that outlines the results of their survey efforts in and around the Volga River Recreational Area.”
Four tasks have been assigned to the two students in Haines’ Wildlife Management course: Derek Steele, Ely; and Matt Johnston, Fayette. The first project is surveying Fayette and Clayton counties to identify areas that contain male ruffed grouse. The students will identify the presence of active male ruffed grouse based on early morning survey efforts. The results will be turned over to the local Iowa DNR and if male ruffed grouse are identified, then the areas that contain these birds can be maintained and managed for ruffed grouse habitat. Adjacent landowners will also be contacted to offer them incentives to manage their property for ruffed grouse as well.
Steele and Johnston will also begin trapping for ring-necked pheasant to fit them with GPS collars for monitoring the birds’ spring-time movements. The research results will be turned over to the Fayette County Conservation Board for management of the species, such as determining how large of an area a pheasant uses, what type of habitat the pheasant prefers, and at what times of the season are they active. Additionally, the students will set out artificial nests with chicken eggs to monitor nest predators via remote digital cameras. The goal of this project will be to identify the diversity of potential pheasant nest predators found in the local area, and in what habitat types do these nest predators occur in the most.
Finally, Steele and Johnston will conduct a pair of amphibian (call) surveys in Fayette County for the Iowa DNR. Results provide information on the number and diversity of amphibian species found in northeast Iowa.
Both the Ecology and Wildlife classes have also been involved in controlled burns. Two burns have already been conducted this spring, with others planned before the term is over. The burns were done to assist local landowners Dick Jensen, West Union, and Jesse Pleggenkuhle, Hawkeye, to clear invasive weeds and allow spring green-up of native vegetation to improve habitat for wildlife.
“I believe that by having students physically involved in projects gives them first-hand experience to add to class discussions,” said Haines. “And it allows them to apply their research to helping solve a problem in the local community.” Haines added, “Many of my students are already becoming excited about what they are finding, which just makes them want to learn more. These students are becoming UIU and part of the solution.”
Monica Bayer Heaton
Executive Director of Communications and Marketing
About Upper Iowa University
Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to over 6,600 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and independent study. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.