The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will conduct its annual spring wildlife survey this month. Wildlife research biologist, Jim Coffey says the surveys start around one hour after sunset and can last until just about sunrise.
“It’s going to cover what we call our nighttime animals or nocturnal animals — we kind of call it the second shift,” Coffey says. “It started out in the 70’s as a raccoon survey in a response to that we were over harvesting raccoons — or people thought we were — and they were going to become extinct. And we started to do this survey at that time.” The survey then expanded to include deer and eventually all animals they would see. The information helps them chart how each species is doing.
“What we look at is trends over time and are we seeing animals in the same places or are we seeing animals in different places than we have in the past. How do we see comparatively numbers from not just from last year — but from maybe the last five or tens years — so are we seeing more or less in those areas,” Coffey explains. He says they can used all the statistic to make some predictions about where they should see the various animals. Coffey says the deer survey is one that everyone always pays attention to, but he says the fun part is the diversity of wildlife you can see on a survey run.
“You pick up the occasional animals that we’re not used to seeing. So, we might see a bobcat in a county where we are not used to seeing it in, so it becomes documented that. It’s always fund to get to see some of those odd creatures. If you get to see a grey fox — that’s an anomaly — we know they are out there, we just don’t get to see them very often,” according to Coffey. The surveys are always done in April as Coffey says they try to do them in the same type of weather conditions each year to take that variable out of the equation. They often begin in southern Iowa.
He says they want to be in line with an early spring or late spring. Coffey says they are seeing some green grass and buds appearing in southern Iowa, indicating it’s time to start the surveys. “We also want to time it with the actual humidity and the temperature. Because what we know is animals like raccoons and possums usually don’t like to come out until it gets into the mid 30’s. If it’s too cold they are not going to come out,” Coffey says. He says each DNR staff member has their own way of keeping track of the animals they see.
“I’m kind of an old schooler — I still use a pen and paper and I document it on my map. We’ve got some guys who use GPS locations and we’ve got some guys who are actually stepping up into the 21st century and are using I-Pads now that will download the data directly into our computer and actually saves us some calculation times,” he says
Coffey says each county has a preselected route covering 50 miles of varying habitat. Surveyors will follow the route shining spotlights from both sides of the vehicle to document the animals they see.