Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trees For Kids Grant Applications Due March 1

Trees For Kids grant applications are available online for schools and communities to involve youth in planting trees this spring. The grants pay up to $5,000 for landscape trees and mulch for schools, communities and other public areas.
Trees may be planted in either spring or fall. The deadline for submitting a spring application is March 1, 2017. Each planting project is required to have an educational component for the youth.  
Studies show trees planted around schools and in neighborhoods give youth increased levels of concentration, lower levels of aggression, lower levels of obesity and fewer symptoms of ADHD.
Trees for Kids also offers no-cost seedlings packets, consisting of 200 bare-root tree and shrub seedlings, to schools and communities to plant and distribute to students, staff and community members. Order forms are available on the Trees For Kids Earth Month Celebration link. Orders must be submitted by April 1, 2017 for spring delivery.
The Trees for Kids and Trees for Teens grant program is funded by Iowa Department of Natural Resources Forestry Bureau, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, Alliant Energy, Iowa Bankers Association, Trees Forever, Iowa Tree Farm Committee and the Iowa Woodland Owners Association.
Information on how to apply for a spring Trees For Kids grant, or receive Earth Day Celebration seedlings is available online at or by contacting Wagner at

Note: This blog will discontinue this spring. Sign up for the WILD Resources email list to continue to receive ideas and training opportunities like these.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Winter Camouflage and Coloration in Iowa's Wildlife

For many Iowa animals, the stark landscape – bare trees and a bright white groundcover – makes them stand out more in the winter, which is good news for those who enjoy watching wildlife. But for a few Iowa critters, winter is a time for them to blend in with the scenery.

They may have “rabbit” in their name, but Iowa’s jackrabbits are actually hares, related more to the snowshoe hare than the cottontail rabbit. Come winter, jackrabbits shed their summer fur – brownish-gray speckled with brownish black and a white tail – to make way for their white winter coat. The only coloring left is black on the tips of the jackrabbit’s ears and a light gray tinge to the ears and back. The changing coat allows the jackrabbit to hide better in the conditions that different seasons bring.

What it can’t hide from, however, is habitat loss and wet weather during nesting seasons. Once widely found in grasslands in northwestern Iowa and once a common game species, their numbers have declined in recent years.

Snowy owls
The snowy owl can be a winter visitor in Iowa. It can be difficult to discern the precise reason why any snowy owl may be turning up further south than normal, the reason is usually not to the benefit of the owl. Common reasons for these southern “irruptions” can include shortages of food (lemmings) further north in core wintering areas, or an excess of young birds that are driven from the better northern wintering areas to sub-par locations further south. So if you spot one, it’s a rare sight indeed.

Least weasels
The smallest weasel in Iowa and the smallest carnivore in the world, the least weasel also has two color phases. It loses its reddish-brown coloring on its back, sides, tail and top of its head to get ready for winter, when it may become all white. Spring and fall coloring are often a mix as the color transition takes place. It’s not likely you’ll see a least weasel, as they primarily hunt at night and below the snow, but you’ll occasionally find them caught above a hard-crusted snow. Least weasels are small guys, rarely growing longer than 10 inches long.

American goldfinch
Iowa’s state bird doesn’t lose all of its coloring in winter, but if you see one in winter, you’ll notice its hue is more muted than its usual bright yellow. Most birds sport vibrant colors in the spring to attract a mate during breeding season. They then molt their feathers to bring in a more drab coloration for the winter, as their normal bright coloration would make them more visible to predators.

Trumpeter swans
Trumpeters’ year-round white coloring does allow them to blend in with the snow – mostly. Their large black bills and black legs provide enough contrast against the white snow to allow you to spot them pretty easily.

Activities to use while studying camouflage:
  • Color Crazy- recognize and generalize that wildlife exists in many colors
  • Quick Frozen Critters- describe adaptations related to predator and prey relationships, explain the importance of adaptations in these relationships and describe how they limit wildlife populations
  • Surprise Terrarium- identify camouflage as an adaptation and describe the importance of adaptations to animals
  • Thicket Game- identify examples of adaptation in animals and describe the importance of adaptations

Note: This blog will discontinue this spring. Sign up for the WILD Resources email list to continue to receive ideas and training opportunities like these.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Celebrating Aldo Leopold

Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher "standard of living" is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.For us of in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech. --Aldo Leopold
Iowa native, Aldo Leopold, truly enjoyed exploring outdoors and sharing his observations with others throughout his life. He is considered the "father" of the wildlife management profession.

Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, dedicated teacher, writer and outdoor enthusiast. Leopold's goal in his popular wildlife ecology course was "to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands."

Leopold’s writing inspires others to look at the natural environment through a “lens” of appreciation and respect.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation provides a vast array of tools to help you use Leopold’s writings in your classroom. Resources include fact sheets and discussion guides for Leopold’s most well know publication, A Sand County Almanac, lesson plans, and access to the Aldo Leopold Archives which includes unpublished manuscripts, journals, correspondence, sketches, photographs, and implements he used on the land.

Activities to use while studying Aldo Leopold:
  • Enviro-Ethics- Students develop and use a “personal code of environmental ethics.”
  • Philosophical Differences- Students select a wildlife or environmental issue and visit with the community about their views and opinions.
  • Wildwork- Students explore wildlife-related careers.

  • Dragonfly Pond- Students evaluate the effects of different kinds of land use on wetland habitats.
  • Living Research: Aquatic Heroes and Heroines- Students identify people who have made contributions to conserving or preserving aquatic environments.

Note: This blog will discontinue this spring. Sign up for the WILD Resources email list to continue to receive ideas and training opportunities like these.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Help Gather Information for Bird Conservation

The 117th Christmas Bird Count starts December 14, 2016 and runs through January 5, 2017. This longest running Citizen Science survey in the world provides critical data on population trends. It is organized into circles, and each circle counts as many birds as possible on one day, either on a predetermined route, or at their backyard bird feeder. Data is compiled, and used to learn about long-term bird trends.

If you would like to participate, check out the searchable map to find a counting "circle" near you.

Check out Project WILD’s “Bird Song Survey” for a great activity about the purpose of counting birds for population information.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Exploring Iowa’s Natural Resources On-line Course (K-12 Educators)

January 15 – May 1, 2017
The goal of this course is to help you utilize a STEM-based approach that incorporates local natural resources as unifying themes to implement Iowa Core concepts in your curriculum. You will work in small groups and individually to create a network of contacts and resources to teach natural resource concepts. Group and individual assignments will build on each other throughout the course.

Participants will build a project-based learning unit for their personal teaching situation, so you can immediately incorporate the course resources and tactics into your teaching, regardless of grade level or educational setting.

Registration deadline is January 9, 2017  - you must register electronically (Activity #: 22007499991702). Registration fee: $305 (3 license renewal credits); $425 (3 Drake graduate credits). This course is being offered by AEA PD Online, a joint initiative by all of Iowa's Area Education Agencies. This course therefore uses AEA PD Online's alternative fee schedule for license renewal and graduate credit. Transcripts and credit will be issued by AEA PD Online instead of Heartland AEA.
For more information, contact:; 515-494-3891

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Iowa Schools Encourgaged to Order Free Seedlings for Spring

Each school building and community may order one free packet of 200 bare-root seedlings, 50 each of four selected species. The seedlings, delivered in April or May, are often used as part of Earth Day/Week celebrations. Orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis until 200 packets are requested.
“Most people probably aren’t thinking about planting right now,” says Laura Wagner, DNR Trees for Kids Coordinator, “But because this program and our packets are so popular, we encourage folks to order early to get the best selections.” 
Interested schools and communities must complete a simple application form by April 1, 2017.  Those receiving packets will be asked to email at least one photo of the trees being planted and a short paragraph showing where and why they were planted.
Schools and communities may select from the following specialty packets:
Fall Color –Trees and shrubs with vibrant fall color 
Fastest Forest – Great along streams and wet areas, these grow at least 3 feet per year
Pollinator Packet – Provides vital host species for butterflies and other pollinators
Privacy Packet – Great to use as a visual barrier or along a fence line 
Spring Flowers – Create spring color with these flowering shrubs and small trees 
Storm Resistant Packet – These trees resist breakage from wind and ice storms 
Wild Edible Packet – Enjoy an edible landscape 
Trees for Kids is a DNR program funded by Alliant Energy, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, ITC, Trees Forever, Iowa Woodland Owners Association and Iowa Tree Farm Committee, and administered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Forestry Bureau.
For more information about ordering no-cost Trees for Kids seedlings, contact Laura Wagner, DNR Trees for Kids Coordinator at 515-725-8456 or

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Using Local History in Your Classroom

A human community is a group of people who live and interact with one another in a specific region under relatively similar environmental, social, and political conditions. A natural community is a group of plants and animals that live and interact with one another in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

Our human communities are essential for our daily life. They satisfy our needs for food, and shelter, as well as provide social interactions. Human communities are dependent on the larger natural community which contains the soil, water, air, plants, and animals on which the human community is sustained. The natural community supports itself and our civilizations.

Every community is unique. Each has its own historical background, natural resources, attractions and unique features.

Explore your community’s history with your students. Check out these websites to help get you started.
Project WILD is also a great resource. Look under Historical Values of Wildlife in the Expanded Topic Index.

Aquatic WILD suggested activities:
  • Watered-down History- investigate the history of a chosen waterway through research methods, recorded personal interviews, and public records
  • Where Does the Water Run?- design and implement a field investigation involving relationships between levels of precipitation, runoff, and percentage of impervious ground cover