CHURDAN, Iowa, April 29, 2018 — Dan Towers, conservation director for Greene County, will be presenting a history of wildlife in the county, from the time of settlement in the 1840s right on up to the present, at the Friday, May 4, meeting of the Greene County Historical Society at the United Methodist Church in Churdan.
Towers, besides working in conservation, is an avid hunter, outdoorsman and naturalist. He has done extensive work in preserving and redeveloping wildlife habitat all over the county.
He graduated from Paton-Churdan High School in 1973, and in 1980 from Iowa State University, where he majored in fisheries & wildlife biology. His best resource on wildlife continues to be a book by James Dinsmore, one of his ISU professors, “A Country So Full of Game: The Story of Wildlife in Iowa.”
Towers worked five years in wildlife management for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, covering several counties from Lake View. In 1985, he became the third conservation director in Greene County.
If we go back 14,000 or so years, he said, the area that would become Greene County was roamed by wooly mammoths and mastodons, “similar in size to elephants today.” Their bones have been found along creeks and the North Raccoon River.
When settlers began arriving, there were still “many of the bigger mammals – elk, bison, black bears, gray wolves, cougars.” There were prairie chickens that would puff-up to crow, wild turkeys and “so many passenger pigeons that they could block out the sky,” he said. They all “were wiped out by settlement,” with the animals either moving away from people or being killed in unrestricted hunting.
A conservation ethic began developing among people by 1900, and the first hunting laws were established in Iowa by 1910.
With careful game management, we’ve seen some thrilling comebacks by some species, including giant Canada geese and eagles.
Ring-necked pheasants, which were stocked in the U.S. from their native China, thrived in Greene County until the last third of the 20th century when rapid expansion of row crop farming gobbled up much of the grasslands habitat. DNR pheasant counts show that the number of pheasants in 2013 was about 1/10th of what it was in the 1960s.
Towers says his “best guess” is that there are “500-plus” coyotes in the county every fall, “before any hunting and trapping occurs,” while there were “very few coyotes until the 1950s.” As for raccoons, “there might be more of those in Greene County now than there are people.” He added that “it’s hard to guess deer numbers in the county, but it was thought to be around 500 in the entire state at the low in 1936. At its peak in about 2005, the deer population in the state was estimated at 350,000.”
The future for wildlife in the county “is all tied to our agriculture,” he said. “If we have a Farm Bill that includes conservation acres, we’ll have wildlife. If we are encouraging full-out ag production, we won’t have as much wildlife.”
He said “we do better” with waterfowl, primarily because we have two large conservation areas that host them – Dunbar Slough, covering nearly 3,000 acres in the southwest part of the county, and Goose Lake, which has 560 acres between Jefferson and Churdan. Some days during the waterfowl migrations, there will be a million or more birds at Dunbar Slough.
Towers will be using photos and artifacts to help illustrate his presentation.
There will be an $8 lunch for members at the Churdan church at 12 noon, with RSVPs due with their community contacts by midday Wednesday, May 2. Members of the public who want to eat lunch for $10 should phone vice-president Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684. The 1 p.m. program at the church is free and all are invited.