JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa - The Hawkeye Wildlife Area makes up about 13,000 acres near North Liberty. But conservation efforts there are constricted by tight state budgets. One hunting organization has partnered with the Iowa DNR to change that, and give their dogs a place to hone their skills.
Kirk Rice, a member of the Eastern Iowa Hunting Retriever Association, wants to revitalize this area for hunting dog training over the next couple years. That means digging out a place for water to return.
"We're hoping mother nature will be generous to us this winter, and through the runoff we'll naturally fill it," said Rice, as a skid-loader dug out mounds of dirt behind him on Saturday.
This spot has been filled in with silt from years of flooding. Since state funding is low for conservation projects like this, DNR Wildlife Management Biologist Tim Thompson said partnering with the EIHRA is a valuable opportunity.
"When we take out what I have to spend on things like fuel, and conservation, and just picking up trash, I end up having less than three dollars per acre per year," Thompson said.
Rice told us that Eastern Iowa doesn't have many places where hunters can train and test their dogs. Sanctioned testing areas need water, for dogs to be rated on their performance over different types of terrain.
"Junior dogs, senior dogs, and then your master hunter dogs," Rice said of the animals, which are in themselves a conservation tool.
"If you knock something down and it's wounded, that's where the dog comes in, and rather than knowing you left a wounded animal, your dog will find it and fetch it up for you," Rice told us.
Thompson said the project will not only benefit hunters, but hopefully bring back wildlife that moved out when the water dried up. He hopes it will be a "good natural area for waterfowl, shorebirds, and other aquatic animals."
The Eastern Iowa Hunting Retriever Association is applying for a $25,000 grant from an organization called Sport Dog. They want to raise about $10,000-$15,000 to complete the project. If you'd like to help out, you can go to their website, www.eihra.net.