The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) invites the public to discuss the proposed designation of the Stephens Forest-Thousand Acres region as a state Bird Conservation Area (BCA) at a public meeting on March 11.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Lucas County Conservation Education Center at Pin Oak Marsh, located about 1 mile south of Chariton on the east side of Hwy 14.

Creating Bird Conservation Areas continues to be a high priority for the Iowa DNR.

“The proposed Stephens Forest-Thousand Acres BCA is particularly unique because it contains almost equal amounts of both forest and grassland habitats that provide homes to over half of Iowa’s nesting bird species, many of which are considered to be of greatest conservation need,” said Bruce Ehresman, DNR bird biologist.

“From birds of large forests, including whip-poor-will, cerulean warbler and Louisiana waterthrush, to declining grassland birds like bobolink and Henslow’s sparrow, the three Stephens Forest units and their adjoining grasslands provide an ideal environment to become Iowa’s 19th Bird Conservation Area,” Ehresman said.

As part of the North America Bird Conservation Initiative, the BCA concept focuses on conserving all birds in all habitats, and it focuses conservation efforts on large expanses of particular habitat types, like forests.

Partnerships are the key to the BCA program’s success, and to date more than 50 conservation agencies, conservation organizations, and local community organizations have become BCA partners throughout the state. Each BCA consists of at least one core area of permanently protected bird habitat surrounded by large areas of privately owned land, which also is good bird habitat. Core public lands are managed for all wild birds and especially for those species experiencing regional or continental population declines.

Agency wildlife biologists and private lands specialists work with willing landowners to find ways to improve their properties for birds.  The program is entirely voluntary, non-regulatory, and it can result in extra incentives for landowners to make bird habitat improvements.

“By managing to retain healthy oak forests we also are providing crucial habitat for birds that are in trouble, game and nongame birds alike,” said Jessica Flatt, area forester at Stephens State Forest with the DNR. “Designating this new forest BCA also allows the local community and concerned citizens an opportunity to take action to help these birds. Declining species such as American woodcock, wood thrush, and Kentucky warbler will all benefit from the designation of the Stephens Forest-Thousand Acres Bird Conservation Area.”

Besides benefiting declining bird populations, creating BCAs in Iowa also provides an economic boost for the state.

Bird watching is one of the fastest growing pastimes in North America, with an estimated 77 million wildlife watchers in the United States.  According to a recent U.S Fish and Wildlife Survey, wildlife watchers in Iowa, alone, now spend up to $318 million each year in pursuit of this very rewarding hobby.