New book by father, son reviews status of Iowa’s wildlife: ‘Some things are getting better’

Two men in short-sleeved shirts holding binoculars up to their eyes as they look out to wetland over railing g
Steve and Jim Dinsmore in a characteristic pose scanning Steve’s back yard. Photo by Whitney Baxter. 

By Ann Y. Robinson 

“Iowa's Changing Wildlife: Three Decades of Gain and Loss,” written by a father/son Iowa State University faculty duo, arrives on bookstore shelves and online this week - the perfect holiday gift for your favorite hunter or outdoor enthusiast.  

The book reflects a life of collaboration between James “Jim” Dinsmore and son Stephen “Steve” Dinsmore. Jim taught wildlife ecology at Iowa State for almost three decades (1975-2002). He is also the author of “A Country So Full of Game,” a book that became a classic of Iowa natural history after its publication in 1994. Steve Dinsmore grew up trailing his father into classrooms and on outings far and wide. He now chairs Iowa State’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and researches avian ecology around the world. 

Era of transformation

The Dinsmores emphasize that their new book is not a sequel to Jim’s earlier volume. Rather, they wanted to tell the story of a new chapter in the history of Iowa’s wildlife, or what Steve refers to as “an era of transformation.” 

“We provide an up-to-date, scientifically based summary of changes in the distribution, status, conservation needs and future prospects of about 60 species of Iowa’s birds and mammals,” Steve said. “We learned, contrary to popular belief, some things have gotten better. Even we were surprised to find so much reason for optimism as we dug into the data.” 

Within the book, readers will find:

  • notes on biology, population surveys, and hunting seasons and impacts,
  • maps of migration routes, nesting sites and documented sightings,
  • origin stories of wildlife reestablishment efforts that include states helping states, private and public fundraising efforts, and untold hours spent by wildlife managers and citizens capturing, banding, releasing and monitoring to bring back species like the wild turkey, peregrine falcon and trumpeter swan. 

Increasingly abundant, increasingly rare

Book cover: Iowa's Changing Wildlife: Three Decades of Gain and Loss, with picture of bobcat looking out from perch in treeOf the species highlighted in the book, the success stories include the Canada goose, bald eagle and white-tailed deer, once rare in Iowa and now common. Others like the sandhill crane, river otter, coyote and beaver are becoming increasingly abundant. 

There are many examples of decline, too, as the Dinsmores report. This list includes the gray fox and most of Iowa’s owls and hawks, ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail and the popular, non-native game bird, the ring-necked pheasant. 

Six of Iowa’s nine bat species are considered to be in various stages of conservation need, from endangered (Indiana bat) to those of conservation concern (silver-haired bat). These nocturnal, flying mammals -- underappreciated for their role in controlling mosquitoes and other insects -- are being impacted by continuing habitat loss, encounters with wind turbines and white-nose syndrome, a disease decimating bat colonies across the country. 

Other creatures discussed in these pages include the mourning dove, gray wolf, coyote, fox and other furbearing animals, such as raccoon, otter, skunk and weasel. Even the long-extinct passenger pigeon gets a turn, with an eye to future “de-extinction” possibilities. 

The animals we see are impacted by many factors, the Dinsmores point out. Those range from federal and international policy and habitat conservation efforts to agricultural practices, water quality and use of pesticides that impact animals’ health and food sources. 

Fear is another factor. “Even as some larger mammals, like black bears, mountain lions and wolves, have been showing up again as Iowa residents, people’s fears that the animals threaten children, pets or livestock makes it challenging to imagine they will ever become well-established,” Steve said.

Family affair

Two men in canoe wearing life jackets,hats and binoculars.
Jim (left) and Steve Dinsmore on foray to Red Rock Reservoir in August 2022. Photo by Lena Dinsmore. 

“It took a while to decide to do this book. We went back and forth as we considered this,” said Steve, who spent several years working on an update of the Iowa Breeding Bird Atlas, published in 2021, which Jim originally co-authored in 1996. “We didn’t want to recreate that extensive project.”

The new book’s dedication acknowledges the contributions of Jim’s wife and Steve’s mother Pat, now passed, and Steve’s wife Karen, a wildlife professional who works for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Both women “put up with many years of deep-dark, early morning departures, delayed meals and trips with unexplained detours from a planned route that often ended up on a muddy road leading to an isolated marsh to see another unusual bird.” 

The next Dinsmore generation is also represented. In one of the book’s limited personal asides, Steve tells of several sightings of elusive bobcats with daughter Lena, including the time she asked, “How do you know that cat is named Bob?” It may be Bob in the close-up photo Steve captured with Lena’s help on the new book’s front cover. 

The 225 pages of “Iowa’s Changing Wildlife” are organized in 24 chapters with abundant references and illustrations by well-known Iowa artist Mark Muller. To get a copy, find the book in the Bur Oak Series at the University of Iowa Press or at a bookstore near you. 


Stephen Dinsmore, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, 515-294-1348, 

James Dinsmore,

Ann Robinson, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications, 515-294-3066,