Honors Project takes flight

Alumnus Jake Dale ’20 has successfully pursued Bird Friendly Iowa recognition on behalf of the community of Fayette. (From left) Dale is pictured in 2020 with Upper Iowa Audubon Society President Connie Hvitved, Fayette Community Library director Annette Butikofer, and UIU associate professor of biology and Upper Iowa Audubon Society board member Paul Skrade after leading the effort to raise funds for the purchase of birding action packs for the local library.

After providing presentations to the Fayette City Council, hosting programs in the community and applying for a grant, the efforts of an Upper Iowa University alumnus has resulted in Fayette being designated a Bird Friendly Community. With the announcement by Bird Friendly Iowa (BFI), Fayette became the first community in Fayette County and only the seventh city in Iowa to receive this designation.

Jake Dale ‘20 pursued the Bird Friendly Iowa recognition on behalf of Fayette. Majoring in conservation management, Dale decided to seek Fayette bird-friendly certification as part of his UIU Csomay Honors Program project after seeing Doug Harr, president of Iowa Audubon, provide a BFI presentation.

“Receiving this certification tabs the city of Fayette as a leader in bird protection, and I am very happy to have lived in a city that values its wildlife habitat,” Dale said.  “Another emotion I feel is pride. This idea of lobbying for Bird Friendly Iowa certification began as a farfetched semi-serious project, and it turned into a reality. It was so fun to watch the project develop into an actual certification that promotes birds and their habitat.”

A native of Hastings, Minnesota, Dale previously led a 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count presentation at the Fayette Community Library and took community members out to bird watch. The observations were submitted to eBird, the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project.

As part of the BFI Fayette certification project, he also led an effort to raise funds for birding action packs, complete with binoculars and field guides that can be borrowed from the Fayette Community Library. In addition to Dale, the items have been made available with the support and funding of state and local representatives, including the Upper Iowa Audubon Society’s Donald C. Larsen Grant, Fayette Lions Club, UIU professor of graphic design and Fayette Lions Club member Don McComb, and Honors advisor UIU associate professor of biology Dr. Paul Skrade.

A similar community event in February 2020 coincided with the Great Backyard Bird Count. In conjunction with the Friends of the Library Bake Sale and Café Day, Skrade and Dale led a presentation and bird walk across the community. In addition, Dale provided a BFI certification presentation to the Fayette City Council and gathered documentation about the city of Fayette, such as how its Department of Public Works does not use pesticides in public places.

Jake Dale expressed his appreciation to his Honors advisor, UIU associate professor of biology Dr. Paul Skrade, for helping him throughout the entire Bird Friendly Iowa certification process. Skrade has been active in various bird projects of his own at UIU. In addition to securing a Wildlife Diversity Research Grant in 2016, he is pictured here leading a “Bird is the Word” STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Camp session for area youth at the University’s Fayette Campus in 2019.

“When Jake approached me about certifying Fayette as one of the first Bird Friendly cities in Iowa I thought it sounded like an excellent Honors project,” Skrade said. “The city already has some great habitat in our parks and natural areas, and hopefully this certification will encourage people to try and do even more for birds.”

In addition to the Upper Iowa Audubon Society for providing the grant, Dale expressed his appreciation to Skrade, the Fayette City Council, Fayette Community Library, and the people of the Fayette community for their continuing support.

“After the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down in the spring of 2020, Dr. Skrade was still able to assist with the certification and he played a huge role in finishing up the process,” said Dale, who is currently employed as a district forester with Pine Soil and Water Conservation District in Sandstone, Minnesota. “The Fayette City Council kept an open mind during the initial presentations and came to embrace the idea of being a bird friendly city. The community was also engaged in our presentations, learning about the area birds and taking an interest in our local wildlife.”

Fayette is being officially recognized for its commitment to managing public park lands with an ecological focus, protecting stream corridors, and providing direct support to residents who implement water quality practices, such as planting native grasses and trees or installing rain gardens.  Fayette has pledged its commitment to preserving and expanding habitat and encourages citizens to engage in birding, bird conservation and related outdoor recreation activities.

“The Bird Friendly Iowa designation opens another door for the citizens of Fayette into the world of bird conservation,” Dale closed. “This is something that some people may not have experienced before. Fayette has a ton of amazing bird species that all play a role in the ecosystem. Through this program, residents have an opportunity to learn more about birds through community-wide birding events, attending presentations or by checking out a pair of binoculars and a field guide from the local library.”

Bird Friendly Iowa is a partnership of several Iowa conservation organizations, agencies and individuals, including Trees Forever, Iowa Audubon, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Buchanan County Conservation and Iowa Department of Natural Resources. In 2018, Waterloo was the first Iowa community recognized as a Bird Friendly Iowa community.

More information about Bird Friendly Iowa, can be viewed at www.BirdFriendlyIowa.org. To find a checklist of birds in Fayette, visit www.fayetteiowa.com/community/bird-friendly.

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