Snow + deer season + great company = memories

(Warning: This post contains some graphic photos)

By: Tamara Beal


Although it was not much, large white snowflakes covered the ground at our office in Highlandville. For someone who is from upstate New York where we get lake effect snow, it does not truly feel like Christmas time until there is a great white blanket covering everything. Below are two pictures taken the first day we got snow; the one on the left is at our office in Highlandville, the one on the right was driving along a road on our way to collect CWD samples.

To recap, over the last five weeks Amy and I have been working in northeast Iowa with the upper wildlife unit of the DNR, sampling deer for chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is a fatal disease that often takes many years to show clinical signs in infected deer. As of 2016, Iowa had 18 positive cases, all from northeast Iowa, 11 of those from last year. Although some samples are collected during bow season, the bulk of samples are collected during Iowa’s two shotgun seasons in December. Even so, roadkills are always welcomed for sampling. Below, Amy experienced first hand the struggles freezing temperatures can cause with sample taking. She practiced her Christmas tree cutting on a snow covered body of a roadkill.


In preparation for the controlled chaos of shotgun seasons, Amy and I helped gather items necessary to sample deer in the field. We also made sure that all CWD kits were well stocked with knives, scalpels, sharpies, gloves, whirl packs (baggies the lymph nodes are separated into), and head lamps. In each head tub there were paper towels, extra gloves, zip lock baggies, and whirl packs, platt books (for recording where exactly the deer were shot), orange vests, and a CWD kit (right).


In shotgun season 1, from Dec 2nd- 6th, I was assisting different DNR wildlife technicians in Allamakee county and Amy was assisting different fisheries technicians in Howard county. Although Allamakee county only had a quota of 150 samples and Howard a quota of 75, there were red zones within/close to each of these counties that had quotas of 400 and 300 samples respectively.

I quickly found out that field sampling requires all sorts of maneuvering to get the right angle in order to extract the lymph nodes. In the instance on the left, I found it easiest to offset the bucks antlers by using its body to steady myself.

As someone who does not hunt, deer season meant the opportunity to converse with hunters and see why so many people partake in deer hunting. I discovered that many of the groups I got acquainted with made a family affair out of shotgun season, bringing together young and old, as well as male and female. 

It was also unexpected and encouraging to see the bonds that DNR personnel have formed with certain hunting groups they have been taking samples from for years. One technician commented to me that over the last decade the attitude has been slowly changing from hunters doing the DNR a service by allowing them to take samples, to the DNR doing hunters a service by collecting samples to help lessen the spread of CWD. Below are pictures of some of the DNR employees we worked with: Terry Haindfield aging a hanging deer (left), Steve Gastfield inside a deer carcass disposal dumpster (middle), and Steve and George Olson working together to erect a domed structure over the dumpster (right).

Although we often worked 12 hours days during hunting season, Amy and I still found time to appreciate the beauty that can be found in northeast Iowa. From sunsets over Heritage Valley (left), to overlooking the Mississippi in Marquette Iowa (middle), to sunrises at Effigy Mounds (right). I could not have been in a better place to appreciate all that Iowa has to offer.

Although no results are back yet on samples taken, the four of us contributed to the ambitious effort of over 2,500 samples collected statewide. With the 21st being our official last day, the “bats and bucks” crew look towards their next endeavor…


Amy Andrews: After Conservation Corps, I’ll be moving about an hour east to work for a county Soil and Water Conservation District. I’m looking forward to helping farmers continue to improve practices to make Iowa agriculture more sustainable and protect our natural resources. And if that means spending more time planting and traipsing through prairies, then I’ll be a happy camper!




Inga Roen: I will be returning home to Northern Minnesota where I plan to pursue outdoor and biological positions among the woods and lakes.






Amanda Morton: I have gained much from my two terms as a Wildlife Studies crew member. For the time being, I plan to stay in Ames Iowa and continue my ambitions of a career in wildlife research.







Tamara Beal: In a few short days I will be moving back home to New York State. In mid January I will start another AmeriCorps position with a branch called the SCA. I will be working as an Environmental Educator at a number of parks in the Finger Lakes region, including Watkins Glen. I am excited to share my love of the outdoors through gorge tours, hikes, and programs focused on the wildlife, geology, and history of the area.


In reflection, I want to first and foremost thank Conservation Corps for giving me this opportunity; I never would have dreamed how much this experience has impacted me. I also want to thank all of you who have been reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed following my time in Iowa and learned many new things about wildlife conservation. And finally, I want to thank my crew members for making me feel so welcomed and making so many memories together both during and after work.

Youth Outdoors Crew Member Experience: Addie Bona

By: Megan Zeiher, Recruitment Coordinator

To share more about the Corps experience from a member’s point of view, we caught up with Addie Bona. Addie recently finished her service term with us as a Youth Outdoors Crew Member in Minneapolis. Throughout her term she performed natural resource management projects in partnership with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, which involved a lot of invasive species management with both the adult and youth crews. She worked with buckthorn, oriental bittersweet, Canada thistle, cattail, tansy, teasel, garlic mustard and burdock.

Addie’s favorite project involved a particularly unique way to manage invasive species in Minneapolis parks—with goats! She worked with goat contractors to prepare sites, set up fences, put signs up and do other goat maintenance in order for the goats to eat buckthorn and other invasive species.

“It was fun to get to know the goat contractors, but even more fun to be able to spend time in the goat fence with the goats. I have always loved goats, and I love the concept of using them as a biological control for invasive species—so it was incredible to be a part of that process.”

Addie believes the Youth Outdoors program is unique in that it brings people from many different places and backgrounds together to share in the common goal of making a positive impact on the environment and in the lives of others. She also thinks it’s unique that Crew Members can come in as beginners, but quickly learn many skills such as plant identification, power tool use, youth development skills and more—and then use these new skills immediately and successfully.

“We received a variety of trainings, had the opportunity to work in different parks all over the metro and even places in Northern Minnesota, and worked with incredible, inspirational and driven high school youth. I have learned and experienced more during my term than I think I have in the last few years!”

Addie and her crew received Youth Mental Health First Aid Training, CPR Certification, Pesticide Applicators License, Wildland Firefighting Training and Chainsaw Training during the service term. In addition to the trainings and certifications, she thinks the best benefits of being in the Corps are working outside, strengthening interpersonal skills and knowing she has made a difference.

“The work we do in the Corps has such an immediate and long lasting effect, and I am walking away from my term knowing I’ve made a positive impact in my community, the lives of others and my own life.”

To start your own Conservation Corps journey, check out our apply page and explore open positions. To learn more about Youth Outdoors roles, visit this page or email questions to

Not for the faint of heart

(Warning: this post contains some graphic photos)

By: Tamara Beal

There is no time of the year where bats get more attention than Halloween! A typical work day for us in late October was comprised of driving to sites where we had thermal cameras set-up and changing the batteries in the morning and then watching previously recorded video footage from these cameras in the afternoon. With daylight savings time shortening our evening daylight hours and November welcoming in some colder temperatures, we took full advantage of our work hours spent cozying up to our computers watching for bats entering rock faces. Below are some photos of what is believed to be a bat flying from the right side of the screen to the left.

Although bats were the main attraction of our video monitoring, we tried to identify all nocturnal heat signatures picked up by the thermal cameras. Below are some photos of raccoons caught on camera strolling up the hill.

Our bat work officially wrapped up on November 10th and our new work studying chronic wasting disease in white tailed deer began on November 13th. To best utilize the four of us “bats and bucks” crew members, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) split us up: Amy and I were sent together to work at a DNR office in northeast Iowa, while Amanda and Inga were sent separately to DNR offices in southwest Iowa.


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a disease that affects the brain and is highly contagious within members of the deer family (deer, reindeer, moose, and elk). It is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion that causes neurons in the brain to degenerate, essentially eating away portions of the brain. It is spread by direct and indirect contact with bodily fluids and is always fatal.

As of October this year, 18 positive cases for CWD had been verified within Iowa, with all 18 located in northeast Iowa. The most affective way to check for CWD is to remove the lymph nodes and send them to a lab to test for the presence of the CWD causing prion.

Currently, in bow hunting season, the number of hunters that we could reach out to and ask for permission to take lymph node samples are low. Instead, we get most of our samples in November from roadkills and taxidermists. On the right is a picture of me on the side of a road cutting the lymph nodes out of a doe that most likely got hit by a car.

Before we gained experience cutting into roadkill deer in the field, we initially learned how to take lymph node samples on heads we received from taxidermists after the hide had been removed for mounting (not for the faint of heart).

The simplest way to access the lymph nodes is to slice into the deer an inch back from the jaw bone and then make an incision into the back of the throat (bottom left). The lymph nodes have a tougher consistency than the other tissue around it, usually making them pretty easy to differentiate (bottom right).

For every sample specific information must be recorded on a sheet, such as if the deer was adult or a yearling (fawns are not sampled), sex of the deer, where it died, whether it was a roadkill or a hunter’s kill, and if it was a hunter’s kill, their name and phone number. Once the lymph node samples are taken, they are designated arbitrarily A and B and separated into zip lock bags, labeled, and stored temporarily in a freezer (bottom left). After a sheet is filled up (25 deer have been sampled), the A samples are collected together to be sent to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Ames, Iowa (bottom center and right), while we keep the B samples as back-ups. Results of this testing is made known to the public, usually in less than 10 days.

Although there is no current evidence of CWD being able to be contracted by humans, the DNR highly recommends against consuming any meat of infected deer and suggests keeping deer kills separate from each other and clearly labeled.

With only one month left in my Conservation Corps term, next month will be my last blog post as a Wildlife Studies Crew member. Stay tuned for a update on our CWD work in light of the craziness that will ensue during December shotgun hunting seasons. I am sure to have some good stories of interactions with hunters, as well as a final update on the “bats and bucks” plans for life after Conservation Corps!

 Amy about to remove some lymph node samples from a roadkill deer.

Amy about to remove some lymph node samples from a roadkill deer.