A Conservation Chat with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry

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On the latest episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito discussed the Iowa Environmental Council with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry. Gronstal Anderson is the new Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council and Terry is the Executive Director and they chatted about how the Iowa Environmental Council is striving toward cleaner water for all Iowans to enjoy.

Ingrid Gronstal Anderson

Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how the Iowa Environmental Council is a watchdog that holds government agencies accountable on behalf of Iowans. That accountability is important when it comes to natural resources because of the relationship between natural resources and public health, such as in the case of regulations for drinking water quality. They stated the importance of working with partners from diverse sectors at the Council.

The talk then turned to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the Clean Water Act.

“We also would like to see the Clean Water Act adhered to more stringently here in Iowa. In terms of using our beaches and protecting drinking water sources and our lakes, its imperative that we have better enforcement in Iowa of the Clean Water Act.” – Terry 

Jennifer Terry

Jennifer Terry, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

They discussed the importance of showing progress toward our water quality goals and the struggle against the lack of urgency that many feel regarding adoption of conservation practices. Although anti-regulation sentiment is common, Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how not only would jobs and industries follow regulation, but that it would help to provide a level playing field for farmers across the state.

To hear the rest of the chat and learn more about the work the Iowa Environmental Council does, listen to the podcast here!

Hilary Pierce

The Awesome Junior Naturalist Adventures

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

This past month I had the opportunity to help Polk Co. Conservation with two Junior Naturalist Camps at Jester Park. We did many different things to help encourage the 10-11 year old campers to explore nature around them. Each camp lasted four days and was led by Polk Co. Conservation naturalists. I was on site to assist with whatever was needed.


Day 1. Habitat Exploration Day.
The first day of camp started off with the kids making little creatures out of pipe cleaners and UV beads. These creatures would then be used later on for another activity. After they made their creatures, we played some name games to help everyone learn each other’s names.

The rest of the day was dedicated to habitat exploration. The kids got to explore three different habitats: a prairie, a pond, and a forest.

The first habitat we explored was the pond. The kids were given nets to try and catch some aquatic life to observe. They caught lots of different things including mussels, snails, minnows, and dragonfly larvae.

We then went on a hike which would take us through our next habitat of the day, the forest.The first part of our hike started with finding walking sticks. When everyone found the stick that they wanted we stopped at a nearby outdoor shelter where the kids were then able to decorate their walking sticks with colorful tapes. When everyone completed their walking sticks we continued our hike through the forest. We ended up coming across a creek which the campers were all wanting to explore so we stopped and allowed them to look around for a while. Many of them ended up putting mud all over their faces! We then continued on our way to our next stop where we tasked the kids with building shelters for their creatures that they made at the beginning of the day. The goal was to build shelters to protect the creatures from sunlight so that the UV beads would not change color. All of them made pretty good shelters and their creatures were successfully protected.

We continued our hike back to where we started, which was near our last habitat of the day, the prairie. Here the kids were able to use nets again, this time to try and catch bugs and other creatures to observe. They did that for a while and then we played a game of hide and seek in the prairie but this game had a twist. The person that is seeking can not go into the prairie; they must stay at the edge and see if they can see anyone. If they happen to spot someone they call them out by what color they are wearing and then that player is out. When the seeker can no longer spot anyone else they will turn around and close their eyes while all the hidden players stand up and take five steps forward. This game continues on until everybody but one is found. After we played a few rounds of the game we went back to the nature center where each of the kids would be getting picked up at the end of the day.


Day 2. Field Trip Day.
When everyone arrived we piled into a van to drive to Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt. This day entailed canoeing and a marsh exploration. When we arrived at Chichaqua we rounded up all of the needed supplies for canoeing. Then Andrew and Heidi, the two naturalists, explained all of the safety rules everyone must follow while canoeing. After they were done, we started on our canoeing adventure. During this time many people were looking out for different aquatic creatures. We ended up canoeing a long way and when we were finally done we put everything away and then moved on over to the marsh. The kids caught lots of different things there, including tadpoles, snails, crawfish big and small, water scorpions, baby bullheads, and a giant frog which they named Biggy Big Big. After a while of searching the marsh, it was time to head back to Jester Park as day two was coming to an end.


Day 3. Fishing Day.
After everyone arrived we started with some practice casting outside of the nature center. This gave all the kids the chance to try and catch some plastic fish and win some prizes. When they finished up with that we went down to the pond where we would be spending most of our day trying to catch some real fish. Several kids caught some fish – a few bluegills were caught along with a few bass. After several hours we went back to the nature center for a short time to do some knot tying. We did a few different knot tying competitions for a chance to win more prizes. And then we went back to the pond to continue fishing until day three was over.


Day 4. Final Day of Camp.
Day four included lots of different things. The first thing that we did was archery where each of the kids got a chance to shoot some targets and also try and shoot some balloons. After archery we went on an orienteering scavenger hunt which allowed the kids to use a compass to help them find different things and answer questions. The next thing that they did was fire building – yes, I said fire building! They worked in small groups to try and collect good materials for a fire. Then they were given different fire starting tools such as a magnifying glass and steel and striker to try and light a sustainable fire. After trying for a while each group had lit a fire, although most did not last as long as they hoped. No worries though as Andrew and Heidi lit their own fire and everyone was able to make themselves some s’mores! And finally to finish off the day the kids went geocaching using GPS devices to help them find the locations of a few different geocaches. When all of the activities were finished each camper was given a certificate and an official Junior Naturalist badge to show that they officially completed Junior Naturalist Camp.


Joshua Harms

 

Faces of Conservation: Allen Bonini

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.


Allen Bonini – Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Allen Bonini serves as Supervisor of the Watershed Improvement Section at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). As a part of his responsibilities at the DNR, Allen is responsible for funding provided to Iowa Learning Farms through the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.

What has been your role with Iowa Learning Farms?
I’ve been a part of ILF’s advisory committee since 2005. In the early years of Iowa Learning Farms, the committee provided guidance and advice, but in recent years, the program has matured, developing a strong sense of purpose and direction, so they don’t need our input as often.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
Initially, Iowa Learning Farms was focused on offering educational field days around the state. From this foundation, the ILF team listened to participants and began to expand what was being delivered and how it was being presented. ILF has done an excellent job of applying evaluations and data gathering to inform decisions on program impacts. This scientific approach has not only strengthened the program, but led to the creation of innovative programs including the Conservation Station trailers and Water Rocks!.

While field days are still a staple of ILF, they’ve consistently raised the bar on delivering meaningful and actionable information. Enlisting experts to deliver information and fostering involvement from every sector of the state has built credibility for ILF. In addition, providing a forum for innovators and early adopters to share and learn has been very effective. What has allowed the program to remain relevant is the strength of the concept of Building a Culture of Conservation.


How did you impact the program?
Prior to joining the DNR, I spent many years working to educate the public on the benefits of recycling. I was able to draw on my experience in education and public engagement to bring some fresh ideas to the table for ILF to consider. Whether recycling or instilling conservation in the forefront of people’s minds, the goal of the program is to change behavior – a daunting but achievable task.

One proven path to changing cultural behavior is to engage the energy and enthusiasm of our youth. I feel that the Water Rocks! youth education program, which emerged out of ILF, is a tremendous tool in moving the dial on conservation in schools across Iowa. Water Rocks! took the concept of ILF and applied it to the next generation.

As I saw with recycling, it may take a generation for conservation to be an accepted everyday practice, but as young people gain awareness and devote energy to it, we should see greater adoption and commitment from the public.

 What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
The most enjoyable part of working with ILF has been being at the table and participating: offering ideas, refining ideas, and seeing it turn into something that achieves results. An important part of this has been watching ILF gather data and use it to create an impactful message and create change.

Allen was interviewed by Charlie in Episode #1 of the Adventures of the Conservation Pack series! Click the image to see the episode in all its glory.


If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
It’s a stretch goal, but I would love to no longer need Iowa Learning Farms. We would no longer need to build a culture of conservation because we’ve established a flourishing culture of conservation. Then we can move on to the next big environmental challenge – whatever that may be.

In closing…
The leadership team at Iowa Learning Farms has been a large part of the program’s success over the past fifteen years. The program has benefited from a consistent arc of leadership with innovative team players who are willing to take risks to keep the program alive and moving forward.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

Faces of Conservation: Marty Adkins

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to Iowa Learning Farms, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.

Martin “Marty” Adkins – Assistant State Conservationist for Partnerships at USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)


What has been your role with Iowa Learning Farms?
My involvement with ILF has evolved over time but can be broken down into three main categories. I’ve provided guidance and advice from my own background in conservation as a member of the ILF Steering Committee, witnessing ILF’s growth and expanding contributions to the conservation landscape here in Iowa. I have also served as a NRCS liaison on ILF projects to which NRCS contributed funding. I’ve also enjoyed a couple of opportunities to contribute musically to the Water Rocks! program.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
I think the whole idea of building a culture of conservation speaks to the mission of ILF, providing important outreach and education from its base at ISU. Through active partnerships with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and NRCS, the program has made a lasting impact on the statewide conservation landscape.

The outreach through field days, webinars and workshops extends the value of research and technical development at ISU – taking the information and practices to the stakeholders that can use them most. Programs like ILF have really been an important part of building momentum in education and continuing to push for more sustainable agriculture and improvements in Iowa’s ecosystems.


How has working with ILF changed you?
I think the biggest impact ILF has had on me is providing me the opportunity to work with so many great minds and leaders, to learn from them, and to collaborate on important solutions. In other words, when you hang out with people that know more than you do, you can learn a lot from them. The last 15 years have been an amazing time of change and learning in agriculture. I’m excited about the growing number of people and organizations in all sectors that recognize their responsibility to protect soil, water and other natural resources.

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
One event that stands out was a landowner meeting for the Conservation Learning Labs project that Bill Northey (Iowa Secretary of Agriculture at the time) joined. His presence not only signaled the State’s commitment to water quality improvement, but also gave the landowners a chance to share their concerns and thoughts at the highest level.

Attending a workshop with new farmers last summer was also a great experience. Seeing the energy and enthusiasm combined with thirst for information on sustainable practices was fantastic.

The other really fun part of working with ILF was having the opportunity to write and record a couple of songs with the Water Rocks! team.


Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
What makes Iowa really special is the quality of our agricultural soil and landscape. It’s imperative to the future of our state and our larger place in the world for Iowa to be doing a great job in building and conserving our agricultural soils and landscapes. Water bodies are a reflection of the landscape, and if we are not doing a good job taking care of the soil and land, the water bodies are going to reflect that failure.

I am passionate about my family, faith and the sustainable management of soil, water and other natural resources. Being able to make a difference in Iowa has given personal meaning to my career. This is wonderful work that we get to do, and I am delighted to be in a position to help work for the present and future quality of the environment, our state, our economy and our communities.

If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
I would like to see a green landscape nine months of the year—green being the dominant color of the landscape when there isn’t snow on the ground. My hope for Iowa is that it will be a green place, not a brown place.

In closing…
Everyone should recognize what a great resource ILF is for the people of Iowa. Any citizen, whether farmer, nonfarmer, city or rural dweller that cares about what kind of world they live in, what kind of landscape we share and what kind of water flows through it, can benefit from the groups like ILF which help to build sustainability for Iowa.


 

4-H Day Camp Adventure

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

Friday April 19 was truly an adventure. Jack and I were helping out with the Outdoor Adventure Day Camp down by Chariton, put on by ISU Extension and Outreach and the AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach Program.

Our day of adventures started bright and early. We had around a 2 hour drive ahead of us and that may seem long to most but we were used to it. As we started our journey I turned on some music to help make the drive more enjoyable. This drive consisted of going south along the interstate, some other major highways and even some back roads. After the 2 hours had come to an end, we had finally arrived at our first destination of the day, Pin Oak Marsh, which is right outside of Chariton. Now we were a little bit early, so after we hauled our things inside we had time to look around the nature center and see all that it had to offer. There were turtles and fish but there were also plenty of different taxidermied animals. Also along the wall were many different fur pelts.

The Outdoor Adventure campers were in 3rd-5th grades. When all the students arrived on site, the program commenced and we started out with some ice breaker games to help everyone get to know one another. After the ice breakers, the students were shown the stream table. The stream table shows how a stream moves based off of the landscape that is around it. The students then went on a nature walk while Jack and I set up the materials for our “We All Live in a Watershed” presentation.

When the students returned from their hike, we started our watershed presentation where we went over the importance of watersheds and how it’s what we do on the land that affects our water. By the end of the presentation the students understood that many of Iowa’s rivers are heavily polluted because of all of our human development. We also explained to them different things that we can all do to help hopefully clean up some of our rivers.

Now that Jack and I had finished our presentation, we had to pack up all our materials and head to our second location of the day, which was Stephens State Forest (about 20 minutes from Pin Oak Marsh). As we got to the forest, we ended up getting lost and had no idea where we were at or where we were going (despite following Google maps for directions). This day was an adventure in many ways! So as we were parked for a few minutes trying to figure out what we were going to do, I pulled up a map of the park. The map did not help initially, but we did know that we had to turn around because we were at a dead end! As we made our way back from where we came, we came across someone who was able to tell us where we were and how to get to where we needed to be. So we finally made it to our destination, AND we were still on time!

The students at the Stephens State Forest Day Camp were in 6th-12th grades, with their camp focused on state parks, nature exploration, art, and photography. While Jack and I were setting up our materials, the group that we were going to be teaching went on a nature hike to take photos. The group was super late getting back – yet another adventure! — so we had to shorten our presentation down a lot. Water Rocks! folks are really good at being flexible and adapting. Even with the shorter time, we could tell that the students still had fun and got a lot of information from our presentation. After wrapping up, we packed up all of our materials and put them back in our van. We then started our 2 hour journey back to Ames where our day of adventure began. This just goes to show that every day is a new adventure with youth outreach and Water Rocks!.

Joshua Harms

Rockin’ Carroll County with Water Rocks! Days

It’s always exciting to see the Water Rocks! messages and lessons create a ripple effect to reach well beyond the direct activities of our small team. In Carroll County, under the guidance and creative leadership of Anjanette Treadway, human services program coordinator in the Carroll County Extension Office, the ripples are gaining momentum and turning into a tidal wave of activities for elementary and middle school students across the county.

Anjanette is responsible for supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for kindergarten through third grade in county schools. She is also the “conservation education” champion for all students up through the sixth grade.

She uses the Water Rocks! programming and materials to make waves in classrooms and beyond. Two major events that she produces in Carroll schools are a field day for third-graders, and a sixth-grade environmental field day.

During the summer of 2018, Anjanette also coordinated a six-hour day camp program open to all fourth- through sixth-grade students in Carroll County. She anticipates continuing this in future summers to provide education and outreach to students regarding the importance of environmental awareness and conservation.

Anjanette learned about Water Rocks! from a colleague in 2015. “My co-worker brought me some of the materials from the program and encouraged me to get involved with Water Rocks! to learn more,” said Anjanette. “I’m certainly glad I did. Water Rocks! provides an expansive set of activities and content which is applicable for all elementary and middle-school grades.”

She continued, “The Water Rocks! team has done an excellent job of aligning programming and educational resources with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and statewide curriculum requirements for STEM advancement. And the materials provided in the workshops and summits are ready to use in the classroom – something that is very helpful for teachers who are time-stressed and in need of creative and innovative ways to engage students.”

The third-grade conservation field day has become Water Rocks! Day, comprising hands-on outdoor activities and games as well as participation from key specialists and teachers. The next Water Rocks! Day will be held in May 2019.

Before Water Rocks! Day, Anjanette visits the classrooms and provides introduction to the Water Rocks! conservation lessons and plants some seeds with the students. “The students and the teachers get very excited about the music and the lessons from Water Rocks!,” she noted. “One teacher loved the musical element enough to provide copies to the school’s music teacher to suggest they explore using it in the music classroom as well.”

The introductory lessons get students up and moving as well. The students are outside, running, getting dirty, investigating such things as where water will run off from the playground and other tangible lessons which tie in to the classroom instruction.

On Water Rocks! Day, Anjanette sets up many of the fun Water Rocks! activities including Biodiversity Jenga, Creature Cache, Habitat Hopscotch, Wetlands Bingo and the Poo Relay. The Water Rocks! team presents its We All Live in a Watershed module, and other specialists present related material. In addition, the students participate in nature walks to extend the lessons beyond the classroom to incorporate their own observations.

For the sixth-grade Environmental Field Day, the lessons are more intensive, incorporate water quality topics as well as the core conservation message and involve guest presenters. At the most recent event, presenters included the naturalist from the Carroll County Conservation District, a speaker from Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR), a raptor rehabilitation center, the Water Rocks! team from Iowa State University, and teachers – who were delighted to get a chance to step out of the classroom and teach in a different style.

Starting in 2018, the Environmental Field Day now also includes a Water Rocks! Assembly program with live music and skits. “The field day started with different presentations and lessons, leading to the capstone of the day, a ‘rock concert’ assembly program. Of course, it’s not all rock music, but the atmosphere among the performers, kids and teachers sure made it feel that way,” she commented.

Ann Staudt
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Looking to book a Water Rocks! Assembly in your neck of the woods? Limited openings remain for May, and we are also booking for the summer months!

What the heck is habitat?

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Adam Janke | Assistant Professor in Natural Resource Ecology and Management and Extension Wildlife Specialist, Iowa State University

I have seen a wide gamut of responses to the question posed in the title of this post. While preparing for my Ph.D. candidacy exams, I was asked a version of this question as it related to ducks and agonized over the response for months (you’ll see elements of my answer below). In another extreme, I recently posed the same question at a meeting and received an enthusiastic, unequivocating answer of, “corn fields.” I’ll spare you the details of why it is that Iowa’s 13.2 million acres of corn are almost certainly not a limiting feature for ducks, but suffice it to say that my mental picture of habitat for ducks (wetlands) was starkly different from this respondent’s own mental image (corn fields). Same word. Same question. Drastically different responses.

The mental image we conjure of “habitat” depends on two factors:

The first factor, is what kind of habitat we’re talking about. Habitat the noun is functionally meaningless without the clarifying help of one or more adjectives like “pileated woodpecker habitat”, “duck nesting habitat” or “winter pheasant habitat”. Asserting, “I’m creating habitat” could simultaneously mean you’re building a flat-roofed building where Common Nighthawks will nest or you’re restoring the Regal Fritillary butterfly and it’s host plants to a native prairie. Same word. Drastically different meanings.

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What “habitat” means varies widely between species, like mallards (left) who make use of a diversity of wetlands, ponds, and fields, and pileated woodpeckers (right) who are picky in their selection of large tracts of mature forests. (Photos by Adam Janke and Pixabay )

The second factor, is the one that gave me so much anxiety in anticipation of the question during my candidacy exams. That is, what features of habitat are most limiting for a species of wildlife, and how do we know? Biologists are taught to remember Leibig’s Law of the Minimum. Without information on how limiting any one resource is, we’re left only guessing and often fail to see desired responses to habitat restoration that miss the mark on limiting factors. To uncover limiting factors we must take measurements, which presents its own challenges because wildlife are hard to observe (hence the ‘wild’ part). Volumes in my professional discipline are written on the issue of “imperfect detectability” and overcoming this observational challenge is the source of substantial frustration.

Thus, to answer “what the heck is habitat” in Iowa, or any landscape, we need to make some assumptions. Leading to the chronically unsatisfying assertion — “it depends” — as the prevailing answer to the question.

However, I think it safe to make a few generalizations to answer this question. To do so, I’m going to lean on the collective expert opinion of 74 of my peers that recently responded to a survey I sent to attendees of the annual Iowa Habitat Partners Conference (two of those attendees and conference organizers are featured on this month’s episode of The Conservation Chat). These 74 wildlife biologists from across the state were asked to rank “the ‘quality’ [of each practice] as habitat for pheasants, quail, and other farmland wildlife in Iowa.” I standardized each participant’s response so that each ranking ranged from 0, the lowest habitat quality score, to 100, the highest.

HabitatSurveyResults1-2019

Mean (± standard deviation) ‘habitat quality’ ratings from 74 wildlife biologists in Iowa asked to rank the quality of each habitat type for ‘pheasants, quail, and other farmland wildlife.’

Here’s the generalizations that emerged:

  • Any changes to the status quo are improvements in habitat quality for farmland wildlife. 93% of respondents gave corn-bean rotations or continuously grazed pastures their lowest habitat quality score.
  • Natural, perennial features like wetlands, prairies, and rotational pastures are higher quality.
  • Diversity in plants and vegetation structure matter, as reflected by the negative attitude of the group towards ‘Non-diverse’ CRP fields and continuously grazed pastures.
  • Larger patches of vegetation rate higher than smaller ones, as reflected in the higher ratings of whole-field CRP fields, wildlife areas, and wetlands, over small patches like stream buffers, prairie strips, and ‘odd areas.’

Beyond these generalizations, the wide range in respondent rankings clearly conveyed little consensus on the quality of individual features in the absence of additional clarifying details on the species or places in question. Here we find the final point of consensus.

Immediately after I hit “send” on the survey, a chorus of cries of “it depends” and “this isn’t fair!” came echoing back to my inbox from every corner of the state. Biologists, trained to think critically about limiting factors, plant diversity, patch size and connectivity, and a whole suite of other factors determining the ‘quality’ of any given ‘habitat’, insisted on answers to questions like “What factors are already limiting”, “What species”, “What part of the state” and so on in their emails.

I smiled receiving these emails because this skepticism, intuition, and critical thinking about what the heck is habitat is exactly as it should be.

Adam Janke