Idaho grazing lease sold to environmental group who outbid rancher


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 31, 2021

The Western Watersheds Project outbid a rancher to purchase a grazing lease in central Idaho in its effort to end all public-land grazing.

The group bid over $8,000 for 620 acres of land. The project will also pay an additional annual fee of $800 for the number of sheep and cattle that are authorized to be on the land. The lease is for 20 years and the land is situated in Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley, according to the Associated Press. This might not be the only grazing lease that goes to environmental groups instead of ranchers. The Idaho Cattle Association said it’s possible that more leases will be sought after by groups like the Western Watersheds Project.

The new owners of the land plan to convert the grazing lease into a conservation lease, which will allow the environmental group to invest in wildlife on the 620 acres. The grazing lease joins more than 1,100 managed by the Idaho Department of Lands, covering thousands of square miles of land in the state.

Erik Molvar, the executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, said the purchase was an expensive way to achieve the group’s goals of conserving land in Idaho. He called the Sawtooth Valley “one of the crown jewels of Idaho” that is valuable and an area rich with diverse wildlife.

Water Conservation is Being Requested Despite Rain


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | July 5, 2021

Recently the Des Moines area has received rain, causing a lower demand for water. Despite this good news, next week there will likely be more heat and less rain, which could cause more strain on Des Moines Water Works. Des Moines Water Works had a high demand this summer because of the dryness Iowa is experiencing.

Des Moines Water Works pumped 89 million gallons on June 9. Two days later it was closer to 90 million gallons but luckily rain came. The rain brought demand down to 86 million, which is still high. The record is 96 million gallons, which occurred in 2012. 

On June 14 Des Moines citizens were asked to conserve their water when possible. This brought demand down by about 5 million gallons a day. 

Demand for water got down to 50 million gallons a day in late June after multiple rain showers. This did not last long, and by Thursday, July 1 it was up to 73 million gallons a day.

Ted Corrigan, Des Moines Water Works CEO, told Iowa Capital Dispatch that Water Works will continue to ask their customers to try to avoid watering their lawn, and to follow a watering schedule. Their goal is to cut down lawn watering by 25 percent.

Utility workers also installed flashboards on the Raccoon River in hopes to raise the water level because the river has been running low recently. The Raccoon River is a large source of water in the Des Moines area.

National Park Service shifts mission due to climate change


Via Flickr

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 20, 2021

The National Park Service is shifting its focus to protect more land because climate change is creating new environmental concerns. With the planet warming, the service’s goal of absolute conservation of land is no longer viable in many cases.

In late April, the National Park Service updated its guidance for park managers in the 21st century. The new research and guidelines the service released this spring explains how to plan for worst-case scenarios and how to decide what species or landscapes to prioritize when necessary.

The report includes two peer-reviewed papers that focus on different tools park managers and ecologists can look towards as the environmental transformation continues.

As the New York Times reported, the new report asks park managers to consider transformation as “the prevailing theme” of their approach to protecting federally owned land. Park ecologists and managers are asked to actively choose what to save and what to shepherd through an environmental transition due to climate change. They are also tasked with choosing what will vanish from national parks forever.

One of the main focuses of the document is forests due to the rising number of wildfires in the United States.

The report looked at various future scenarios to ensure different parks with diverse species adapt to future changes. It also focuses on the National Park Service’s resources, stewardship responsibilities, and how they can be beneficial to the transition.

Biden Administration Announces Environmental Conservation Plan


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | May 10, 2021

On Thursday the Biden administration announced a conservation plan called “America the Beautiful” with the goal to conserve 30 percent of US land and water by 2030. They are calling it the nation’s first national conservation goal and made a warning about the bad effects climate change is having on the country’s land. 

This goal will be voluntary and locally-led, yet they hope everyone will participate. Officials in the Biden administration said that Earth is in a “catastrophic extinction crisis,” and warned that we need to protect our environment and biodiversity. 

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said that, “nature in America is in trouble and Americans across the country are seeing and feeling the impact.” She then said that this plan is a necessity, and that we need “all hands on deck.”

The federal government is working with US states and Tribal nations to protect wildlife both on land and water. They also are planning to protect public parks. 

Besides combatting the serious problem of climate change, the Biden administration says their plan will also promote racial equity and create new jobs. They will do this by making natural spaces more easily accessible to underprivileged and underserved areas of the country. 

Presidential hopefuls discuss sustainable ag at last weekend’s Heartland Forum


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Photo by Julia Poska, 2019. 

Julia Poska | April 4, 2019

Last weekend, four 2020 presidential candidates and one likely contender gathered in Storm Lake, Iowa to discuss their visions for struggling rural America at the Heartland Forum. Here’s what each said about sustainability and agriculture:

Julián Castro: The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama was asked a question about promoting eco-friendly family food farmers for economic, social and environmental resiliency.

“Our family farms help feed America—and the world, really—so we need to make sure that they can succeed, and also that people in these rural areas and rural communities can have clean air and water. Number one, I would appoint people to the EPA who actually believe in environmental protection,” he said. He specifically discussed boosting funds to enforce the Clean Air and Water Acts.

Rep. John Delaney (D-MD): Delaney’s “Heartland Fair Deal,” which he discussed at the forum, lays out plans for investing in negative emissions technology and focusing on climate resiliency and flooding.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): Klobuchar said she would re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement on her first day in the White House. She also discussed her experience on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“What we’ve learned over time, is that [if] we’re going to get [the Farm Bill] passed… we need to have a coalition of people who care about nutrition, people who care about farming and people who care about conservation,” she said.

She said she wants to keep Farm Bill conservation programs strong.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): Hailing from the industrial “Rust Belt,” Ryan has little experience with rural areas, but he said he believes the two regions face many of the same issues and should come together politically. He spoke to opportunity in the clean energy and electric vehicle industries, which he would like to see driven into “distressed rural areas” to replace lost manufacturing jobs.

He also spoke about Farm Bill conservation programs; “These are the kind of programs we need to ‘beef up,’ no pun intended,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Senator Warren did not speak about sustainability directly. Her platform mainly focused on addressing monopolies in agribusiness to support small, family farmers. One of her proposals is to break up the Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto, a merger that was heavily criticized by environmentalists. 

The Heartland Forum was moderated by Pulitzer prize-winner Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, and two reporters from HuffPost. Those news organizations organized the event alongside Open Markets Institute and the Iowa Farmers Union.

 

Dubuque to hold water quality summit next week


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Screenshot from the event’s promotional flyer. 

Julia Poska | February 21, 2019

The 11th Annual Dubuque Area Watershed Symposium will be Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium from 3 to 9pm. The event is free to the public, but pre-registration is required to attend.

Subtitled “The True Value of Clean Water”, the event will focus on Iowa’s water quality concerns and current efforts to resolve them.  One of the first items on the agenda will be a presentation on the City of Dubuque’s recent Iowa Partners for Conservation Grant: $326,712 to be put towards engaging local farmers and helping them become leaders in efforts to reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Catfish Creek Watershed.

Other presentations will cover conservation practices, land-use practices, soil health, and water quality.

Later in the evening, keynote speakers Michael Schueller, director of environmental operations the State Hygienic Lab, and Larry Webber, IIHR research engineer and co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center, will share their knowledge and ideas about Iowa water quality.

The organizers want to hear from non-experts, too, and will hold a roundtable discussion on drafting the Dubuque County Conservation Strategic Plan, as well as encourage questions after the keynotes.

For more information visit the City of Dubuque’s official website.

 

 

 

Farm conservation on the line in 2018 Farm Bill


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At risk USDA conservation programs include provisions to promote sustainable stewardship of forest and pasture on farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | September 28, 2018

Farmers nationwide are waiting anxiously for the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, a crucial piece of legislation that authorizes U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and funding for research in agriculture and food.

The current bill expires Sept. 30. If congress can not settle on a new bill by then, funding for those conservation, nutrition, and rural development programs, among others, could be lost for a time.

A conference committee of both House of Representatives and Senate representatives are currently working out the differences between the draft bills proposed by each chamber in June. The Senate draft is widely regarded as friendlier to conservation.

One of the House’s most controversial proposals is to cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which provides contractual support for people who actively mange agricultural land or forest for conservation on their property.

The House bill proposes folding the CSP’s “best features” into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a similar program that covers some cost for conservation practices on farms.

Critics say this move would eliminate the advanced  conservation practices the CSP promotes, and totally cuts funding for working lands. They believe the CSP is necessary because it allows for long-term conservation efforts, whereas EQIP deals with one-time practice establishments.

Conservation practices like cover cropping and on-farm forestry ease the stress agriculture can put on our natural resources, but they can be expensive for farmers. USDA programs provide critical resources to ensure eco-friendly farms can still turn profit.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy and Natural Association of Conservation Districts are actively advocating for the conference committee to maintain or increase conservation funding in their final version of the bill.

 

 

 

 

On the Radio- The benefits of rotational grazing


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Rooter Ranch in Texas uses the rotational grazing method. (USDA/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 2, 2018

This week’s segment gives insight into rotational grazing and how it can benefit farmers.

Transcript:

Iowa farmers may be able to use conservation grazing as a way to help encourage prairie growth.

The is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Wendy Johnson, a farmer in Charles City, likes her livestock to graze in free range patterns to improve both the quality of life for the animals and the health of the pasture. She often allows two or more different types of animals to engage in multi species grazing, a method that allows livestock to graze as they please, and fertilize the land with their waste.

Will Harris, a farmer in Bluffton, Georgia, expanded his business exponentially using careful planning and a similar free range method. After observing the grazing patterns of different livestock, he realized that these patterns could be applied to the prairie as well.

According to the Grazing Animals Project, conservation grazing involves using a mix of different livestock that enjoy eating different types of plants. This method helps control species of plants that over dominate the prairie, and encourages the growth of smaller, less dominant plant types. Johnson and Harris both hope that their method of rotational grazing will be more widely implemented by other small farmers in Iowa.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, Sara E. Mason.

Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy draft released


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Female monarchs lay their eggs in milkweed pods. (Charles Dawley/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 15, 2018

A draft of the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy was released on Monday, and Iowa plays an integral role in its success.

North American monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 80 percent in the last two decades, and their numbers are less than half of what is needed to guarantee a sustainable population. The black and gold pollinators spend their winter months in Mexico and southern California and travel to the northern midwest for the summer. Female monarchs lay eggs exclusively in milkweed pods.

Released by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the conservation strategy draft explains that midwestern states plan to establish 1.3 billion new milkweed stems over the next two decades. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is included within the midwestern effort. Written by Iowa State University’s Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, its aims to establish between 480,000 and 830,000 acres on monarch habitat by 2038.

Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, said, “The consortium has worked collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to expand habitat on our agricultural land, urban areas, roadsides, and other public land. We appreciate the many partners that have been involved and are encouraged by the work already underway.”

Iowa’s strategy provides evidence-based recommendations for creating monarch habitat and aims to document all voluntary efforts. 127 to 188 million new milkweed stems are estimated to be planted in Iowa in accordance with the plan.

Given that the vast majority of Iowa land is in agricultural production, the plan’s authors emphasize that agricultural lands must be a part of the solution. The strategy considers both expanding on existing conservation practices and planting milkweed stems in underutilized farm land as viable options. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will decide in June 2019 whether the monarch butterfly should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said, “Iowa falls entirely within the monarch’s northern breeding core. This means that every patch of milkweed habitat added in Iowa counts, and Iowa is perfectly situated to lead the way in conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly. The recovery cannot succeed without Iowa.”

The full draft of the Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.
The complete Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.

Iowa general assembly adjourns, still no water quality funding


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Iowa legislators have failed to approve long-term funding for water quality projects that were approved by voters in 2010. (Michael Leland/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 25, 2017

The Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoors Trust Fund remains empty after legislators adjourned the 86th General Assembly on Saturday without passing policy to fund water quality improvement in the state.

Long-term funding for water quality was not included in next year’s $7.2 billion state budget, even though the vast majority of Iowa voters supported establishing the fund more than seven years ago. The House and Senate each devised their own plans for funding, but neither plan garnered support from both houses.

Legislators in the Senate proposed an amendment that would have increased Iowa’s sales tax by three-eighths of one cent. The plan would have generated around $180 million dollars per year for the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoors Trust Fund, 60 percent of which would have gone to water quality improvement projects. The proposal was championed by Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, a coalition of environmentalists, political leaders and Iowa businesses dedicated to promoting water and land conservation measures. Although the sales tax increase had support on both sides of the aisle, it lost in the Senate vote 34 to 16.

The Iowa House of Representatives proposed a plan that would have redirected money from a sales tax Iowans already pay on tap water to water quality improvement projects. The 6 percent tax currently funds infrastructure projects for community school districts and other municipal projects. The plan was approved by the House, even though some Democrats criticized the it for cutting funds from other state programs.

Kirk Leeds is CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). In an interview with CBC, he said, “This year’s legislative session was a missed opportunity to act boldly on improving Iowa’s water.” Leeds continued, “ISA will seek continued partnerships with farmers and cities to make real progress on conservation to the benefit of all Iowans.”