You can protect butterflies by providing habitat in your own back yard

PrintBlank Park Zoo has recently announced an exciting new conservation initiative called Plant.Grow.Fly. This project has been launched as an effort to protect one of the most important parts of our ecosystem: the pollinator. Although many of us only appreciate butterflies for their beautiful colors, more than one third of our global food supply depends on pollinators like the butterfly and bee. This means that it is in everyone’s interest to become aware of pollinator issues and take action to preserve them, and that is exactly what Plant.Grow.Fly. sets out to do.

Through the Plant.Grow.Fly website you can find easy to use garden recipes that will help you create the right habitat for our native butterflies and bees to thrive. Once your garden is planted, you can register it with Plant.Grow.Fly., and even show off your support for our pollinators by sending in a picture of your garden to be recognized on the Plant.Grow.Fly. website. Whether you are on a budget, or willing to spare no expense, Plant.Grow.Fly provides all the resources you will need to create a healthy habitat for pollinators at you home, school, or even workplace, and the time to act is now!

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Severe erosion and lack of conservation progress cause for alarm among Iowa experts

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Former Iowa Environmental Council executive director Linda Appelgate captured this image of a corn field eroding into the Nishnabotna river in 2010. According to the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, nearly 80% of Iowa farmers agree they need to do more to “reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into streams and lakes.”

Last week was Soil and Water Conservation Week in Iowa, a time to reflect on how well we are protecting one of Iowa’s most precious natural resources.  Unfortunately, soil erosion remains a serious problem in our state. Recently several top experts on Iowa soil conservation weighed in and expressed alarm about the state of our soil.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs.  Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.  Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these models do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs. Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.   Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these estimates do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

Most unsettling was a reminder from Iowa State University agronomist Rick Cruse that our present methods of estimating soil erosion are badly flawed and may be missing between 20 and 90% of the erosion in the state.  In total, Cruse estimates the economic harm to agricultural yields Iowa suffers from historic soil erosion may be as great as $1 billion each year–harm that will grow as erosion continues.

Cruse, who manages the Iowa Daily Erosion Project, said current models only account erosion that occurs evenly across the soil’s surface and fail to account for ephemeral gullies that form when heavy rainwater forms channels and washes out a trench along a slope.  He answered questions about soil erosion recently in the Des Moines Register and spoke about his research at length in an Iowa Learning Farms webinar, which is available free online.

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Public hearings are underway on CAFO clean water rule

Two fish in an Iowa waterway died during a manure spill.

Manure spills can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems. According to the Council’s 2012 analysis, illegal manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa in the prior ten years.

For over a year, the Iowa Environmental Council has been supportive of an effort to protect Iowa’s waters from harmful manure spills.  We have advocated for strong protections of Iowa’s waters and compiled data on the harm manure spills have caused to Iowa’s waters.

The next chapter of this ongoing story takes place this month as Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission is working to complete required updates to Iowa’s rules governing how Clean Water Act permits are issued to agricultural facilities.

Under law, Iowa’s flexibility in this rulemaking is limited.  Iowa code does not permit the rules to be more stringent than specific federal requirements, and so what has been proposed is simply directly incorporating federal policy into Iowa’s rules “by reference.”

A public comment period on the proposed rules is now open through May 13.  According to the public notice for the rulemaking (which begins on page 24 of this .pdf), comments may be submitted using this method:

Any interested person may make written suggestions or comments on the proposed amendments on or before May 13, 2014. Written comments should be directed to Gene Tinker, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wallace State Office Building, 502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0034; fax (515)281-8895; or e-mail gene.tinker@dnr.iowa.gov.

In addition, six public hearings are set related to this rulemaking from May 6 to May 13:

  • May 6, 2014 6 p.m.
    Lime Creek Nature Center
    3501 Lime Creek Road, Mason City
  • May 7, 2014 6 p.m.
    Clay County Administration Building Boardroom
    300 W. 4th Street, Spencer
  • May 8, 2014 6 p.m.
    Carroll County Courthouse Meeting Room
    114 E. 6th Street, Carroll
  • May 9, 2014 11 a.m.
    Wallace State Office Building Fourth Floor Conference Room
    502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines
  • May 12, 2014 6 p.m.
    Northeast Iowa Community College Dairy Center, Room 115
    1527 Highway 150 South, Calmar
  • May 13, 2014 6 p.m.
    Washington County Conservation Board Education Center, Marr Park
    2943 Highway 92, Ainsworth

Council recognizes spring interns for their service advancing solar energy, conservation progress, and more

The Iowa Environmental Council has been fortunate this semester to have the assistance of two interns, Meghan Malloy and Will Fandel, who have brought value to our team in many ways.

Malloy

Malloy

Meghan is completing her law degree this semester at Drake University in Des Moines.  Her primary responsibility was to share information about solar energy with a broad cross section of legislators.  We appreciate her persistence and patience this semester sharing the story of Iowa’s great potential for solar energy leadership.  Meghan writes:

Part of lobbying is appealing to both sides of the aisle at the Capitol and illustrating how an issue impacting the environment, as well as the economy, is not a Democrat or Republican issue – it’s an issue for Iowans. It requires clear communication and compromise to bring both sides to the tables to ensure legislation is passed.

This experience through the Iowa Environmental Council allowed me to sharpen my communication and research skills, as well as learn in-depth about the potential industry opportunity Iowa has in solar energy. While the state has started to take advantage of this alternative energy source, there is room for it grow, which is, in part, in the hands of the General Assembly. Environmental lobbyists – both professional and interns – will need to continue their work with the Legislature to ensure this technology keeps moving forward.

Fandel

Fandel

Will Fandel came to our office to support conservation progress and the Council’s annual statehouse day, but has since taken on work on many issues and proven himself a very diligent, capable member of our team.  Will says:

The diverse range of work that I did while at the Council allowed me to learn a little about a lot of different areas, and has helped me understand the workings of a small non-profit organization. Furthermore, I now have a much better sense of how the environmental community in Iowa works together to enact change and improve air, water and soil quality in the state.

My experience through the Iowa Environmental Council has been a great learning experience that has improved my communication, organizational, and research skills, and has expanded my creative abilities. I am confident that my time spent interning at the Council me will serve me well as I continue my environmentally focused undergraduate studies.

The Council wishes Will and Meghan the best in their future pursuits.

If you are interested in serving as a Council intern, send an e-mail to Ralph Rosenberg, executive director, at rosenberg@iaenvironment.org, to get started.

A historic victory for REAP: What happened, what comes next?

Council Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg, center, addresses the assembled crowd at Environmental Lobby Day, March 18.

Nearly 150 Iowans participated in a clean water and conservation statehouse day held on March 18 with $25 million for REAP ranked high on the list of priorities.

The last day of April brought exciting news to Iowa’s conservation community as a sequence of bills adopted by the general assembly appropriated a record $25 million to Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program.  In a flurry of activity leading up to adjournment of the 85th General Assembly, the final vote on REAP funding did not take place until after 3:00 a.m. on May 1.

This is the first time in 25 years REAP has been “fully funded” by the Iowa legislature, meaning approved funds meet or exceed the authorized level, currently $20 million.  In all, funding approved will come from three sources:

  • $16 million through HF2458, the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Natural Resources.  This money comes from Iowa’s Environment First Fund.  It is noteworthy that controversial proposals in this bill to violate the spirit of the REAP funding formula and divert funds from the open spaces account were removed from the final bill.
  • $4 million through SF2349, appropriations from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.
  • $5 million through SF2363, a bill making various one-time appropriations to a variety of programs, including REAP and several other conservation programs.

All three of these bills will require the Governor’s signature for $25 million in REAP funding to become law.  The Governor will have approximately 30 days to act on each bill, and appropriations bills are usually subject to strong review by the Governor’s office prior to being signed.

In addition to leadership shown by numerous conservation-minded legislators, Iowa’s REAP Program is supported by approximately 37,000 Iowans who have purchased natural resource license plates.  Last year and this year, hundreds of Iowans took part in a public participation process to make recommendations for the program’s future.

In March, the Iowa Environmental Council and Iowa REAP Alliance partnered with over 30 organizations to host a clean water and conservation rally at the statehouse.  An untold number of Iowans, through conservation organizations or acting independently, spoke out in favor of providing the program this historic funding level.

Thank you to all Iowans who spoke out to help make this progress.  We do know the work of protecting clean water and a healthy environment is not finished.  Together, we will continue to push for similar funding of REAP year after year.

Editor’s note:  Many environmental issues, including controversial provisions concerning confidentiality of water quality data in Iowa’s pollution reduction efforts, have seen action in the closing hours of the legislative session.  The Council will continue to summarize legislative action on a variety of issues in the coming days.