Thank You, David Stein!

Thank You, David Stein!

Prairie Rivers of Iowa's David Stein talks about native plants, pollinator and wildlife restoration during a Prairie Rivers of Iowa field day in 2019.

Last month marked the departure of our pollinator and native plant expert David Stein as he heads back to work in his home state, our neighbors to the north, Minnesota. We are missing his passion and work ethic, but our Watersheds and Wildlife program continues as always and efforts are well underway to find his replacement.

David contributed to a large part of Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s continued efforts to impact public awareness and implementation of conservation practices to create native plant, pollinator and wildlife habitat to help improve soil and water quality while protecting the endangered rusty patched bumble bee and other species of greatest conservation need in Iowa. He was instrumental in creating a native seed bank and the development of many acres of habitat.

I recently visited with David as he reflected upon his work here at Prairie Rivers and his hopes for the future state of native habitat and pollinators in Iowa.

What do you feel was your biggest accomplishment while working at PRI?
There are a lot! I think both completing the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant and setting the stage for PRI’s next series of habitat/conservation projects was probably the biggest accomplishment during my time here. On top of that, raising awareness of pollinator issues and educating interested landowners on how to install habitat was also a major highlight of my work. Re-discovering the rusty patched bumble bee, and mapping out new sightings was definitely a high point for me too.

How do you feel the health of native habitat and pollinators is currently in Iowa? What progress has been made? Where do we need to go from here?
 We have a long way to go, but I think we’re in a better place than we were a few years ago.  Our outreach and education efforts, especially our work with counties, cities and landowners have definitely gotten the ball rolling, but a more hands-on-deck is always better. A coordinated conservation and restoration effort between non-profits, municipalities, farmers, landowners, homeowners, businesses, and interested individuals is really the best and only way forward to reverse pollinator and habitat decline.

What’s next for you?
Next, I’ll be working up at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul. I’ll be able to be involved in habitat projects all throughout the state and be able to meet with a bunch of different stakeholders that are doing some amazing restoration work.

How has working at PRI enriched your professional life?
Working here has definitely enriched my professional life. I’ve been able to improve my own knowledge and passion regarding pollinator and wildlife conservation and directly apply it in real-time. I’ve also been able to connect and network with so many amazing stakeholders and partners from a variety of backgrounds. I know that I’ll be able to use these skills and lessons throughout my professional life moving forward.

Wild and Scenic Film Fest Presented by Prairie Rivers of Iowa Screening on Friday, October 1

Wild and Scenic Film Fest Presented by Prairie Rivers of Iowa Screening on Friday, October 1

Ames, Iowa — The Ames, Iowa, not-for-profit Prairie Rivers of Iowa is presenting its Second Annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival — Where Conservation Gets Inspired. This unique event takes place on Friday, October 1 from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Ames City Auditorium.

Tickets are $20 per person with children under 12 free. Sales are limited so pre-purchase is recommended online here or at the Prairie Rivers of Iowa office located at 2335 230th St., Suite 101, in Ames. Tickets can be purchased at the door the night of the event as available.

Wild and Scenic Film Festival Presented by Prairie Rivers of Iowa

“Many of the festival’s six films take a look at safe and sustainable practices for farming and fishing while addressing soil and water quality challenges,” says Prairie Rivers of Iowa Event Coordinator Lisa Cassady. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors and wants to be proactive towards improving the environment will enjoy attending.

Ecologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Plant Data Team, Chris Taliga will share a presentation about her avocation and conservation efforts that have come together during her family’s restoration of 160 acres of Iowa land into a prairie.

The festival’s finale film is the Iowa PBS documentary Iowa Land and Sky: Iowa Cities, Towns and Waterways, which explores how Iowa’s largest cities and smallest towns are often defined by waterways, flooding, and environmental challenges in the 21st century. A special presentation from one of the film’s producers Travis Graven follows.

Light food and drinks by Wheatsfield Co-op will be available for purchase and a silent auction will be held to benefit Iowa’s natural resources. Organizations working to improve Iowa’s environment will be on hand to share information and ideas with attendees.

This event is made possible by the generosity of Gina McAndrews Real Estate Team, Friends of Ada Hayden Heritage Park, City of Ames, Outdoor Alliance of Story County, Alluvial Brewing and Wheatsfield Co-op.

As a bonus, seven days of online streaming following the festival (excluding the special presentations) are included for ticket holders unable to attend in person or for those who are inspired to watch it again and again!

This event is part of the three-day Ames River Town of the Year Celebration starting on Thursday, September 30 with a lecture and book signing by conservationist, CNN’s 2013 Hero of the Year and Living Lands and Water founder Chad Pregracke and then ends with a river and stream cleanup on Saturday, October 2 in Ames.

Missing Monarchs, What it Means, Why it Matters, and How to Help.

Missing Monarchs, What it Means, Why it Matters, and How to Help.

It seems to be a yearly event nowadays, that we wait with bated breath for the release of the year’s final monarch count from Mexico, where they spend the winter.  Similarly, each year, we’re let down with the news that the population has fallen again.  This same thing has happened this year, with MonarchWatch’s yearly report from the field.  Yet again we’ve seen a decline, with the total area covered by monarchs in their overwintering site falling 26% compared to last year, now only covering 2.1 hectares (5.2 acres).  For a comparison, the indicator of a healthy Monarch population is an overwintering area of 6 hectares (14.8 acres).  So what’s going on here, and more importantly, what does it mean?

The Continual Growth and Collapse of Monarch Populations. Photo Credit:

It’s time for my controversial but true statement, monarchs really aren’t good pollinators. There, I said it! They don’t contribute very much to fruit or seed production, and they certainly don’t help with our food security.  So what’s the deal?  Why are we spending our time and energy monitoring and reporting on them?  Well, there are a lot of reasons why protecting them matters. For example, if you felt uncomfortable, angry, or saddened by any of my previous statements in these last 2 paragraphs, then that’s a fantastic reason on its own to protect them.  

Monarchs have a special place in the culture of Iowa, the Midwest, and North America as a whole.  Most people that I talk to about the plight of the monarchs reminisce about seeing them delicately flying around in the summer.  Many more, myself included, have fond memories of raising and releasing Monarchs as part of countless elementary school science classes.  For many people, monarchs were a great introduction to the wonders of nature, highlighting how creatures can grow and change through time in order to adapt to their surroundings.  Monarchs also teach us about migration and animal movement, how creatures overcome great odds, and large distances all for the sake of the next generation, who in turn will repeat the cycle.  

Monarchs after Migrating to Mexico.

Outside of nostalgia, metaphor, and symbolism, monarchs have an important role in conservation as what’s called an indicator species.  Because of their size, recognizability, and large range, tracking a trend in the population of monarchs is far easier than, say, a small, camouflaged, yet more-efficient pollinator.  If we know that both of these creatures have similar habitat and dietary needs, it is in our best interest, time and energy-wise to focus on the big, orange, easy-to-track species.  By providing the good habitat, food, and space for a monarch, we can expect other pollinators to use those resources in a similar way.  Similarly, if we see declines in monarch numbers, we can use that data to assume that other species of pollinators are also declining for similar reasons.  

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed, but did you spot the sweat bee?

It’s in our best interest to protect monarchs, because by extension, we’ll be protecting pollinators as a whole.  Now you may be wondering how you can help monarchs and pollinators, what things you can do to help reverse these declines?  The good news is that no matter where you live, or how much land you have, you can help your local pollinators.  All it takes to start is a few seeds, easy enough right?  

Well, no…you need to make sure you plant the right seeds for the job.  Monarchs and pollinators evolved right alongside our native plants, so those are the plants to grow that will cover all of their nutritional needs.  If you aren’t able to access native plants, or don’t have the space for them, non-native nectar plants like lavender, mint, and clover are all good options (just make sure that they don’t spread outside of a designated area!)  Also plant “host plants.”  These are specific species of plants that caterpillars will eat to prepare them for becoming butterflies.  The host plants for monarchs are famously milkweeds, but every other butterfly has their own version of this.  Finally, your plants should bloom throughout the season, with species blooming continuously between May and October.  This way, you’ll know that you’re providing a source of flood for hungry pollinators at all times.  

Pollinator Gardens Provide Nectar Throughout the Summer.

Monarchs may not be the best at pollinating, but they are an important symbol.  They symbolize migration, change, and the cycle of nature.  They also symbolize pollinators as a whole, illustrating their needs, their declines, and their need for protection.  Again, by protecting monarchs, providing them with spaces for them to grow, thrive, and eventually venture out from, we’ll be able to protect all of our pollinators.

Learning through Healthy Soil and Water

Water testing 019

This year, Prairie Rivers of Iowa is working on a project to assist Iowa’s outdoor classrooms in becoming more effective by researching existing outdoor classrooms in the state, seeking best practices from around the country, and putting together resources and materials for educators who want to create an outdoor classroom in their area.1  You probably also know about our work with area schools through our Kids on the Byway and School and Community Gardens programs.

In honor of National Soil and Water Conservation Week, it’s worth taking a look at the important role that healthy soil and water can play in educating the next generation of Iowa leaders.  Research has shown many benefits result when students are able to experience the natural environment in person as part of their education.  These experiences can help contribute to child development and skill-building, increase fitness and motor skills, and even build creativity and reduce stress.  Outdoor experiences also help increase student success in a whole variety of academic content areas: in science, language arts, math, and other classes, plus on standardized tests.

One really important strain of research indicates that students are very capable of seeing a whole variety of learning environments as related and complementary.  Students can relate what they learn outside, interacting with the natural world, back to what they learn in the traditional classroom, and vice versa.2

This is strong reinforcement for the type of work Prairie Rivers of Iowa does, making connections in the natural world with traditional in-class education.  Rather than being an “extra” to be used only when more important instruction has been provided, outdoor education can be deeply connected to so many other content areas throughout the school day.  The view of outdoor education as only a bonus field trip misses the point that such experiences can be critical for making in-class learning more concrete or for making complex ideas real to students.

Healthy soil and water, whether in outdoor classrooms adjacent to school buildings, in designated natural areas like parks and preserves, or simply in children’s hometowns, are critical for providing opportunities for students to experience nature in all its many “classrooms.”


1This project is supported by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources REAP Conservation Education Program and Iowa’s Living Roadway Trust Fund.

2See Zandvliet, David B.  (2012). Development and validation of the Place-Based Learning and Constructivist Environment Survey (PLACES). Learning Environments Research, 15, 125-140.

Lincoln Highway’s Corridor Management Plan

As you may know, Prairie Rivers of Iowa manages the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, one of 11 byways in Iowa (a byway is a road specially designated by the United States or by the State of Iowa for its distinctive qualities).  Part of our work along the byway is telling the story of the people and places of the Lincoln Highway, by working to preserve its history, by promoting local businesses and events, and by working with communities and statewide organizations to recognize its unique character.  If you’ve seen us at a motor tour stop, presenting to a community group, or read a Lincoln Highway brochure, you’ve seen some of our work on the byway.

Lincoln Highway Marker with an Abraham Lincoln Medallion and red, white, and blue Lincoln Highway logo

A Lincoln Highway Marker in Story County. Photo © Tom Apgar, Apgar Studios.

Beginning this spring, we are launching a three-year initiative: creating a new Corridor Management Plan for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway.  A Corridor Management Plan, or CMP, is a document that both reveals the assets of the Lincoln Highway and creates a plan for preserving and strengthening them within the byway’s corridor, or nearby area.

These assets might include the historical features of the byway, including buildings, Lincoln Highway markers, or segments of roadway.  They also might include the significant natural and environmental areas around the roadway, businesses and attractions in byway towns, and community groups that support byway travelers and local residents.

Preserving and strengthening these assets might include developing new plans for interpreting key Lincoln Highway locations for travelers, building up our tools for connecting the Lincoln Highway with Iowa students and teachers, especially focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, planning to enhance the byway traveler’s experience statewide, identifying creative Lincoln Highway projects in communities, and more.

You’ll notice I’ve said “might” several times.  The key part about creating a CMP is that it is truly a community-based plan.  Later this year, we will be beginning a series of public conversations across the state with people like you, people who care about the Lincoln Highway and its communities.  Together, we’ll decide on the important assets for each segment of the Lincoln Highway and the strategies for strengthening those assets.  You can learn more about the CMP process on Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s website.

Since this is the beginning of a conversation, let’s start talking.  I invite you to sign up for our mailing list so you can learn about the latest CMP news and find out about meetings and presentations in your community.  Please also consider contacting me to discuss the CMP in more detail or to learn how you might get more involved, especially as a volunteer or community leader.  You can reach me at or 515-216-4005.  Together, we can help build a Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway for the next 100 years!