Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Hello and Happy 2023,

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has had a busy and productive 2023 in Iowa, working on a variety of important initiatives related to creating a healthier natural environment and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Iowa.   As we end this year, we have touched kids, families, landowners, historic homeowners and business owners, communities, natural resource professionals, like-minded not-for-profits and oversaw a national prairie conference in Iowa.

Here’s a summary of some of the key accomplishments and initiatives this year:

EDUCATIONAL VIDEO SERIES – We created a weekly video series for YouTube and Instagram The Clean Water Act: 50 Years, 50 Facts. We produced 45 short videos filmed at dozens of locations (including knee deep in a marsh) and featuring 5 music parodies.  The educational videos covered various aspects of water conservation, law and policy.

Water Testing Ioway Creek Near Stratford in Hamitlon County

MONTHLY STREAM MONITORINGConducted monthly monitoring of at least 15 streams, providing updates in the Prairie Rivers monthly newsletter.  Additionally, coordinated volunteer “snapshots” with neighboring counties and supported school groups interested in water monitoring. Additionally, we published a 65-page report analyzing water quality data, including a novel way of looking at the data.

SECURED A NATIONAL FOUNDATION GRANT – This grant assists us in building a network for interpreting water quality monitoring data.  Seven partners joined Prairie Rivers to focus at sharing best practices, looking for tools to monitor E. coli in our streams, providing a monthly opportunity to express their concerns and planning for an Iowa Water Summit in 2024.

Ioway Creek Cleanup

TWO TRASH CLEANUPS — (1) May 2023 — Cleaned Ioway Creek by canoe, S. Grand to S. 16th St (Ames), 40 participants.  The trash collected weighed 3,020 pounds and included 20 tires and three rims. Partners included: Story County Conservation, Skunk River Paddlers, the City of Ames, Outdoor Alliance of Story County.  (2) August 14, 2023 – Cleaned a tributary of Ioway Creek in Stuart Smith Park (Ames), on foot, nine volunteers, 350 pounds of trash removed.  Partners included Iowa Rivers Revival, Green Iowa AmeriCorps and the City of Ames.

POLLINATOR CONSERVATION Launched a 10-year plan involving over 40 persons serving on a committee to support pollinator conservation.  This plan is aimed at conserving pollinators and their habitats, which are crucial for the environment.  You can see the plan at www.prrcd.org.

Monarch Magic Family Fun Event on September 9th, 2023

MONARCH MAGIC Held the first Monarch tagging event in September, where over 300 kids, their families, and others learned about pollinators and tagged 146 Monarchs.  We had 10 sponsors and partners at Ada Hayden Heritage Park and plan to do it again in 2024.

HISTORIC RESOURCE PRESERVATIONReceived a grant from Iowa Cultural Affairs and successfully surveyed 319 historic listings on the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.  In 2024, we will present the findings to elected officials and other interested persons in the 43 communities along the Byway to inform and develop a plan for the restoration and preservation of these important Iowa heritage properties.

BYWAY COORDINATOR AND PROJECTS – Hired a new Byway Coordinator, Jeanie Hau, who is actively working to support our Byway projects.  Prairie Rivers signed a new contract with the Iowa DOT to support work on the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway extending our efforts to preserve Iowa’s heritage.  This Byway begins on Highway 30, Montour turnoff, and travels through the Amana Colonies for a total of 77 miles.

TRAVELING EXHIBITThe Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway traveling exhibit called The Promise Road:  How the Lincoln Highway Changed America has been displayed at various locations, allowing visitors to learn about the rich history of this historic road.  It’s available for display in museums, libraries, and other community spaces.  So far the exhibit has traveled to Jefferson, Grand Junction, State Center, Nevada, Linn County Historical Society: The History Center, Cedar Rapids History Museum, Nevada Library, Marion Public Library, Carroll Public Library, Harrison County Welcome Center, and currently at the Council Bluffs Public Library.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Traveling Exhibit

We cannot do this work without your support!

Today, we are asking you as a supporter to make an end-of-year gift of $50.00 to Prairie Rivers of Iowa.  Your support shows us to keep up the good work!   You can make a gift here online or by going to our donation page for additional options. We know that as good stewards of the land, you see how important this work is today.

It is so important for a not-for-profit to receive gifts from individuals. Hearing from you encourages and supports our very difficult work in support of the natural and cultural resources in Iowa.
Thank you!

Board of Directors
Reed Riskedahl, President
Mark Rasmussen, Treasurer
Doug Cooper, Secretary
Erv Klaas
Bob Ausberger
Chuck Stewart
Rick Dietz
Jim Richardson
Christopher Barber

Staff
Mike Kellner, Marketing and Public Relations
Dan Haug, Water Quality Specialist
Jessica Butters, Pollinator Conservation Specialist
Jeanie Hau, Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway & Iowa Valley Scenic Byway Coordinator
Carman Rosburg, Office Manager
Daniel Huber, Technology
Shellie Orngard, Historic Properties Consultant

One-Time Donate to Prairie Rivers of Iowa
How a Pollinator Plan can Enrich Life in Ames

How a Pollinator Plan can Enrich Life in Ames

Luna Moth

Prairie Rivers of Iowa, Ames Public Works, and the Pollinator Task Force with Mayor Haila proclaiming Pollinator Week and the Ames Pollinator-Friendly Community Plan.

June is National Pollinator Month!

We are *buzzing* with exciting news! Mayor John Haila recently proclaimed National Pollinator Week in Ames, starting on Monday, June 19. Additionally, Haila announced a plan to make Ames a more pollinator-friendly city! To our knowledge, Ames is the first city in the United States to create its own 10-year plan, tailor-made for Ames residents and Iowa-native pollinators. Prairie Rivers of Iowa partnered with the City of Ames Public Works Department to organize a Pollinator Task Force, comprised of Ames residents, who came together to write the City of Ames Pollinator-Friendly Community Plan. Prairie Rivers and the City of Ames are now calling on even more residents to get involved in implementing this 10-year plan. You may be asking: ‘Why proclaim a national pollinator week, and why should we have a plan concerning pollinators for Ames?’. Because supporting pollinators is supporting the Ames community!

Do you like apple pie topped with ice cream? Thank pollinators!

Supporting Pollinators = Supporting Our Food

A pollinator is any animal (insect, bird, mammal) that moves pollen between flowers (the Ames Pollinator Plan focuses on supporting native bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects). The pollen exchange facilitated by pollinators allows plants to be fertilized and consequently grow fruits and seed. The fruits and seed produced with the help of pollinators is infinitely important! About one-third of our global food supply depends upon pollinators. If you like almonds, apples, tomatoes, or even steak and butter, you have pollinators to thank. Wait, steak and butter? Yes indeed. Pollinators are very important in producing seed for growing alfalfa, a hay crop fed to beef and dairy cattle. Without hay in livestock rations, it would be harder to access all things cattle, from ice cream to beef tacos. Lastly, almost 90% of flowering plants depend on pollinators! If you like seeing wildflowers on hikes or along roadsides, then you should want to keep pollinators around. Imagine if we lost nearly all of our flowering species? Our landscapes would be quite boring and colorless, and our plates would look more empty.

Supporting Pollinators = Supporting Ames’ Natural Resources

Yes, pollinators are very important for food crops at the national and global scale. But what are some benefits that we will be able to see locally, here in Ames? We’ll list two: 1) our water quality and 2) our soil health could be improved by planting pollinator habitat. One of the best ways to support pollinators is by planting native vegetation, or plants that have evolved and are originally from Iowa. Pollinators eat the nectar and pollen of these plants, and some also create nests in their stems. Many native plants are perennial, and because of this have expansive, thick root systems. Planting a patch of native plants is similar to casting a thick, wide net underground. This net of roots holds soil in place on slopes, soaks up extra water during heavy rain, and absorbs excess chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides as water moves through. These actions provided through native vegetation will lower erosion, mitigate flooding, and keep our local waterways cleaner if planted in the right areas.

Pollinator habitat also supports water quality!

Luna Moth

Planting for pollinators is also planting for people.

Additionally, because these plants are well-adapted to Iowa, they need fewer inputs such as pesticides and thrive without fertilizer. This creates a low-input, sustainable planting system. Lastly, creating a good pollinator habitat will create a good human habitat (see graphic on page 4 of link). Bear with me here. Being surrouned by greenery and wildlife such as butterflies reduces stress and stimulates curiosity and creativity. Strategically planting more diverse vegetation and flowering plants may increase the observations of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife, which could have a positive impact on the mental health of Ames residents. This plan will support the pollinator community to address food insecurity, ecological health, offset the impacts of climate change, and will serve as an example for other cities around the world. Supporting pollinators truly supports the Ames community and beyond!

So What’s in this Plan?

The vision of the Pollinator Plan is for the City of Ames “to become a leader in developing and sustaining pollinator habitat that will enrich the quality of life for the human and biological communities of Ames“. Besides creating habitat that benefits pollinators and people, this plan also contains four pathways to bring this vision to life: 1) public education about pollinators and other important wildlife in Ames, 2) policy enhancements to support habitat implementation in the city, 3) research current and future conditions for pollinators and residents, and 4) the creation/strengthening of partnerships to use all resources to the fullest potential. Through education, policy, research, and partnerships, our plan will leverage the excitement and interest in pollinators to reach a beautiful vision of Ames: a more engaging, sustainable, beautiful, and healthy place that will not only serve pollinators, but the people and visitors of Ames.

You can read the plan in its entirety on the City of Ames’ Bird and Pollinator Friendly Community webpage!

Do you live in the Ames area? Are you excited to be a part of this vision for Ames? If so, click the blue button to fill out our volunteer form! You can also contact Jessica Butters at jbutters@prrcd.org or call 515-232-0048 to let us know you are interested in volunteering!

Which Insects are “Home for Christmas”?

Which Insects are “Home for Christmas”?

Happy Holidays!

Insects are conspicuous by their absence during Iowa’s winter months. Absent are the beauty of butterflies, and we would be shocked to hear a bee buzzing around our snowy apartment balcony on Christmas Eve. So where did they all go? Did they perish from freezing temperatures? Have they all migrated south with the eastern monarch butterflies?

Here in Iowa, we have many insects that use truly astonishing techniques to stay here throughout the winter, braving the cold with the rest of us. From smart hiding places and suspended animation to making their own antifreeze, Iowa’s insects have developed some pretty wild adaptations to weather the winter!

Note: Iowa has many insects that undergo “suspended animation”, technically called diapause, to survive winter. Diapause is an insect form of hibernation where the insect pauses development; it stops maturing and halts all activity. It remains in its’ current life stage (which could be egg, larva, nymph, pupa, or adult) until conditions become favorable again and they can continue growing or start mating/laying eggs.

Wooly bear caterpillars: These fuzzy little guys will mature to become the Isabella tiger moth. They stare winter down by allowing themselves to freeze, but on their own terms! They seek shelter under logs and leaf layers. Once safe, they go into diapause and slow down the freezing process by creating glycerol, a natural alcohol and one of the many insect forms of “antifreeze”. They slowly allow their entire bodies to freeze except the insides of their cells.

Wooly Bear Caterpillar

Black swallowtail butterflies: These beauties stay cozy in their chrysalis while the snowflakes fall, entering diapause at the pupal stage. Their chrysalis mimics a dead leaf to keep them safe from predators, so be careful when cleaning up your lawn – especially if you grew dill, parsley, or other plants related to carrots in your garden! If you must move leaves, try not to chop/mow them to ensure you can enjoy the swallowtails next summer!

Chrysalis of Black Swallowtail

Dragonflies: Dragonflies brave the winter in a few different ways depending on the species. Some overwinter as eggs laid in logs near ponds, and others actually migrate. But one of the coolest ways some overwinter is as underwater nymphs (an immature stage of a dragonfly)! The dragonfly nymphs stay underwater beneath insulating ice layers, where they are voracious predators true to their namesake (even eating small fish!). They eat and grow throughout the winter until they can emerge as adults in the summer.

Dragonfly Larva

Flower flies: Also known as syrphid flies or hover flies, flower flies are a family of flies (called “Syrphidae”) that are fantastic garden helpers: when young they eat aphids, and as adults they pollinate. Here in Iowa, they’re commonly referred to as “sweat bees” due to their black and yellow stripes and the fact that they sometimes land on sweaty humans (sweat contains good nutrients for them). However, these flies only mimic bees, and cannot sting or bite (their mouth basically consists of a tiny mop). They survive the cold much like other insects; they find shelter in leaf layers and other plant material, enter diapause and overwinter as a larva, pupa, or adult depending on the species. Flower flies are no pansies!

Flower Fly

Bumble bee queens: Bumble bee hives only live for one year, unlike honey bees. Near the end of the hive’s life, new queens and male bees (“drones”) hatch and leave the hive to mate. When hive activity finally ends, the drones die while the newly-mated queens search for a warm winter home alone. Their new homes could be in leaf layers, warm compost piles, or just a few inches underground in a sheltered place! While winter winds howl, the entire fate of next year’s bumble bee hives rests on these young queens surviving the winter all alone. When it warms again, if all goes well, they will wake from diapause and emerge to start their very own hives to begin the cycle again.

Common Buckeye

How Can You Help?

As you can see from these few examples, surviving winter is key to us enjoying pollinators and other insects next year. So many insects rely on the shelter of leaves, logs, and other materials to block the cold wind and insulate them from freezing temperatures. Therefore, one of the best ways to help pollinators this winter, and to ensure there are pollinators this summer, is to find a place in your yard or balcony where you can let leaf litter and plant material accumulate. Think of it as a Cozy Corner that may harbor young bumble bee queens, sleeping swallowtails, and fuzzy wooly bear caterpillars. Give insects the gift of cozy this holiday season!

See below for more information on how to build your very own Cozy Corner:

Small Brush Pile

Create a “Cozy Corner”
You can create a “cozy corner”, or brush pile, for pollinators throughout the fall and winter by choosing a location to leave leaf litter undisturbed. You can add twigs, branches, and other brush to the pile as you clean up the other areas you want clear of brush. You can also leave potted plants on your balcony or patio and push them together to create a small shelter; I’ve found moths sheltering in my flowerpots in mid-fall, and I’ve noticed more bird visitors! Add layers of brush to your cozy corner to provide the best shelter possible. Click here to read the full article from which this paragraph was based on.

How-To Guides to Create Your Very Own Cozy Corner:

  • General Wildlife Brush pile: Article by the Wisconsin DNR