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!

Clover Lawns: Is the Trend Lucky for Pollinators?

Clover Lawns: Is the Trend Lucky for Pollinators?

A honey bee visits a clover flower.

The idea of creating a pollinator-friendly yard is finally taking root, and the notion of a perfect lawn, along with its expense, is being weeded out. Clover lawns are one of the latest trends yard owners are trying out in an effort to be more environmentally conscious. This new kind of lawn is often touted to support pollinators, require less up-keep, and lower pollution. But do they live up to the hype?

What is a clover lawn?

What constitutes a “clover lawn” has several renditions. The simplest form of a clover lawn is a lawn in which someone passively allowed clover to establish and grow. They stopped spraying herbicides, mowed less, and allowed grass to die in areas, giving way to clover and other plants. A second kind of clover lawn is one in which clover was actively seeded into the lawn, over the existing turf (this was a common practice until the 1950s). A third way of creating a clover lawn is to kill and remove all turf and replace it entirely with clover, resulting in a uniform lawn.

Common clovers used for lawns are nonnative, including white (Dutch) clover (Trifolium repens) and strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum), both hailing from Eurasia. Strawberry clover is also the species included in the Scotts®Turf Builder® Clover Lawn seed. The idea of seeding mini or micro clovers is increasingly popular. These clovers are normally short-statured cultivars of the species listed above. Micro clover lawns are supposed to require even less maintenance and have smaller flowers that attract fewer bees. There are no readily-available native clovers that are marketed for clover lawns (though there are some fantastic native clovers in Iowa).

A hairstreak butterfly on a dandelion.

Why would you want a clover lawn?

Those interested in clover lawns will have different objectives. Some are drawn to the fact that most clovers require less care than turf grasses (though they still require regular maintenance). Clovers usually need less mowing, resist weeds, many are drought- and shade-tolerant, and they also fix nitrogen in the soil, eliminating the need for fertilizer. These attributes are also welcomed by those looking to reduce carbon emissions and pollution by requiring less mowing, herbicides, and fertilizers. Lastly, wildlife lovers hope to support pollinators with clover due to the fact that their flowers can attract honey bees and some native bees. However, keep in mind that these positive attributes are good only in comparison to a traditional turf-grass lawn, which provides scant (if any) environmental benefits and requires a lot of maintenance. Additionally, clover does not stand up to heavy foot traffic as well as grasses, and may need to be reseeded every two or three years.

A lucky four-leaf clover.

A lucky four-leaf clover.

Luna Moth

A native bee visiting nonnative clover.

Do clover lawns benefit pollinators?

Simply put, some clover lawns can provide benefits to some pollinators. If you really want a clover lawn, the best method for wildlife (and your wallet) is to passively allow clover to enter your lawn. This practice requires you to mow less and stop using herbicides, which will keep pollinators in your area healthier.

While there are some benefits to having a clover lawn, they are small from a broader point of view. At the end of the day, adding clover to your lawn adds a few species of nonnative plants in your area, which often provide sub-optimal nutrition to native pollinators. Keep in mind that many pollinators are specialists and will not visit nonnative clover. Additionally, it may be difficult to keep the clover on your own lawn, and out of natural habitats. In contrast, planting a pollinator garden, even a small one, adds multiple native flower species and provides high-quality habitat to native pollinators. Planting within a garden also doesn’t require you to rethink your entire lawn. Finally, a garden is a stronger challenge to the status quo, as planting a diverse and beautiful garden is a lot harder to be annoyed about than nonnative dandelions and clover in your front yard. It is better PR for pollinator habitat: a neighbor with a more traditional mindset for a lawn will not appreciate the spread of “weeds”, but may be open to the idea of creating their own native plant garden.

Are clover lawns worth it?

In my personal opinion, ideas such as clover lawns challenge the current lawn standard, but are not the end goal. They also do not entirely live up to the hype: they still require maintenance, and are not the seed-and-forget or “let it go” solution that many were hoping for. From this point of view, you might as well grow native plants.

From an environmental standpoint, we need more native habitat and less lawn, whether it’s traditional or clover. It would be a more effective and meaningful trend to encourage people to grow “micro gardens” for pollinators instead of praising micro clovers and other nonnative lawn alternatives. To make the biggest impact in your corner of the world, ending pesticide use and planting a native plant garden (even a tiny one!) is best. However, if that kind of project is not possible for you at the moment, ending all pesticide use and choosing to mow less often is definitely “better than nothing”. Doing so will probably invite clover into your lawn, which will suffice until you can start a small garden. The clover trend is not lucky for all pollinators, but a garden that includes native clovers could be!

A sweat bee visiting a native clover.

Ames Pollinator-Friendly Practices Pilot Project Completed

Ames Pollinator-Friendly Practices Pilot Project Completed

How can homeowners in Ames be encouraged to increase pollinator-friendly practices in their yards? That was the question addressed by former Prairie Rivers of Iowa Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Shellie Orngard in a recently completed pilot project using Community Based Social Marketing strategies. Now that the pilot is completed, the project will move forward in 2023 to explore ways to apply what was learned to increase pollinator habitat along Iowa’s Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.

Community Based Social Marketing was developed by Canadian psychology professor Doug McKenzie-Moher, author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior. It is used in developing and implementing community programs that make use of scientific knowledge of human behavior in effecting change. Community programs such as composting and conserving water and energy have used it to increase participation.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 70 to 80 percent of Iowa was once covered by prairie, producing rich agricultural soil and a lush environment for pollinators. Now, with 90 percent of Iowa’s land in agricultural production, less than one percent of Iowa’s prairie remains, simultaneously reducing pollinator habitat. “Doing this project I learned strategies to encourage pollinator-friendly practices that can be employed along Iowa’s byways,” says Orngard. “We are now exploring applying these strategies to make the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway a pollinator-friendly byway from the Mississippi to the Missouri Rivers. Some of Iowa’s other 13 byways have also expressed interest.”

Visitors to Jennett Heritage Area prairie near Nevada Iowa during Prairie Rivers Bees and Berries Family Adventure Day
Urban Pollinator Garden

While a number of groups (including Prairie Rivers) have focused on encouraging farmers, other large landowners, and local governments to improve pollinator habitat, this project will also include urban areas, businesses, and homeowners.

An initial survey was conducted to determine the perceived barriers and benefits of creating a pollinator garden. The results show that homeowners can face some big barriers such as knowing what types of plants to grow that provide diverse and useful habitat during all seasons. Additionally, by implementing pollinator-friendly practices, homeowners may, in some cases, go against societal norms of having a yard consisting primarily of well-groomed turf.

This project focused on strategies to encourage a paradigm shift in what landowners consider desirable, resulting in such practices as reducing pesticide and herbicide use, letting grass grow longer before mowing, and leaving leaves for overwintering insects.

To encourage year-round pollinator-friendly practices, Orngard worked with Xerces Society Farm Bill Pollinator Conservation Planner/NRCS Partner Biologist Sarah Nizzi to create The Pollinator Friendly Yard: A Seasonal Guide informational flyer. Homeowners were asked to commit to increasing their pollinator-friendly practices according to their comfort level.

As a final strategy, Orngard worked with local artist Naomi Friend to create a charming yard sign homeowners can use to educate passersby about why some leaves are being left to provide habitat for overwintering insects.

Pollinator Garden Sign

Pollinator-friendly yard signs are available by contacting our office.

Orngard summarizes the pilot project as a success that will guide Prairie Rivers Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway and Watersheds and Wildlife programs, local community partners, homeowners, other byways, and communities throughout Iowa as they move forward with education and on-the-ground practices geared towards improving the environment for pollinators in our state.

This project was made possible in part by Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP-CEP) funding along with coaching support from the E Resources Group’s Dr. Jean Eells, a frequent Prairie Rivers of Iowa collaborator, and Rebecca Christoffel. The REAP-CEP funding also allowed Orngard to attend an online workshop by Doug McKenzie-Moher on Community-Based Social Marketing and Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and the Iowa Conservation Education Coalition Winter Workshop.

Shellie Orngard also contributed to the content of this article.

The Incredible Diversity of Iowa Moths and Butterflies

The Incredible Diversity of Iowa Moths and Butterflies

Did you know that National Moth Week is celebrated in July? Read up on Iowa’s native moths and butterflies to be ready to celebrate Moth Week right, from July 23rd to 31st!

Iowa is home to about 110 butterfly species, and over 2,000 moth species! Butterflies and moths are related: both are in the insect order Lepidoptera, which roughly translates to “scaled wing”. Most of us think of moths as the ugly stepsisters of butterflies, but this is not true! In fact, I would call moths the sleeping beauties of our natural world (they are beauties that are often active while we sleep). Don’t continue to sleep on the incredible beauty of Iowa moths, and get to know our butterflies better!

Giant Silk Moths
If you’re lucky enough to have seen a luna moth, then you’ve seen a member of the giant silk moth group, called the Saturniidae family (Saturnia is the daughter of Saturn in Greek mythology). This group also includes the cecropia moth, named after Cecrops, a half-man-half-snake king in Greek mythology. If you squint at the top outer corner of the cecropia moth’s front wing by the dark eyespot, you can see what appears to be a profile of a snake’s head. Lastly, the luna and cecropia moths don’t eat as adults – they have no mouths! They only eat as caterpillars, which is common in the mysterious world of moths.

Cecropia Moth

Hawk Moths and Hummingbird Moths
Aptly named, these moths look and fly like humming birds, hovering while drinking nectar with their straw-like mouths (called a proboscis). Some also mimic bumble bees, like the snowberry clearwing pictured on the right! Belonging to the family Sphingidae, these moths can be diurnal (day-active) or nocturnal (night-active). Some species don’t eat as adults. For those that do, they are important pollinators for prairie orchid and primrose species!

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Owlet and Underwing Moths
Most of these moths are the experts of disguise, using drab colors on their front wings to blend in with bark and dead leaves. They are in the family Noctuidae, the largest family of moths in North America. Underwing moths, however, have a secret weapon: their back wings can have bright colors that hide under the front wings, and can be flashed to startle a predator during escape!

Sweetheart Underwing Moth

Tiger Moths
When wooly bear caterpillars mature, they are called tiger moths, also known as the family Erebidae. These moths can have bright colors decorated with geometric lines, consequently nicknamed “tiger” moths. I saw the tiger moth pictured here the last week of June at Ada Hayden park! This species of tiger moth is called the “reversed haploa moth” due to the fact that it has two color variations: either geometric lines on the front wings with plain white back wings, or the reverse: plain white front wings with geometric back wings.

Reversed Haploa Moth

Brush-footed Butterflies
The family Nymphalidae, commonly called the brush-footed group, is one of the most popular groups of butterflies with monarchs, regal fritillaries, and painted ladies included in its ranks. Why are they called brush-foots? Their front legs are very small, and kept close to their body (similar to t-rex dinosaurs in my opinion). These front legs aren’t used for walking and are basically reduced to little “brushes”.

Common Buckeye

Swallowtails
While one of the most entrancing butterflies, swallowtails are tough; they overwinter here in Iowa! As caterpillars, this group (which is the family Papilionidae) spin their chrysalises and wait out the winter under dead leaves, giving us another reason to leave areas in our yard undisturbed this fall. The caterpillars of this group can just as awe-inspiring, with some having bright green colors, or eyespots that can make them look like snakes to scare predators away!

Swallowtail Caterpillar

Whites and Sulphurs
This group of butterflies has a charming behavior; they like puddles! Belonging to the Pieridae family, these butterflies are the most likely to be found in a “puddling” group, sucking up extra nutrients in the water. Adult butterflies appear white, yellow, orange, and sometimes have black markings. One of the coolest butterflies in this group is the Olympia marble, a species of special concern in Iowa due to declining numbers. Just look at its metallic markings against snow-white wings!

Olympia Marble

Blues, Coppers, and Hairstreaks
These tiny butterflies are also called gossamer wings, due to the beautiful shimmer that reflects off their wings! These butterflies are a part of the family Lycaenidae, and also love visiting puddles, so don’t let their looks fool you; they are hardcore. Continuing that thought: the species Satyrium edwardsii, or Edward’s hairstreak, has some wild behavior as a caterpillar. At night it feeds on oak leaves, and during the day it rests in active ant nests for protection! This species is also a species of special concern in Iowa due to declining numbers.

Hairstreak

Skippers
If you can’t tell if an insect is a butterfly or a moth, you may be looking at a skipper. Skippers are in the family Hesperiidae, and have chunky bodies with hooked, hockey-stick-shaped antennae. They appear carefree as they skip through the air. From the side, their wings give them a triangular, shark-fin shape. Out of the two butterfly species in Iowa considered endangered, one is a skipper, called the Dakota skipper. It requires high-quality prairie remnants, a habitat extremely hard to find in Iowa.

Skipper

While many people love butterflies, these insects don’t always receive the respect they deserve being diverse and important wildlife. They are more than nature’s gems-they are important pollinators that have fun behaviors to appreciate! Moths are often forgotten, despite the fact that they can be bigger and more colorful than many butterfly species, and have the coolest adaptations, such as flashes of color and mouth-less adults! The world of moths and butterflies is not just a pretty one; it’s a wild one!