Reworked program Planting seeds of conservation in NE Iowa

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A new cooperative program will look at a number of conservation topics, including tallgrass prairies. The program combines on-line sessions with field experiences.
A new cooperative program will look at a number of conservation topics, including tallgrass prairies. The program combines on-line sessions with field experiences.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

A 20-year-old program for people who want to be more connected to the land has been redesigned to leverage state and local specialists on topics ranging from tallgrass prairies to aquatic ecosystems.

The Iowa Master Conservationist program for Northeast Iowa begins Thursday, August 22, and continues through October 3. It combines online lessons led by Iowa State University researchers with with local conservation leaders and citizens.

“There will be a number of a-ha moments,” promises Jenna Pollock, Clayton County Conservation Director. “And everyone involved will learn from the program. Those with an interest in nature, water quality, soil health, forestry and eco-systems will gain skills that can be applied to their own property, workplace and volunteer opportunities. The knowledge shared by a diverse group of specialists will help participants make educated decisions in their everyday life.”

Pollock adds that “graduates” of the program will form a network of easy-to-access experts on a variety of topics. She is also hopeful that participation will inspire stewardship in a variety of ways.

The Iowa Master Conservationist Program in this area is co-sponsored by the Clayton and Fayette County Conservation Boards and the two county Extension Offices. The Fayette and Clayton County Chapters of Pheasants Forever have also provided financial support. The first face-to-face event will take place at the Osborne Nature Center.

Other counties across the state have offered a similar program or will do so in the future. Each program has 12 hours of self-directed, online learning plus 19 hours of in-person instruction and discussion.

The Northeast Iowa program, which is seven weeks long, begins with an online lesson presented by an ISU staff or faculty member. Each field experience, scheduled Thursday evenings, relates to the online presentation. One session, for example, will feature an ISU specialist who will provide an online history and overview of Iowa’s tall grass prairies, which will be followed by a visit to a local prairie.

“Local connections are fundamental to the program,” says Adam Janke, ISU assistant professor and wildlife specialist. “It allows a clearer image of how conservation challenges can be addressed at the local level.”

The local partners have distributed some information on the program. Responses have been overwhelmingly positive.

“This sounds like a great, in-depth program for anyone who wants to be more connected to our natural world, and to find ways to protect and enhance our environment,” says Larry Stone, an Elkader resident with a passion for conservation. “The background ‘homework,’ suggested references and online information complemented by field trips to woodlands, wetlands, prairies and other natural areas should give participants a new understanding of and an appreciation for our natural resources.”

For more information on the program, contact the Clayton County Extension Office (563-245-1451) or the Fayette County Extension Office (563-425-3331).

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