Environmental stories

Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio

A group consisting of mayors and prominent business leaders is calling for an increase in the state sales tax. The extra money would go into a fund to support water quality and recreation projects. 

The Iowa Water and Land Legacy Coalition is asking the Legislature to up the state sales tax by three-eighths of a cent.

The extra cash would go into the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Iowa voters overwhelmingly approved creation of the fund in 2010.

But the mayor of Storm Lake Jon Kruse says no state money has ever gone into it.

The Ethanol Effect

Oct 7, 2016
Clay Masters / IPR

A new PBS documentary focusing on the impact of ethanol production airs this weekend on Iowa Public Television. IPR's Clay Masters speaks with environmental and energy reporter David Biello about his new documentary "The Ethanol Effect". 

Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio

The sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement is aimed directly at farmers.

It follows the lead of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack by calling for climate-smart agriculture.

The statement is signed by 187 scientists representing 39 colleges and universities in the state.

It urges farmers to take up efforts aimed at replacing carbon in the soil.

The director of the environmental science and policy program at Drake University, David Courard-Hauri, says climate-smart agriculture does more than reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

flickrfavorites / Flickr

Andrew Derocher traveled to Norway in 1996 to study what he thought would be a large, untouched population of polar bears. The country had flat-out banned the commercial hunting of bears as part of the Oslo Agreement 23 years earlier. Derocher, a professor at the University of Alberta and a polar bear biologist, assumed that was enough time for the bears' population and health to rebound. What he found surprised him.

Michael Leland/IPR

People opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline have turned more than 33,000 petition signatures over to the U-S Department of Justice office in Des Moines. 

They want the department to review all permits that allow pipeline construction.

“We call upon President Obama to ensure the Army Corps of Engineers rejects the remaining permits in North Dakota and Iowa,” said Ross Grooters, member of the group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.  “Furthermore, the construction should be halted not just the 20 miles either side of Lake Oahe, but along the pipeline’s entire path.”

When Critters Do "The Shuffle"?

Sep 13, 2016
Gilles Gonthier / Wikimedia Commons

The chill in the air and the traces of color on the trees are sure signs of fall, and so are the large number of raccoons and possums you see along the roadsides. Wild animals all over Iowa are doing the "fall shuffle," and among these animals are the more than three hundred species of birds that can be seen flying across the state.

“A lot of the northern species are down in our area, or have already moved through," says Iowa State University Wildlife Biologist Jim Pease.

They all have similar reasons for heading south towards sunnier skies.

Flickr / Michael Jenkins

As fall hunting seasons approach, sportsmen and women will be able spread out more due to a USDA grant that incentivizes Iowa landowners to put private property into conservation. The Iowa Habitat and Access Program, or IHAP, pays people to improve natural habitat on their properties. In exchange, they allow the public the hunt on their lands.

Aviceda / Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1900s, one of the most populous birds in the world, passenger pigeons, were hunted to extinction in the wild. The very last passenger pigeon, Martha, died in captivity in 1914.   A few years later, the United States enacted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a treaty that has paved the way for conservation efforts that have saved countless endangered bird species.

chesapeakeclimate / Flickr

Sandra Steingraber is proud of her PhD in biology, her position as Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College and her two arrests. Not necessarily in that order.

While Steingraber, an author, biologist, and activist, has studied science in a lab for decades, she knew she had to do more to effect the change she wanted to see in the environment. So she got herself arrested. Twice.

Rob Dillard/IPR

Governor Branstad says the Iowa Highway Patrol will be available to help local law enforcement police a planned protest against the controversial Bakken Crude Oil Pipeline.  

Critics threaten to engage in civil disobedience Wednesday to stop construction at a rural Boone County location.  

At his weekly news conference Branstad, says the Iowa Highway Patrol protects the safety and well-being of Iowans.

“Whether it is at the State Fair or on the highways or wherever it might be,” Branstad says.

Clay Masters / IPR

There’s been a lot of talk in Iowa about water quality. From failed attempts by the legislature and the governor to come up with new funding, to the state’s largest water utility suing three rural boards of supervisors in northwest Iowa. That area of the state is part of a region called the “prairie pothole”. It stretches from Canada, down through the Dakotas, northern Montana and western Minnesota as well.

In North Dakota, much of this habitat is still intact and conservationists are concerned about the health implications of a landscape looking more like Iowa.

Putting the 'Wild' Back in Wildlife

Aug 9, 2016

In the early 19th century wild cougars, wolves, and bears once roamed the vast Iowa prairies, but today they're nowhere to be found. Where did they go, and where are they now?

During this hour of Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with Emeritus Associate Professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University, Jim Pease, about the history of Iowa's native wildlife and some of its oldest predators. 

Wikimedia Commons

Invasive plant species are becoming pervasive in Iowa’s woodlands.  State Forester Paul Tauke says a recent survey found invasives present in 95-percent of forest inventory plots studied.  He calls it a “shocking” finding.

“When you have exotic invasive species, they expand into an area and they tend to crowd out the native species, and decrease your diversity in the system," says Tauke

Kevin Schuchmann/Wikimedia Commons

Many of us turn to nature for peace, recreation, and inspiration, and research is starting to support how interaction with the natural world can improve health and decrease stress.

Dr. Suzanne Bartlett is an Integrative Medicine Specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. When she started practicing medicine, she worked as an obstetrician. Today, she’s incorporating what she calls nature therapy into her new integrative medicine practice.

The Elusive American Badger

Jul 5, 2016
Jon Nelson

The honey badger may be an internet sensation, but Iowa is home to an equally tenacious species of badger. 

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with wildlife biologist Jim Pease about the American Badger. 

Although badgers are rarely seen in Iowa, they do live here. Due to their independent nature it is hard to know exactly how many badgers are in state, but quite a bit is known about their lives in the Midwest.

When Luther College students Laura Proescholdt and Amy Thor first watched An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary about climate change, they realized that their generation would face major environmental issues. And they wanted to do something about it, but what? 

“A lot of classes are all about the gloom and doom, but not many focus on solutions,” explains Thor.

Brian Gibbs

A young black bear was struck by a glass-delivery truck and killed on Friday evening in far northeast Iowa.

The incident occurred on Highway 76, near the Yellow River Forest in Allamakee County.

"It's a heavily-wooded area," says Kevin Baskins of the Iowa DOT. "You obviously have the Mississippi River bordering it on the east side, and so there's a lot of pretty decent habitat for bears if they do wander into that neck of the woods."

Michael Leland/IPR

A group of canoes and kayaks will travel down the Des Moines River on Saturday in protest of the Bakken Pipeline. 

Organizer Angie Carter expects at least 40 people to show up for the flotilla.

She describes the aquatic protest as a family-friendly way to encourage the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the pipeline permission to begin construction and issue an environmental impact statement.

Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex / Wikimedia Commons

'Finding Dory,’ the sequel to the very popular ‘Finding Nemo,’ hits theaters this weekend. Lots of fans of the first movie are excited. For some scientists, it’s a different story entirely.

Dory is a pacific blue tang fish, and just like sales of clownfish skyrocketed after the first movie, pet stores are anticipating demand for the pacific blue tang. That demand, however, could have serious consequences for a fish that can’t be breed in captivity.

Lucina M / Flickr

It is easy to dismiss crows as a loud annoying neighbor, but they are deceptively smart. 

On this episode of Talk of Iowa  host Charity Nebbe talks to about Wildlife Biologist Jim Pease about Crows and other birds in the Corvid family. 

Besides crows, the Corvid family includes blue jays, ravens, and magpies. Corvids are a common birds, they are on every continent except Antarctica. 

Kamil Porembinski / Flickr

As summer approaches many people are out in their lawn, mowing, watering and pulling weeds. 

On this episode of Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with  Iowa State University Extension turfgrass specialist Adam Thoms about lawn care. 

When it comes to mowing, Thomas recommends keeping your grass around three and three and a half inches tall, and not removing more than a third of the leaf tissue. This means mowing the lawn regularly. 

Minnesota Historical Society Press

The "Big Marsh" was a source of bounty for wildlife, native people and settlers.  When it was drained it offered up fertile soil, but what was lost?  This hour, we talk to Cheri Register, author of the new book, "The Big Marsh; the Story of a Lost Landscape" (Minnesota Historical Society Press).

Iowa gets an early taste of summer toward the end of this week, with temperatures expected to climb into the mid-90’s.  Health officials, animal welfare advocates, and the National Weather Service are issuing warnings in advance of the hot temperatures.

The Iowa Department of Public Health says about 500 Iowans are hospitalized each year with heat-related illnesses.

Rob McLennan / Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is expecting another summer boating season full of toxic, blue green algae blooms. There were a record number of beach closures in 2015 in Iowa, and the DNR is expecting this year to be the same or worse. 

The blooms release microcystin, which is a toxin released by cyanobacteria. The toxin can kill pets and cause rashes and flu like symptoms in humans.

As the weather heats up this week, Mary Skopec, beach monitoring coordinator for the Iowa DNR, says that we’ll likely start to see algal blooms that lead to beach closures.

Liz West / Flickr

Memorial Day Weekend is upon us and peonies are starting to bloom across the state.

Cindy Haynes, Associate Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University, says you shouldn’t be worried if your peonies haven’t opened yet. If your peonies haven’t started blooming by the first week of June, she says you should double check that your plants are in the right conditions, with shallow soil and lots of sun.

Clay Masters/IPR

This week IPR News is taking a look at water quality in the state.

Iowa Lawmakers, farmers and environmentalists continue to debate the best way to curb water quality issues, following an unsuccessful attempt to fund more projects this legislative session.

Clay Masters / IPR

This week IPR News is taking a look at water quality in the state.

A state cost share program designed to help Iowa farmers install nutrient reduction practices on their farm is entering its fourth year.  Lawmakers and the governor struggled this legislative session to come up with a way to spend more money on water quality in the state. In the last three years, the state has awarded $12 million on 45 different projects.

Clay Masters / IPR

This week IPR News is taking a look at water quality in the state.

David Hawgood / Wikimedia Commons

Heat, light, water and nitrogen… put them together and you get lakes and ponds that are choked with plant growth. The balance between discouraging aquatic unwanteds and encouraging the plant growth that supports aquatic life is a tricky one to manage.

Allen Patillo, aquaculture and fisheries extension specialist says preventing problems is easier than solving them, and that means nutrient management. He says protecting the watershed is the best first step by limiting the nitrogen leaving lawns and fields, and planting prairie or other species that will absorb the runoff.

SriMesh / Wikimedia Commons

If you're been outside in the last week or so across the state, you've heard it: spring migratory rush hour. Lots of species make long migrations in the winter, and many bird species are making their appearances right now across the state. 

"We have seen, in the last two days, very large flocks of Harris Sparrows and White Crown Sparrows," says wildlife biologist Jim Pease. "They are coming through from the South and they will end up in the Arctic. It happens quick when they come through. This morning, I haven't noticed nearly as many Harris Sparrows as I did yesterday."