Environment

Environmental stories

Iowa HSEMD/CAP / https://www.weather.gov/dvn/flood2008_Overview

For years Cedar Rapids officials have been lobbying for federal funding to build a flood control system. But one local official says it may be time to again ask taxpayers for their support. 

Raptor Resource Project

From absentee parents to parenting by committee, it doesn't always take a village for animals to raise their young. 

On this Wildlife Day edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with wildlife biologist Jim Pease about the different parenting styles used by animals. John Howe of the Raptor Resource Project in Decorah also joins the conversation with an update on the Decorah eagles, who are being raised by a single mom after the recent disappearance of her mate.

John Pemble / IPR

For the past five or six years, there’s been a lot of attention surrounding Iowa's water quality. Last year, a federal judge dismissed the Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit against drainage districts in three northern Iowa counties. The utility had claimed the districts were funneling high levels of nitrates into the Raccoon River, a major source of drinking water for 500,000 Iowans. Earlier this year, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill she called "monumental," which allocates $282-million for water quality projects in the state. But the law is not without controversy.

Iowa Wind Energy Association / Facebook

Black Hawk County is moving forward with a plan to build 35 wind turbines, despite concerns from local residents. But an Iowa researcher says the impacts will likely be minimal.

John Fowler via flickr creative commons / https://www.flickr.com/photos/snowpeak/27057517509/

A rollback of federal rules on migratory birds has conservationists worried. The federal government has announced it will stop prosecuting companies that accidentally kill species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They fear the changes could pave the way for industrial developments that pose a threat to the species in Iowa.

Clay Masters / IPR

The Missouri River has seen several devastating floods in the past decade. Now, a federal judge says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property damage over how it handled some of these floods. The ruling has intensified a debate about how best to manage the river that runs from Montana to Missouri.

A sign on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge over the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska calls the Big Muddy “forever changed by the power of humans.”

Rachel Samerdyke/USFWS Midwest via flickr creative commons / https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmidwest/9260033969/

Wildlife biologists need the help of Iowa residents to monitor frog and toad populations. The research could tell scientists more about the state’s water quality.

Jeff Bryant via flickr creative commons / https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeff-m-bryant/

Wildlife scientists want southern Iowans to help monitor deer for chronic wasting disease. CWD is now in three counties in the state but conservationists are hopeful early intervention can slow its spread.

Kym Farnik via flickr creative commons / https://www.flickr.com/photos/cypheroz/

Iowa’s largest utility is doing away with its coal ash ponds. Instead of putting the toxic dust in wet pits, the MidAmerican Energy Company will put it in sealed landfills, or recycle it. 

Community Environmental Council

In the last three decades, the Earth has lost half of its coral reefs. In 2016, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef lost nearly 30 percent of its coral. In 2017, this number rose to 50 percent.

While there are a number of different factors at play, it's increasingly clear that the warming of the world's oceans are a major contributor to this loss.

Michael Leland

Bison once roamed the plains in herds so thick they obscured the land. They were hunted nearly to extinction and now only live in controlled and managed herds.

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks about the history of the American bison and their relationship with humans with author, conservationist, and bison rancher Dan O'Brien, author of Great Plains Bison.

"Their impact on the flora and fauna of the Great Plains is what makes the Great Plains what they are," O'Brien says.

Stepan Mazurov

This Valentine’s Day, while many humans woo potential mates with chocolate, flowers or other tokens, there are a number of other species that are also in the mood for love. Eagles are nesting, barn owls are calling, cardinals are singing, and love is in the air.

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe sits down with wildlife biologist Jim Pease to talk about mating calls and other wooing habits of the animal kingdom. 

Minnesota Historical Society Press

 This program originally aired June 9, 2016.

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).

Mike-Wise / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ - Cropping and lighting changes made

Iowans have been reporting snowy owl sightings across the state this year. In this wildlife day edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe is joined by wildlife biologist Jim Pease to talk through the unique characteristics of the snowy owl, and why they are in Iowa.

"It's a common thing that happens with northern critters. It includes everything from snowshoes hares in the boreal forest to snowy owls in the arctic. They go through regular cycles of boom and bust in response to the available food supply."

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

This weekend, U.N. climate negotiations that were held in Bonn, Germany ended. The two-week talks were aimed at laying the groundwork for faster action to curb climate change and deal with its impacts. The first public draft of the 4th National Climate Assessment was also released earlier this month.

Ocean Biology Processing Group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr, Creative Commons

When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech, he did not say "I have a problem." A growing environmental movement called #EarthOptimism is taking that idea and painting a vision for a brighter future.

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Nancy Knowlton, who is chair of marine science at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian and founder of the earth optimism movement, and Connie Mutel, who is a senior science writer at the University of Iowa. 

bird flew / Flickr

Thomas Olander of Louisiana has been a shrimper and fisherman for about 40 years. He says his livelihood and way of life is dying out because of the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The guys that drag across that area, they absolutely cannot catch anything alive,” he says. “Nothing lives in it.”

 

Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio

Scientists serving as advisers to the Environmental Protection Agency are finding out from news stories that they’ve been removed or demoted.

Many of these scientists come from academia, and they say they’re being replaced by scientists from industries regulated by the EPA

Professor Peter Thorne heads the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health. Until recently, he also chaired the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, the agency’s most prominent advising body.

Clay Masters / IPR

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

 

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

 

Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio

What's the solution to Iowa water quality issues? One approach is to get cities, suburbs, and farms together to find solutions.  In this special edition of River to River, hear highlights from a recent panel discussion held at the Iowa Tap Room in Des Moines.  IPR's Clay Masters moderated the conversation.  

WIKICOMMONS / Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Farmers use fertilizer because it helps crops grow. But according to a new study from Iowa State University, for some native plant species in Iowa a chemical found in fertilizer does the opposite, harming the biodiversity in Iowa’s tallgrass prairies.

Nitrogen is found in fertilizer and is hard to contain as it flows from farm fields to water and gets into the air, reaching other plants.

Image submitted by Barbara Taylor

The vaquita porpoise is the rarest marine mammal on Earth, and it is disappearing fast.

In this Talk of Iowa segment, host Charity Nebbe talks with NOAA conservation biologist Barbara Taylor.  They discuss the unique qualities of this animal, its habitat in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California, and they talk through the plan next month to try to retrieve the last of of the vaquitas and save them from extinction.  

"When I started doing this work over 20 years ago, we had about 600 in the population, and now there are less than 30 left on planet Earth."

WIKICOMMONS / EPA

An attempt to toughen environmental standards for confined animal feeding operations has failed as the state’s Environmental Protection Commission says it lacks the jurisdiction to reform the current permitting process.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the D.C.-based Food & Water Watch filed the request. They want the EPC to create stricter rules and complain the current permit process’s scoring system, known at the master matrix, offers no meaningful evaluation of environmental or community protections. 

Clay Masters / IPR

City officials in Des Moines and surrounding suburbs met Wednesday to discuss a plan to regionalize how water is produced for customers in the state’s largest metro. West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer says it would be more cost effective for the central Iowa cities to work on producing water together instead of a bunch of separate facilities.

“It’s incumbent then on [the cities] as their own utility to go ahead and handle the water from that point to the residents,” Gaer says.

FLICKR / TAKESHI KUBOKI

The path of totality for today’s solar eclipse all but misses Iowa, except for a sliver of Fremont County, the state’s most southwestern county. 

Less than 600 square acres of Iowa will experience total darkness. Part of this area includes the Lower Hamburg Bend Wildlife Management Area.

Matt Moles works at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau. At 1:05 pm, he says, eclipse watchers at the wildlife area will experience 32 seconds of total darkness.

Steve Dinsmore

The bar-tailed godwit has an impressive flight pattern; the bird can fly from Alaska to New Zealand in eight days.

The bird normally breeds in Alaska and then flies an often non-stop migration route to New Zealand and Australia, but incredibly, one bar-tailed godwit landed south of Des Moines last week. It's the first time it has been documented in Iowa; it's only ever been documented in inland North America in Utah.

Alliant Energy

Alliant Energy is launching a new program for customers who want more of their electricity to come from renewable sources. 

The program called “Beyond Solar” could get underway once a new solar power plant in Dubuque goes online this fall.  

But a challenge from environmentalists may stand in the way.   

At a recent workshop at the Iowa Utilities Board, Alliant Energy made the case for “Beyond Solar.” 

Flickr / Julio Mulero

Bird watchers in the Lower Loess Hills region may see a greater diversity of species in the not-so-distant future.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is proposing a nearly 90,000-acre bird conservation area.

Bird conservation areas are created through a targeted effort on public and private lands to plant bird-friendly habitats in concentrated areas.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has made big changes to the state’s volunteer water quality monitoring program at the beginning of this month. This comes after statewide budget cuts, including a $1.2 million funding reduction to the DNR.

After providing initial training and resources, the continued administration and funding of the program is turned over to local government agencies and nonprofits that choose to take up the mantle of volunteer water monitoring. Previously the DNR was the program's sole administer. 

Pete Pattavina/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Bats are a fascinating and beneficial part of Iowa's eco-system, but they have a public relations problem; centuries of fictional villainy and bad publicity means that many people are still frightened and disgusted by them.

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