Environment

Environmental stories

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.

Charity Nebbe

Rivers are a vital part of Iowa's ecosystem.

“Rivers in Iowa are the most important corridors of habitat, the ribbons of habitat, that we have left," says  wildlife biologist Jim Pease.

Over the past four summers Pease has paddled 1800 miles of Iowa rivers. On these trips he’s learned a lot about habitat, water quality, and human impact on the water ways. 

Helaina Thompson / Iowa Public Radio

Iowa’s lakes play a huge role in the communities that have grown up around them. During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe takes a tour of Lake Delhi, open for the first full summer boating season this year after the dam burst due to heavy rainfall in 2010. We’ll hear from Steve Leonard, President of the Lake Delhi Recreation Association, and the engineer who is spending part of his retirement maintaining the dam.

Sholly, who lives on Clear Lake, and Mary Skopec, who is executive director of the Lakeside Laboratory near Lake Okoboji, also join the show. 

Chad Pregracke, president of Living Lands and Waters, a river clean up and educational organization, has a different kind of project that's going on display at the Figge Art Museum this month.

For nearly 20 years, he’s been traveling along the Mississippi and other rivers around the United States to clean up waste. During that time span, he’s collected a lot of things, like bowling pins, bowling balls, claw foot tubs, and a hand full of messages in a bottle.

Emily Woodbury

Oak trees in Iowa are experiencing “oak tatters,” and it might be caused by farm chemicals in the atmosphere.

DNR district forester Mark Vitosh says this is a problem that’s been on his radar for two decades, but weather patterns have made this a bad year for oak trees. About a thousand people have called the DNR because they thought insects or diseases were to blame.

Vitosh says he’s observed these damaged oak leaves.

John Pemble / IPR

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie signed on with more than 200 mayors last week to uphold the Paris Agreement. That’s the global accord from which President Donald Trump withdrew the United States. Cownie says it’s a challenge for the city to move forward with clean energy goals without more buy-in from state leaders who regularly fall in line with the president.

“To ignore that factual piece and the science around it and all the data that’s out there is really unfortunate for the citizens of the state of Iowa and looking at our future and how we preserve our resources,” Cownie says.

MrTinDC

It was not very long ago that eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons and other raptors were a rare sight in Iowa. One of the people who worked hard to bring these species back from the brink is Pat Schlarbaum. In this Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe, hear from Schlarbaum as he retires from a thirty-three year career with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  Also joining the conversation is Bruce Ehresman who has worked with Schlarbaum on many of his projects.

Planting Wildflowers in Iowa

Apr 28, 2017
Brett Whaley / Flickr

The end of April is a great time to explore nature and see wildflowers in bloom across Iowa. The beauty of these flowers is fleeting as they bloom and wilt all before the trees have fully expanded their leaves. Having adapted to their woodland environment, wildflowers maximize their photosynthesis time before the woods become a shady environment for the summer months. Iowa State University extension horticulturist, Cindy Haynes, says that woodland phlox, shooting star, and wild columbine are a few wildflower varieties that have still yet to bloom.

Ken Brown

Ken Brown, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the University of Iowa Tippie School of Business, says he took the plunge and booked a trip to the remote continent of Antarctica, because his 81-year father Bob said such a journey was on his "bucket list."  It was a magical trip, Brown told us, but he still worries about the the continent's future.

Michael Leland

Large migratory birds, including turkey vultures, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, and bald eagles, are on the move in Iowa this spring. One eagle in particular is trying to hatch out of its shell in a nest just north of Decorah.

[See live feeds of eagles - both the "Decorah Eagles" and the "Decorah North Nest"]

Clay Masters / IPR

  A federal judge has dismissed The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against three counties, claiming their agricultural drainage districts have been sending nitrate pollution into the rivers the water utility uses for drinking water. The lawsuit has been a hot button issue across Iowa and country because if the utility had been successful it could have regulated farming.

Clay Masters / IPR

A federal judge has dismissed The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against three counties, claiming their agricultural drainage districts have been sending nitrate pollution into the rivers the water utility uses for drinking water. The lawsuit has been a hot button issue across Iowa and country because if the utility had been successful it could have regulated farming.

Wikimedia Commons

Iowa has four major state forests and six minor ones, measuring somewhere shy of 44,000 acres. In those forests right now, mission number one - keep the oaks alive.

"We have had very erratic weather the last few years. It’s been very wet, and we’re really worried about oak death,” says John Byrd, Area Forester for Shimek State Forest in Southern Iowa. “It takes work to get oaks to grow. If you let everything go, it’s not the species that would be there. If you let it go, it would be maple, basewood and elm.”

John Downer Productions Ltd. / BBC

Chimpanzees are human's closest living animal relatives. They share 99 percent of human DNA and quite a bit of behavior, both positive and negative.

On this Talk of Iowa segment, Charity Nebbe speaks with primatologist and anthropology professor at Iowa State University, Jill Pruetz. For the last sixteen years she has studied the lives of Savanna chimpanzees in Fongoli, Senegal, and these chimps are featured in the new BBC series, Spy in the Wild, premiering tonight at 7 p.m. CST on Iowa Public Television.

Flickr / Carl Wycoff

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is distributing free scientific collector's permits to deer hunters in northeast Iowa, to use by February 5. The state agency says it hopes to collect up to 300 samples from culled deer, information it will use to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease. 

Charity Nebbe

When wolves disappeared from Iowa in the early 20th century, coyotes filled the vacancy left behind.

"The coyote, then, was mostly a western species - a great plains species that gradually moved eastward," says emeritus wildlife extension specialist, Jim Pease.

In addition to adapting to a new area, coyotes have also adapted to live alongside humans.

Michael Leland/IPR

The below-normal temperatures across Iowa the last week or so have done a good job freezing many of the state’s smaller lakes and ponds.

Iowa DNR Fisheries Chief Joe Larscheid says that means the ice should be thick enough for activities like skating or fishing, especially in the northern part of the state.

“We’ve got a good solid five to ten inches across Iowa, the more north you go, the better the ice. Up north I don’t see any problems,” he says.  “If ice just recently formed in southern Iowa, that would be the places to be careful of."

Michael Leland

As temperatures begin to fall past zero in Iowa, it’s hard to believe that for some birds, especially birds of prey, Iowa is a southerly destination when it comes to migration.

“There are some that are coming from the arctic, there are some that are coming from the boreal forests,” Says wildlife biologist Jim Pease. “But in general, if we think of raptors, owls tend to stay, hawks tend to move, and eagles do both.”

For snowy owls, Iowa can provide food sources that their usual arctic homes cannot.

U.S. Navy photo courtesy of National Marine Fisheries Service

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer interviews scientist and ecologist Ari Friedlaender, who has been working in Antarctica for about 20 years. 

During the course of his more than 25 trips to the continent, he has developed a long-term ecological research program that has led to many important discoveries about whales in that polar region.

He is an associate professor at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, and he is featured in a new National Geographic documentary titled CONTINENT 7: ANTARCTICA.

Sarah Boden/IPR

Protesters gathered at the offices of the Iowa Utilities Board on Monday to celebrate the Army Corps of Engineers stopping pipeline construction in North Dakota. Iowa’s Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition also delivered a letter to the state utilities board, urging it to revoke the pipeline’s Iowa permit. 

The Army Corps’s decision to not allow the pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is not a fatal blow to Dakota Access. The pipeline could be rerouted, and the Corps’s decision may be appealed.

Jessica Reznicek

An Iowa woman says she ended her two-week fast in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline last night. Jessica Reznicek had a bowl of chicken soup after the Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement that puts completion of pipeline construction at an impasse.

The Army Corps has denied permission of pipeline construction for a section of the route in North Dakota. But it said the pipeline may be rerouted, so Reznicek is continuing her efforts to oppose Dakota Access, including a Wednesday sit-in at the utilities board.

USFWSmidwest

With 100-year and 500-year floods happening in Iowa with increasing frequency, it’s important to understand how the state's ecology and infrastructure interact with rising water.

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