Environmental stories

Photo by Amy Mayer

In a packed-to-capacity community room in Boone, the three-member Iowa Utility Board heard testimony today over the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, which would carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, across Iowa, to Illinois.

Before testimony got underway, opponents of the pipeline staged a protest outside the community building on the Boone County Fairgrounds.

There was a time when it was a rare treat to spot a white-tailed deer in Iowa.  That treat is no longer rare.  Today, it's our monthly Wildlife Day on Talk of Iowa, with wildlife biologist Dr. Jim Pease of Ames.  Jim tells us about the history of deer in the Hawkeye State, their place in the environment and our complicated relationship with them.

Asia Society / Flickr

Louie Psihoyos first made waves in water and in cinematic circles in 2009 with his Academy Award-winning documentary about dolphins "The Cove." Now, the Dubuque-native is expressing his passion for protecting the Earth once again in his new film "Racing Extinction."

Bird Feeder Study

Oct 22, 2015
James Adelman

Birds that spend a lot of time at feeders are more likely to contract disease. A new Iowa State University study of House Finches in Virginia found birds that visited feeders often were more likely to spread an eye infection similar to pink eye in humans.  The study's lead author James Adelman says they tracked individuals in the wild and found that those that spent the most time at feeders were the most likely to get sick.

Shever / Flickr

The University of Iowa's Center for Global, Regional and Environmental Research has been studying climate change in Iowa and around the world for 25 years this year. 

Greg Carmichael, co-director of the center and professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, says public opinion has come a long way since the center's founding and that climate change deniers are "dead wrong" about the facts. 

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Two busloads of opponents of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline across Iowa protested outside the state’s Utility Board offices Thursday.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement organized the demonstration and delivered a box full of letters objecting to the plan.

Longtime Des Moines social activist Frank Cordaro was among the protesters.  

“Today we’re at the utility folks, the folks who are supposed to be protecting this state," he says. "And we’re here to tell them don’t let dirty oil come to our state.”

Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan

Whether a person loves squirrels for their acrobatics or wishes they would leave the bird feeders alone, squirrels are here to stay.  Over the years, wildlife biologist Jim Pease has collected more than twenty names Iowans have given ground squirrels, ranging from "squinneys" to "liners." 

During this Talk of Iowa program, he talks with host Charity Nebbe about diets,  habitats, ground squirrels and tree squirrels.

Flickr / Coen Dijkman

If you've ever wanted your own horse, you can adoption one Saturday in Decorah for $125. About 40 animals will be available for adoption.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management says there are approximately 58,150 horses and burros roaming the western U.S. But to maintain a healthy wild population and a healthy habitat, the agency says those numbers need to drop by more than half. 

Iowa State University

With Iowa trees readying themselves for fall and the changing colors of leaves, look no further than Ames, Iowa for a new healthy seedling.  Bill Graves, Associate Dean of the Graduate College and Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University, says he is excited about the Swamp White Oaks offered this year.  Graves loves to see people who enthusiastically purchase trees from ISU as well as discovering what becomes of those trees.


More than two dozen mayors from Mississippi River cities and towns gathered in Dubuque this week to talk about clean water and climate change. They are finding a unified voice to address issues important to communities from Bemidji, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico.

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol is co-chair of the three-and-a-half year old effort called the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative.

The project includes a strong push to reduce nutrient levels in the massive waterway.

Buol says Dubuque already has a 10-to-15 million-dollar plan to do just that.

Ann Froschauer / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

If you’ve noticed more bats lately, you’re not alone.

“It’s the breeding season, so there’s a lot going on,” explains wildlife biologist Jim Pease.  “They are also getting ready to migrate. Bats have to build up a large fat reserve, so they are out doing lots of flying around and eating this time of year.”

Pease says bats are also more visible this time of year because of the change in air temperature between the indoors and outdoors.

“There’s lots of air flow this time of year and bats follow that air flow,” he says.

Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio

Despite the fact that the legislature has increased state funding for water quality initiatives by millions of dollars since the 1980s, we haven't seen substantial improvements since then.

That’s according to Keith Schilling, who researches water for the Iowa Geological Survey.

“I recently looked at 50 rivers’ nitrate levels. Only six had changed since 1980, and those increased in nitrate concentration,” he says.

Talkin' Trash At UNI

Sep 2, 2015
IPR's Pat Blank

The director of the University of Northern Iowa’s physical plant has been talking trash, but that’s a good thing. Mike Zwanziger is overseeing a new mixed recycling program on campus that accepts everything except glass and Styrofoam using just two containers.

Clay Masters / IPR

  New figures from Iowa’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship show 1,800 Iowa farmers have taken advantage of $3.5 million in state money meant to reduce pollutants from their fields. The state’s largest water utility says the figures divert attention from Iowa’s slide toward accepting environmental mediocrity.

courtesy of Nathan Weiner

Nathan Weiner grew up in Iowa City, miles away from any naturally occurring wildfires. But after using controlled burns to restore Iowa landscape, he made his way out West.

"Whether it was burning a prairie or burning a woodland, we used prescribed fire to help that get back to its natural state, and once we started doing that, I just got bit by the fire bug, as they call it."

reynermedia / Flickr

Earlier this week, a new report by the US Department of Energy showed that costs continue to decline while turbine technology becomes more efficient. All of this, along with the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, means wind energy is having a moment.

Michael Leland

If  you’re paddling one of Iowa’s rivers, out for a walk, or even driving down a highway the sight of a big white bird passing overhead has become common, but that wasn’t always the case.

On this wildlife day edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe sits down with wildlife biologist Jim Pease to discuss Iowa’s big white birds. These birds, including pelicans, great egrets and trumpeter swans, almost disappeared from the state, but are once again common.

Raptor Resource Project

The Decorah Eagles have lost the person who helped put them in the world's spotlight. The Raptor Resource Project's blog reports Bob Anderson passed away this morning.

Anderson's internet bird cam of the Decorah Eagles went live 2011. Almost overnight, the birds became one of the world's largest wildlife education programs. Former director of the MacBride Raptor Project in Solon Jodeane Cancilla says the eagles' bird cam was an important resource.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Representative of Iowa industries which emit more than 100 tons of material into the atmosphere each year were at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Air Quality Bureau today.

They’re weighing in on plans to raise their fees to better enforce the Federal  Clean Air Act. 

The DNR proposes a new $24,000 application fee for operating permits.   Also companies would pay more each year per ton of emissions.   

Bureau  Chief Catherine Fitzsimmons says with the new money, the DNR can hire more staff.  

Carla Kishinami

There are 10 species of woodpeckers in Iowa, and while woodpeckers are the type of birds that are sometimes heard but not seen, their drumming does have a purpose. Wildlife biologist Jim Pease explains that it’s like a song.

Andrew Fuller

Iowa State University Extension climatologist Elwynn Taylor says more than a hundred lightning-caused wildfires burning in Saskatchewan, Canada are giving Iowans some colorful-sky effects.

“Maybe the best thing to look at is the smoke that we’re seeing in the air, giving the sun that mid-day orange tint and the change in light characteristics,” he says. “The sunsets are red and the sunrise is redder than we would expect under normal conditions, typical of smoke in the air.”

Taylor isn’t, however, attributing the current rainy weather to the Canadian wildfires.

Iowa DNR

Trumpeter swans were abundant throughout Iowa in the 1800s, but pioneers commonly shot swans from the sky in fear of potential crop damage and they were harvested to near extinction by hunters. Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician Dave Hoffman says thanks to the help of volunteers, these majestic white birds were able to be reintroduced to the state in 1995 and continue making their comeback with more than 45 nesting pairs spotted last year.

David Clarke / Flickr

Last week, the Pope released an encyclical asserting climate change is a moral issue. Father Bud Grant, Catholic priest and professor of environmental ethics at St. Ambrose University, says the message of the encyclical is one of interconnectedness.

"That word 'related' is one of the most frequently used words in the entire document. And that means that if we tug at the environmental thread, we tug at the economic thread and the spiritual thread. They're all wound up together in that seamless garment."

USDA photo by Darin Leach / U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Earth has been through many changes. We can see the evidence when we study the geological record, but looking ahead is harder.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe explores the science of predicting climate change.  What do we know about the future of our planet, and how can we prepare for what is to come?

Joyce Russell/IPR

By a vote of seven to two, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission Tuesday sided with developers over environmentalists and homeowners when it comes to putting back topsoil after new homes and businesses go up.     

The new rules will no longer require at least four inches of topsoil.     

Federal rules require restoration of topsoil to prevent stormwater runoff, but developers say Iowa’s standard is too strict.      

Don Shall / Flickr

When looking at Iowa waterways, it's easy to overlook the furrier creatures--otters, mink, muskrats, and of course, beavers.  

"They are engineers, there's no question about it," says Jim Pease, wildlife expert.

Facilities management arborist at the University of Iowa, Andy Dahl, decided to take advantage of that engineering instinct.

"What they've actually done is help us open the vistas. They are almost the perfect employees," says Dahl. "They work the night shift, they don't call in sick; they're so efficient I'm afraid they may jump over me in the org chart."

Sam 17 / Flickr

Freda Sojka, CEO of Soothing Solutions, created Bug Soother in the wake of the 2008 floods, when gnats were bothering her five-month-old grandson. She had no idea that less than a decade later it'd be distributed throughout the world.

"If I'd known all that at the beginning, I might have named it differently. We're pretty stuck with the name now," she said with a laugh.

This Spring, Bug Soother launched in the UK. And Sojka is looking at other countries to introduce Bug Soother to; Panama is next on the list.

David Wade Couch / flickr

Though Iowa is known as an agricultural state,  more than 60 percent of Iowans live in cities, and the gulf between rural and urban Iowa is about much more than distance.

courtesy of Bill McKibben

Rapidly melting sea ice, crippling drought, violent storms--author and environmental activist Bill McKibben has been predicting these events for decades.  But now, he says, "We need to get serious about taking care of ourselves."  IPR's Charity Nebbe speaks with McKibben about what it will take to convince humanity to take action on climate change.  McKibben delivered the commencement address at Grinnell College on May 18.

Matthew Paulson / Flickr

Do the deer eat your hostas? Do raccoons share your sweet corn?

Humans and wild animals often clash because we need and want different things from the environment, but there are ways to successfully coexist with the creatures that wander the backyards and farms all across Iowa.

On this Wildlife Day edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with wildlife biologist Jim Pease about some principles of gardening with wildlife in mind.