Seeds for the future

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Helen Gunderson during 2014 visit to DeElda Heritage Prairie. The prairie planting on Tuesday was on land up the hill to the right.

“Now I truly understand the sense of pride landowners get when seeing projects come to fruition,” Helen Gunderson said to me when we went to Pocahontas County to observe a 70-acre prairie planting on a portion of the 180 acres she recently donated to INHF with a reserved life estate. The property adjoins a 60-acre remnant prairie/pasture Helen previously donated to INHF, called DeElda Heritage Prairie (named after her grandmother, DeElda Lighter Gunderson).

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A few of the many bags of Carl Kurtz prairie seed for the May 2016 planting

Helen is an accomplished photographer and videographer and on that day we filmed and photographed Jon Judson planting the prairie seed (grown by Carl Kurtz, a longtime friend of Helen’s and INHF). She and I even got to hand scatter seeds along the terraces where the equipment couldn’t reach.

The 77 acres planted to CRP pollinator habitat surrounds a cornfield under transition to an organic operation by a young woman farmer, Betsy. Helen hopes that the new prairie buffer will help minimize cross contamination of the organic corn, as well as provide critical habitat.

Helen said that she had always thought the land would have more prairie someday, but it’s nice to see it happen during her lifetime.

For me, it was rewarding to be able to fulfill the dreams of a landowner, to support a young woman farmer and to give back to the earth — so that it can sustain the birds, insects, wildlife, water and air necessary for the existence of all life on the planet, for those who follow.

Thank you, Helen….
“Namaste prairie”

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Gift to Iowa’s Future Day celebrates Iowa landowners

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On Thursday, March 24, a group of Iowa landowners were honored at the state capitol building for gifts of conservation land, land value and conservation easements made in 2015. “Gift To Iowa’s Future” day is an annual celebration of private landowners and organizations who protect their land for natural resources and recreation opportunities. 2015 gifts totaled more than $10 million and protected over 4,500 acres in 15 counties.

16 of the 23 landowners honored worked in partnership with Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to protect their land.

“Private landowners are instrumental in protecting Iowa’s land, water and wildlife,” said INHF President Joe McGovern. “Gift to Iowa’s Future Day is a chance for us to celebrate the generous contributions individual Iowans make to conservation each year. It is truly humbling to see the impact of these gifts across the state.”
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3 conservation policy wins we’re celebrating

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Bison roaming Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service Midwest

This winter solstice, INHF is celebrating three pieces of conservation policy signed by President Obama last week that provide huge support to Iowans hoping to do individual conservation and support conservation efforts in Iowa.

Conservation Easement tax incentives
Conservation easements are a great way for Iowans who want to protect the natural resource value of their land in the future. Iowans who donate a conservation easement are eligible for income tax credits to offset the value of their land donation. First enacted as temporary provisions in 2006 (needing to be renewed on a yearly basis), these tax incentives are directly responsible for conserving more than 2 million acres of America’s natural outdoor heritage. Last Friday, Congress and the president approved these tax incentives as permanent.

The incentive grants certain tax benefits to landowners who sign a conservation easement. Such private, voluntary agreements with local land trusts permanently limit uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Lands placed into conservation easements can continue to be farmed, hunted or used for other specified purposes. The lands also remain on county tax rolls, strengthening local economies. Continue reading

The future for floodplains

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When rivers rise, the water can cut new channels in a process known as scour, which removes fertile topsoil. The damage shown above occurred on a property along the Upper Iowa River in Allamakee County.

So, what’s the deal with floodplains? Landowners with significant acres of cropland in high-risk areas on floodplains face the potential for significant crop loss and other property damage. There’s also a chance for scour, which occurs when flooded rivers begin to cut new channels, removing fertile topsoil.

What can be done? Good news! New technology has allowed mapping to predict flood risk and relative scour potential in Iowa. Since 2009, scientists at the University of Iowa Flood Center have partnered with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to map accurately flood predication throughout the state, watershed by watershed. Continue reading

Volunteer spotlight: ISU students volunteer for “magical” day

Six Iowa State University Natural Resource and Ecology Management (NREM) graduate students used their skills to help open up and restore a remnant prairie on a March day this spring on a Boone County woodland just 20 minutes from campus. This is the fifth time ISU’s NREM students have worked on the site.

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Students from ISU’s Natural Resource and Ecology Management department and INHF staffers work with David Marlow to reclaim a hilltop on the Gardner Property in Boone County. (Gifford the dog was a big help, too.)

“What is interesting about this student group,” INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel said, “is that even with students flowing through the program and graduating each year, the passion and knowledge never seems to leave because the leadership is handed down and new energy emerges.” Continue reading

DeCook Field Day

Buffalo roam DeCook's ranch in Monroe County. (Photo by Ron Huelse)

Buffalo roam DeCook’s ranch in Monroe County. (Photo by Ron Huelse)

INHF board member Mike DeCook will host a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day at his ranch in Lovilia on Tuesday, July 28, from 1-4 p.m. The afternoon will be an opportunity for guests to brush up on their pollinator, prairie and bison-grazing education. Continue reading

McGovern to lead tour of Kossuth County prairies

The sun sets over Wildin Prairie.

The sun sets over Wildin Heritage Prairie. (Photo by Joe McGovern)

INHF President Joe McGovern will lead tours of three prairies in Kossuth County on Saturday, June 27. The field trips will last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are co-sponsored by INHF, the Iowa Native Plant Society and the Iowa Prairie Network. Continue reading

Up in the Blufflands

Limestone bluffs along the Upper Iowa River in Winneshiek County (Photo by Clint Farlinger)

Limestone bluffs line the Upper Iowa River in Winneshiek County. (Photo by Clint Farlinger)

In passing, the split-level building in Decorah seems nondescript. The only sign indicating INHF’s presence was hurriedly printed and taped to the door. But this minimalism is by design. “We’re just not there all the time,” says INHF Blufflands Director Brian Fankhauser of the new INHF blufflands office. Instead, Fankhauser and his new assistant, Jered Bourquin, are out in the field more often than not. Continue reading

Gifts to Iowa’s future

There are moments in the life of each INHF project in which the staff tries to pause and reflect — maybe even celebrate a little — before moving onto the next one. It could be a formal dedication, such as the Paint Creek Valley Addition to Yellow River State Forest on May 7. Or it could simply be transferring ownership of a property from INHF to a public agency.

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Mary Lou and Bob Gunderson.

Earlier this week, INHF transferred 12 acres to the city of Eldora in Hardin County. The land had been donated by Mary Lou and Bob Gunderson, and it will be known as Gunderson Nature Park. A trail loop, prairie and savanna reconstruction, butterfly habitat and a nature-scape play area are planned by the city. The transfer was another step in permanently protecting this place’s land, water and wildlife — the ultimate goal of every INHF project.

The Gundersons have a long history of conservation work in Iowa, especially along the Iowa River Greenbelt. They were one of 18 individuals, families and organizations honored by the state of Iowa last month at Gift to Iowa’s Future Day. Twelve of this year’s honorees worked with INHF to find the right options to permanently protect their land. Dave Mackaman, INHF board 1st vice chair, took some time to reflect on the ceremony:

“Attending the Gift to Iowa’s Future recognition event at the state capital was a memorable pleasure. The selfless and forwarding thinking actions of these land and easement donors were without doubt inspirational, and to have elected and public officials, INHF representatives, family, friends, and admirers there to thank these individuals was heartwarming. 

“After the formal recognition event, members from the INHF team hosted a luncheon for those donors with whom the Foundation had the privilege of working. During the luncheon the attendees all shared personal perspective around an individual, a memory, or a place that sparked their own passion around nature and conservation.

“The stories flowed with emotion, at times eliciting laughter and beaming smiles from the group, and at other times drawing out gentle tears. In all cases, the stories united us in the room around the power of our connective passion for our state and its wild places. As I listened to the stories, I imagined a group of people gathering in the future, somewhere, sometime down the road, knowing that it could well be the people in this room that would be featured in that group’s stories of who sparked the passion for nature and conservation within them, and knowing that INHF will be there to help keep it going.”

Learn more about those honored at Gift to Iowa’s Future Day here.

Map of My Kingdom

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With an aging population of Iowa landowners, more than half of the farmland in the state will be transferred to new owners in the coming decades. Fifty six percent of Iowa farmland is owned by people over the age of 65, and 30 percent is owned by those over 75, according to Iowa State University’s 2012 report “Farmland Ownership and Tenure Report in Iowa.”

With this in mind, Iowa’s poet laureate Mary Swander wrote a play exploring issues surrounding farmland transition. Map of My Kingdom, which was commissioned by Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), will be performed at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 11 in the Church of the Land at Living History Farms.

In the drama, Angela Martin, a lawyer and mediator in land transition disputes, shares stories of how farmers and landowners she has worked with over the years approached their land successions. Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation will have staff on hand before and after the performance to discuss ways that INHF assists landowners with this transition.

“We are on the cusp of a monumental transfer in farmland ownership,” said Teresa Opheim, Executive Director of Practical Farmers of Iowa. “Many farmers will lose their farmland during this transition. They will be unable to purchase the land when their current landlords die and heirs want to cash out. The farmland transition is exacerbated by steep land prices, which make it very difficult for beginning farmers to get started.”

Farm transfer and land ownership issues will be a major focus of PFI’s annual conference, Jan. 23-24 in Ames. There will be a performance of Map of My Kingdom at the conference, as well as multiple sessions exploring farmland ownership topics.

Here are more opportunities to see the play throughout Iowa in the coming months:

Ames: Friday, Jan. 23, 6 p.m., Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference, Scheman Building

Forest City: Thursday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m., Waldorf College

Orange City:  Saturday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m., DeWitt Theatre Arts Center, Northwestern College

Storm Lake: Tuesday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m., Anderson Auditorium, Buena Vista University

Dubuque, IA., Thursday, March 26, 6:30 p.m., Shalom Retreat Center