Iowa Master Conservationist

Have I mentioned yet that I am taking a class to become a Master Conservationist?  It’s offered through the Iowa State University Extension Center.  It’s a program that lasts from February – October.  We attend 10 classes which cover biodiversity, woodlands, water quality, wetlands, sustainable agriculture, etc.  Some classes are held in the Nahant Marsh training center.  Other classes will be held out in the wild! I’m really looking forward to those.

Our first class was Tuesday night.  It was a full-house too.  The attendees run the gamut from Biology students working part-time at Nahant Marsh to retirees trying to turn their acreages back into Iowa prairies.  It’s an interesting bunch of people.  The instructors seem great too – very well educated on the subject matter and with a knack for interesting stories and good humor.

I learned a lot of interesting stuff, just in that first night.

  • Members of different species cannot mate and have viable offspring.  For example, if a horse and donkey mate, they produce a mule, and almost always the mule is sterile.
  • Our current time has the highest rate of species extinction.  Way to go, Humans!
  • Main causes of extinction: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, population (the human population has grown from 1 billion in the 1800s to 7 billion in 2012!!!), over-harvesting (which has caused the extinction of plants like Ginseng).
  • Fire and bison kept Iowa as 85% prairie (and prevented it from becoming forested).
  • Within 140 years of white people moving into Iowa, the diverse prairie was almost completely replaced with row crops, destroying the habitats of several animals.
  • Iowa used to be where Costa Rica is now.
  • Sandstone in Iowa is found in the location of ancient lakes.  Limestone is found in the location of ancient coral reefs.
  • Glaciers used to block the Mississippi and reroute it.  At one time it formed a huge pool over by Plainview, IA.  That huge valley used to be the home of the mighty Mississippi.

Good books to read, if you are interested in this kind of stuff: Iowa’s National Heritage, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, The Emerald Horizon by Cornelia Mutel, The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson.  I have a feeling that these books will depress the hell out of me, but I’m going to read them anyway.

And that was the first night in a nutshell.  I think this will be a super interesting program.