Category Archives: Prairie

American Forests: North American Forests in the Age of Man

American Forests is a non-profit working towards the reforestation of woodlands both nationally and globally. Though, their “Community Releaf” program is where they shine. With these green endeavors, the organization “aims to bring national attention to the value of our urban forests and reaches geographically distributed and culturally diverse communities across the United States.”

Their community inclined projects typically work to restore tree canopies in urban areas. With their project in Oakland, they intersect social justice with ecological justice.

Here’s an excerpt from a report on the matter:

“Several studies have found correlations between city trees and public health in neighborhoods with low tree canopy — increased respiratory illness, particularly among children and senior citizens, and more incidents of diabetes and heart disease. In terms of psychosocial benefits, a lack of access to green space can negatively impact mental well-being and stress levels, the latter a foreboding allusion to the potential climate change risks highlighted in the recent IPCC report.

Recognizing that tree canopy can be an important factor in understanding and addressing income disparity and supporting sustainable development — both environmentally and economically — a recent study by American Forests examined tree canopy by Oakland council district in correlation with several demographic and socioeconomic factors, including income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, population and age. The information that was derived can help identify the districts where additional trees can provide the greatest positive impacts for communities.”

They have also published a digestible history on the American forest since human civilization has taken root. Here’s a look:

“Human impacts, from colonial times to the present, have drastically changed not just the size, but the nature of American forests, whether you consider the baseline for what is natural to be 1492 CE or 15,000 BP.

The trees in mature forests are adapted to soil characteristics, light intensities and moisture levels created by the forest’s species themselves. Remove these species, and all those factors change. The resulting forest is now composed of pioneer species — those first to grow in a tree-less location, like aspen, birch and alder. The old-growth forest species must wait until the pioneer species recreate their required soil, light and moisture conditions to reemerge. Similar changes in forest composition are created by natural events such as fires and wind storms, and the mature forest regenerates naturally. The difference is that most managed forests today are harvested so frequently that they never reach the optimal conditions for the species that prefer mature conditions. Instead of a complex, old-growth structure of multi-layered canopies with a spectrum of young to ancient trees and tree fall gaps, decaying down wood, standing dead trees and high species diversity, forests today have relatively young, dense, even-aged and even-canopied stands of fewer species.

Simply replanting trees does not always mean the forest has returned. In places where timber companies have replanted with native trees — whether in rows on a plantation or less orderly in wilder areas — the new forest is a monoculture of commercial species that lacks most of the biodiversity associated with the original forest. Smaller patches of forest, or forest fragmentation, has also reduced forest biodiversity because the smaller fragments cannot support wide-ranging wildlife species. In addition, the small, isolated populations of other species, including some trees, are more susceptible to local extinction.”

Biomimicry! Looking to Nature for Design Solutions

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Guys! This is really exciting! For a ceramics class, we have to make a piece emulating a concept I’ve never heard of, biomimicry. Basically this term means modeling technology after nature. They have innovative solutions and designs for agriculture, architecture, medicine, energy, transportation, and even communication!

There are so many examples of products/services listed at  https://biomimicry.org/biomimicry-examples/#.WBudRS0rK70

some examples are: learning from mosquitoes to create “a nicer needle”, or learning from prairies how to grow food in resilient ways, modeling a bullet train after a king-fish, learning from the texture of whale’s fins about how to create efficient wind power, even learning from termites how to create sustainable buildings!

Check out this website!

Creek CNP Outline 11/2/16

Creeks of Johnson County

Theme: Restoration and Conservation and reconnecting with the land

General storyline: The four seasons will be analogous to the development of the destruction of our land and resources and will be threaded together with my families land and the waterway running through it juxtaposed with the greater area surrounding it. Spring is a time of birth and great opportunity and I will explain how the land we see today was shaped by natural process and then utilized as a partner by the Native People of The Americas. Summer is a time of agitation and preparing for the future survival in winter. I will use this verse to illustrate where man went wrong and what we still do wrong. Fall is a time of reflection and will be used to promote possible solutions to our wrong-doings as well as how we impact the entire globe all of its inhabitants. Winter is a time for huddling together and staying alive or being left in the cold to freeze to death. This will be an opportunity to predict what will be of our future if we stay on our current trajectory or if we merge together as one and begin to respect nature as a fellow, not a foe. As Thoreau said, “Alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear, it is never too late to give up our prejudices.”

Main characters: Creek Hoard, Old Man’s Creek, Mother Nature

Interviews / Research: I will be interviewing a few scientist from campus to attain a clear understanding of what has happened as well as what my come in the future, as well as possible solutions. I will also be interviewing my family members to get an idea of what the land means to them. Research will be done to gather historical information about the area and what it has been used for in the past.

Arts Medium: I will write and read live a prose poetry, essay and short story. I will also include a visual medium and Music for thought throughout the reading.

Old Man’s Creek: Seasons of Change

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When brainstorming ideas for CNP, a wave rushed over me and suddenly I had an abundance of ideas and a single topic to thread them with. However, when peeling back the layers of the onion, I realized that my single topic was actually just a metaphor for a much larger paradigm. I came in to this project knowing I wanted to tell the story of my land and what it means to me and my family; furthermore, I wanted to effectively explain why I am so hurt by state of the environment. I knew this was going to be difficult to explain all of the emotions, memories and thoughts pertaining to such a story, but I never thought I would be able to actually do the piece, and myself justice in just one semesters worth of work. This philosophy has now changed.

Moving forward, my piece will no longer be merely about one family or one plot of land, rather, it will encompass a myriad of issues both contemporary and historical, as well as predictive. When I imagine presenting my piece, I imagine a conglomeration of Thoreau style writings, pointing out the things that are innate to me and missed on most. I see a narrative that is Leopold like in its threaded connection to all that is around. Stylistically a mix between a TED talk, Moth Radio Hour and Def Jam.

A complicated story to tell but an important one. We all must grapple with our pasts in order to correct our futures. When all is said and done, hopefully this piece will inspire real, lasting change.

Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” This is my goal and state of our union is my Walden.

The Story of Little Bluestem

Page 5My final CNP project encompassed writing a children’s book titled “The Story of Little Bluestem.” In an effort to discuss the role of climate change in Iowa, this story told the history of Iowa’s native tallgrass prairie from the viewpoint of one prairie grass, Little Bluestem. My book was aimed at children with the goal of encouraging kids to understand the benefits of prairie grasses in a state where virtually all the land has been groomed to promote the monoculture of corn grass. Iowans may not see the immediate impacts of climate change but our land management is tied to climatic change in numerous ways. There are a few villains throughout the story, the Unsettlers, a green Deere, and industrialized agriculture. However, the story finishes with a hopeful perspective from the Restorers fighting to save the tallgrass prairie. All of the imagery featured in the book was taken travelling around much of the state to capture the heart of Iowa. If possible, I may pursue publishing this book since I was unable to find any children’s books about Iowa’s prairie grasses and its important role in the history of Iowa. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Spring 2016 CNP class and this experience was very eye opening on how to better tell the message of climate change to encourage forward-thinking action.

Road Trip Across Iowa

Neal Smith NWFThis weekend I made a trip across Iowa from Johnson county all the way to Plymouth county and back across the top. During my journey I visited 10+ prairie, wetland, and wildlife areas across Iowa. I gathered over 600 photographs, some of which will be used to create the imagery in my children’s book about Iowa’s tallgrass prairies. There are too many photographs to share but I have included one of my favorites from the trip. The current season is a transition period for virtually all prairie grasses in Iowa and it was challenging to find much color beyond golden brown, grey, and tan. Unfortunately, after my CNP final project is presented is when Iowa’s tallgrass prairies will really show their true colors. Nonetheless, I did not let that stop me from photographing what Iowa currently has to offer. One thing that I learned on this journey is how little land is left to remnant, native, and reconstructed prairie in Iowa (beyond the numerical value of 0.1 %). Seeing is really believing (and fully understanding). Driving throughout Iowa, it is easy to see why >92 % of land is devoted to rural cropland. This trip helped solidify my goals beyond completing my CNP project to continue to volunteer and help restore Iowa’s stunning tallgrass prairies.

The link here compiles the prairies in Iowa that you can visit by county and was used in creating my itinerary.

Fire Brings New Life to the Prairie

IMG_6085This weekend I had the opportunity to photograph a prescribed fire prairie grass burn in Solon, IA. One of the folks I interviewed, Liz Maas (Director of Bur Oak Land Trust), invited me to witness and document the action up close. It was a great experience and will become a neat part of my Children’s book for my CNP final project.

Iowa was once covered with over 80 % prairie grasses. To put that into perspective, if we envision the entire planet Earth as Iowa, prairie grasses would have covered more surface area than our vast oceans! However, only 0.1 % of Iowa’s original prairie remain today. What might seem counterintuitive about this is why burn the prairie grass we are trying to save? By performing a controlled area burn of prairie grass it helps eliminate competing invasive grasses, and has occurred in balance routinely for thousands of years to prevent invading tress species onto the prairie. There is more than meets the eye as well with prairie grasses because they have deep root systems that contain upwards of 75 % of the plant’s biomass below the surface. What’s more is that what we see above ground is a 3-10 feet plant but its roots can grow upwards of 10-20 feet below ground! So when the prairie is burned, the remains serve as natural fertilizer for the next generation of prairie grass and encourage growth.

So before you run to throw some water on burning prairie grass, remember it is a vital prairie management method that without a doubt gave (gives) Iowa some of the most fertile soil in the world.

For more on Iowa Prairies check out the Iowa Prairie Network.