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Lessons in conservation

Iowa Master Conservationist Program to begin in Hamilton, Webster, Pocahontas and Humboldt counties

-Submitted photo
Participants in the Master Conservationist Program learn about managing prairie and grassland environments from a wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever.

An opportunity will be available beginning May 18 for individuals to learn about Iowa’s natural ecosystems and the diversity of conservation challenges and opportunities within not only the state, but the region of Hamilton, Humboldt, Pocahontas and Webster Counties.

The Iowa Master Conservationist program will take place throughout different locations within those counties and will provide both online curriculum and hands-on interaction.

Who can become an Master Conservationist?

Adam Janke, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach wildlife specialist and assistant professor for the Department of Natural Resources Ecology and Management at Iowa State University said that although the main audiences the program was envisioned to target was landowners and farmers, it has gone way beyond that.

“We have done surveys and there isn’t one type of person or career field that likes to take the program, but rather it is a cross section of society and that is how conservation works too,” he said. “It is a collective bunch of individuals, private actors doing right by the land. That’s the beauty of the course. We get a bunch of people together. We learn from one another. We learn from materials provided by Iowa State University instructors online and we learn from in-person visits led by local natural resource professionals, like county conservation board, DNR and people like that.”

-Submitted photo
Participants in the Master Conservationist Program use a sein to sample fish and insects in a small pond to learn about aquatic ecosystems.

The previous Master Conservationist program held in the area back in 2019, Janke said had a nice combination of people from both the farm and the city.

“It was a really neat mixture and that is really good,” he said. “We need to find ways for people from the farm to talk to people from the city and vice versa and I think the Master Conservationist Program is a way to do that. We all care about the land and we all care about healthy water and healthy soils.”

The Master Conservationist Program

The program consists of approximately 12 hours of online curriculum and seven weekly three-hour face-to-face meetings. The online modules will include lessons and resources by Iowa State University subject-matter experts.

Janke said the educational curriculum targets adults and intends to step people through everything they need to know about practicing conservation at any scale from your backyard, the city park to a 5,000 acre farm.

-Submitted photo
Participants in the Master Conservationist Program learn about a river in southern Iowa and practices used to protect surface waters from a fisheries biologists with the Iowa DNR.

The way this is conducted is through a series of modules that Janke said build on one another.

The first module defines what conservation is, exploring Iowa’s land forms, geology – places where conservation is done on Iowa’s landscapes.

The next module explores Iowa’s major ecosystems – forest, prairie and aquatic.

“In that module we want you to understand those ecosystems are found and how they function and how they can be used in our farms and our cities to improve water quality, soil health or wildlife conservation,” said Janke.

The next module involves putting it together in the watershed and exploring ways to actually do conservation.

“That’s everything from tillage practices in crop fields to rain gardens in cities and everything in between,” he said.

The final module revolves around communicating conservation.

“We talk about how people receive and act on the message of conservation and environmental stewardship and equip the graduates with tools to try to convince their friends and neighbors and community leaders of the importance of conservation in Iowa’s landscapes,” said Janke.

The program is mix of online curriculum and in-person sessions.

“The teaching approach is called a flip classroom, which means we want people to listen to lectures or do readings, but we want them to do that at their own pace, at home,” he said. “They review materials online before going to an in-person session. This allows the in-person session to be very hands on, out in nature.”

The program begins May 18 at Camp Wanoki, near Fort Dodge for introductions to the program.

The following week the in-person session will be held at Bells Mills Park in Hamilton County. This session is titled: “Setting the Stage: Land, Water and Conservation in Iowa.”

June 1, the program will be centered on learning about prairies at Brushy Creek.

June 8, attendees will go to Joe Sheldon Park in Humboldt County for a lesson on forests.

June 15, the aquatic eco-system of Iowa will be discussed at Lizard Lake in Pocahontas County.

On June 22, a lesson on watersheds will be given at the Smeltzer Farm near Otho, in Webster County.

The final in-person lesson “Planting the Seeds of Conservation” will be June 29 at Frank A. Gotch Park in Humboldt County

At the end of the program, participants will receive their certificate for having completed the Master Conservationist curriculum.

But Janke said he hopes it doesn’t end there.

“We want them to go out and do right by the land,” he said. “The whole last module is on communication. We want people to go home and do things in their own backyards and farms, but we also want them to go out and tell the story about why conservation is so important for Iowa and Iowans and what everybody can do to try to help with some of those challenges we have with water, soil and wildlife conservation.”

Jennifer Rolland from Livermore participated in the Master Conservationist program in 2019.

“As a farmer, I think water conservation and water quality is so important,” she said. “It was a great program to learn the different techniques I have often read about.”

Some of the in-person classes that highlighted Rolland’s experience include visiting a bioreactor, an oxbow, where they go to use nets to look for new growth in the water; a visit to a Humboldt County farm where the landowner is restoring prairie land and has planted trees as well as a visit to the Smeltzer Farm.

“It is a true way to see what your own county members are doing,” she said. “It’s not just something out of Iowa State or a big city. It is all really relevant.”

Rolland said it was also the camaraderie of the group she also enjoyed.

“It was a great time,” she said. “We visited eight sites. We walked together, talked together, got to know each other and it was a great way to reach out to others.”

The Master Conservationist Program was another way for Rolland to expand on her previous conservation efforts and knowledge. After completing the program, Rolland said they installed waterways on their farm as an effort to help prevent erosion and they planted more trees.

“It is ongoing for me, to know that I am leaving the world as good a place as when I get to use it,” she said.

Rolland also said she praises the ISU Extension and Outreach and ISU personnel and all of the people that put the Master Conservationist Program together.

“They have invested time and coordination to get these stops and things for us to participate in and I think it is relevant for anybody, she said. “We are never too old to learn something new and they provide the opportunity for that.”

Practicing conservation

For those that live in an urban setting, Janke said can consider capturing rainwater to reduce floods and improve water quality with landscaping or rain barrels. They can also consider landscaping with native plants to assist with wildlife habitat.

They can also reach out to their local parks department and assist with conservation practices at their local parks.

Farmers, Janke said can think about starting conservation efforts by using a cover crop or edge of field conservation practices such as saturated riparian buffers or wetlands.

More information on the upcoming Master Conservationist Program

All programs are from 6-9 p.m. Each face-to-face meeting will be led by local subject-matter experts to demonstrate how the principles covered in the online curriculum play out locally.

Steering committee partners include: Humboldt County Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), Webster County Conservation, Webster County Pheasants Forever, Hamilton County Conservation, and Pocahontas County Conservation.

Registration for the course is $125 and includes all materials and refreshments and is due at the time of registration. Please register online by May 11 at: http://bit.ly/masterconservationist

Questions? Please contact Webster County Extension 515-576-2119; Hamilton County Extension 515-832-9597; Pocahontas County Extension 712-335-3103 or Humboldt County Extension 515-332-2201.

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