Conservation Efforts

By Mike Delaney, UMRI Iowa coordinator, Christine Curry, and other Iowa Izaak Walton League chapter members

2021 We are on a mission to promote and expand positive activities that are taking place in the watershed with our partners.

According to Jerry Hatfield, former USDA Agricultural Research Center’s Laboratory Director, Iowa State University, at the current loss rate Iowa has 80 years of topsoil left.  Obviously many land owners are protecting their “natural capital” but most are not.  We know that our water quality continues to decline as silt, bacteria, phosphorus and nitrate continue to be problematic.  Our hope is that our positive examples will be contagious and encourage others to get involved and take action so that eventually the entire Upper Mississippi River watersheds will flourish with healthy landscapes, soil and clean water from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Nature and Nurture

Impact Our Lives in The Watershed—

Snow path smack in the middle of wildlife habitat, Photo by: Liz Partridge Blessington

Not everyone knows that Iowa’s original landscape was once deeply rooted with original prairie plants.  However, many people do know and acknowledge that Iowa has always been strongly rooted by many extraordinary women, including some transplanted women.  And one of our women partners is no exception:  Elizabeth Partridge Blessington has been an active member of the Raccoon River Watershed Association (RRWA) for over 12 years now.  She currently serves as Vice President.  Like many of the women who are active in conservation efforts, Liz works full-time and yet volunteers many hours of her time to support the causes she cares about.  She also serves her community as an active member of the Sac County Conservation Board.

Both of Liz’s parents, D.G. and Rosemary are Iowa natives and even though they loved Iowa they spent many years away, moving around the United States because of her father’s work in the transportation industry. Liz was born in California.  From a very early age, her mother always instilled her with love and passion for Iowa’s landscape and the people.  Liz fondly recalls visits to her relative’s Iowa farms and her childhood memories were filled with her mother’s stories about Iowa farm life.  Her mother always told Liz and her two brothers, Todd and David, that the family would eventually live in Iowa.  And that they did. Liz was transplanted to Iowa at the age of 11 when her parents moved the family back to Iowa where her father’s work led them.

Fast forward now—

Along with her brother Todd, Liz now manages the family transportation and logistics business “Move It” which is located a few miles from her and her husband’s beautiful home surrounded by 120 acres of restored native prairie in Sac County.

“We lost my brother, David in 2007. He was a fisheries biologist and his connection to the outdoors have resonated and further inspired me to appreciate being outside in nature and being a better steward of the land.”

“Although I have no formal education in these areas, I have been able to learn so much about sustainable farming and the watershed through conferences, meetings and other friends in organizations like the RRWA,” says Liz.  “I’ve also met so many people doing wonderful things in the watershed— farmers, biologists, and conservationists.  The friendships and connections made through this common interest is what I cherish most.”

Liz in her prairie pointing out a Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Photo provided by: Liz Partridge Blessington

Liz and her husband Brian have spent years establishing sustainable conservation practices to benefit their 160 acres of mainly wildlife habitat that is home to an abundant number of pheasants and other native grassland species including, Gray Partridge, Upland Sandpipers, Meadowlarks, Dickcissels, Sedge Wrens, and Grasshopper Sparrows.  While Liz and her husband have not actively farmed their land, prior to converting the land to native prairie 5 years ago they leased their land to an area organic farmer.

There are many personal benefits of having a beautiful wildlife habitat on your own land.  During these days of COVID-19, she relishes every chance she gets to be outside and walk around on her land, almost always with JJ, their English Springer Spaniel.  Many close friends also enjoy this sustainable pheasant hunting ground and the poetic wildlife habitat they have created.  “Build it and they will come and that is true, this habitat is thriving and it is obvious with the numbers of pheasants that are here,” says Liz.

JJ is a natural fit in a winter wonderland prairie, Photo by: Liz Partridge Blessington

The Partridge family are well known as conservation land stewards, not only around their homes but their business as well.  Liz’s parents Rosemary and D.G. have been active members of their community for a number of years working with others on initiatives to benefit the watershed.

Their contributions include numerous conservation programs including reestablishing an oxbow along the Raccoon River, acres of restored prairie and other efforts that benefit the surrounding areas.  Much of their work supports a creek known to the locals as Carnarvon Creek, which directly feeds into Blackhawk Lake, eventually feeding water into the Raccoon River.

Sharing Great Stories—

Izaak Walton League’s Agriculture Outreach Coordinator Tim Wagner couldn’t have said it better when he titled his article in America Outdoors magazine.  “The Accidental Conservationist: A Profile from Osage Iowa.” It is a fascinating story of how individual farmers in the watershed can make a huge impact on their communities and in our state by implementing sound conservation practices.  Wayne Fredericks was on our list of individuals to go and visit and we had this opportunity to do so smack in the middle of a wicked cold winter December day.

Wayne’s Barn Art, Photo by Christine Curry

A close friend of mine who grew up in Iowa was back in town and Pat was interested in learning more about my UMRI’s outreach activities with conservation agriculture in the state of Iowa and offered to accompany me on this road trip.  Pat had been COVID tested before and after arriving back in Iowa from California.  And like other caring citizens, we continued to follow COVID safe guidelines, wearing our masks and using hand sanitizer every step of the way.  So we were certain that it was safe to go visit Wayne’s farm outside.

As we departed from Des Moines, we were reflecting on our childhood memories of growing up in Iowa, riding horses and playing in the creek on Pat’s 50-acre family farm located in Waukee in the early 70’s.  Back then, it seemed like a long drive from West Des Moines driving on Ashworth Road, passing acres of farm country with very few homes in site. Today, like many of the expanded suburbs, the original 50 acres has been subdivided and is now surrounded by miles of urban homes.

Winter greens in December, Photo by Christine Curry

Changes in Iowa’s agriculture landscape continues in Iowa.  The impacts of the rural and urban areas have changed dramatically in the past few decades, especially with the shifts in soil health, water quality, and climate change.  It’s now more apparent than ever, many of us who grew up in Iowa greatly appreciate the authentic smaller farmers who continue to persevere and adapt through all of the changes.  There are many fabulous farmers in Iowa who are leading by example by making their farm land more resilient through regenerative agriculture conservation practices.  Wayne Fredericks is a leading example for soy bean and corn farmers.

Pat observes Wayne’s farm as he points the conservation practices on the land, Photo by: Christine Curry

Even on one of the coldest gray days, we could see the beautiful landscape throughout his fields, as he pointed out the conservation buffers to us.  It was indeed a pleasure and a memorable day for Pat and me.  We were both grateful to meet Wayne and learn about a piece of Iowa that we really didn’t know before.  On our way back to Des Moines, we discussed the potential of Iowa to lead in conservation with farmers like Wayne.

Gratitude as we celebrate Wayne Fredericks as another one of our local heroes…he has proven that conservation practices improves your natural capital and reduces nitrates by 70% while increasing profits!

Soil Health = Water Quality = $$$

As we begin 2021, We continue to wish you the very best!

Continue to Stay Safe and Stay Engaged.

Learn more—

February 2nd @ 7pm kicks off our “Thinking Like A Watershed” 2021 Series on Soil and Water Conservation

Register Here! to learn more from Wayne Fredericks

About Wayne Fredericks and other fabulous Izaak Walton League’s Outdoor America articles on line 

About water quality monitoring and research, check out The University of Iowa’s Chris Jones blog who has published several articles on where Iowa stands with regards to soil health and water quality.

Livestock on the Land
Wait no longer to watch, re-watch and share PFI’s full-length film, “Livestock on the Land.” Please help us get this to as many viewers as possible – farmers, eaters, citizens and policymakers.

On-line training to become a certified Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Stream monitor