Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

What was…

This time last year had me hoping in words for specific deliverables in 2022: water protection and stream teams, collaboration in the Driftless including with the Will Dilg IWLA chapter, active organizing with my Iowa colleague on substantial “Thinking Like a Watershed” web presentations, and something – anything – to forward the education of landowners who don’t themselves drive the tractor. We didn’t get past the talking stage on that last wish but also, I didn’t specify what turned into a slate of work “matching” crop and livestock producers. I didn’t anticipate being part of a writing award. And in fact, I didn’t anticipate even having this job a year later. But I was, and do, and 2023 at least has a chance to be launched.


…And will be

We here in southeast Minnesota saw a good deal of stream team-related activity last year and it will continue into the new year. In fact, and despite winter statistics to the contrary, it feels as if the vestiges of Covid isolation have been tossed aside: there are new monitoring sites in the mill and new partners to make them happen, and we will host a stream side Save Our Stream (SOS) training workshop in March or May.


Also: Water work turns to the Cedar River north and south of the Iowa-Minnesota border with a gathering of doers and thinkers in March. Public waters continue to deteriorate and yet…what are we doing, what should we be doing, where are the glimmer of good? We need to sit together and learn – between a Cedar River source issue and ongoing positive changes to a source region septic system ordinance (Mower County, MN), a huge grant In Iowa and three years since a round table conversation, it’s time.


Also: The “Thinking Like a Watershed” virtual series 2023 launches Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. The details are below: please, register to join us for these brief and enlightening programs hosted monthly through June.


Also: The “Match” work is primed to take to the road and everywhere else we can get the attention of the 10,000 producers we hope to persuade to answer questions in our 6-state working group (UMRI is an active participant on the advisory council).  Driven by a national need for more soil cover more months of the year, the questions come in the form of a survey designed by Green Lands Blue Waters/Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group.  Survey takers will find themselves helping us to understand the nuances that prevent the reintegration of livestock into crop operations from occurring more than they do. This foundational bottom line positively affects farm financials, every aspect of the environment including drinking water and human health, climate mitigation, and communities. If you as a farmer wants to take it or your organization wants to help distribute it, please contact Caroline van Schaik.  There is some financial help for related costs.  Every effort at outreach is deeply appreciated.



Also: While I reposition non-operating landowner work on my list of Driftless hopefuls, I can for sure point you to a Jan. 11 event in Dawson, MN being organized by UMRI in partnership with the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition.




Thinking Like a Watershed returns Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

Join us!  via Zoom Tuesday, January 10th @ 7 pm…“We are NOT Farm Bill Fly-over states!”
How ag. conservation strategists in MN and IA hope to deliver soil and climate priorities on the back of the Inflation Reduction Act.  A preview of what’s next, with Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America, and Ben Knuth, Agriculture Policy Specialist, National Wildlife Federation.

Register Here!

Please share this event with your networks!  Facebook link!

The 5-year design of a new federal Farm Bill received a re-set last fall when Congress authorized the climate-forward Inflation Reduction Act. With those separate funds and a new Congress in mind, ag. conservationists in Minnesota and Iowa met in early January to pool priorities and strategies.  Led by the Izaak Walton League and the National Wildlife Foundation, participants sorted out results of last year’s listening sessions – how best to make good on non-operating landowner demands, on the need for meat processors, for an update to soil erosion formulas, for insurance incentives for soil health practices, for doubling conservation dollars for programs known to better water, soil, wildlife, and climate needs?

The January gathering asked for perspectives and then took time to meld priorities of 2 states determined not to be fly-over fodder. Join the IWLA’s agriculture program director, Duane Hovorka, and NWF’s agriculture policy specialist, Ben Knuth, for what was decided and how they will go forward.

This monthly series is a project of the Upper Mississippi River Initiative of the Izaak Walton League of America, with co-hosts Chris Henning of the Panora Conservation Chapter and Des Moines Chapter Communication Director, Bud Hartley. We feature guests for 30-40 minute presentations that shed daylight on good works done in the name of the Mississippi and its uplands. In this way we uplift our shared goals for a cleaner river, a cared for environment, and kinder communities. Recorded programs are available at shortly after they air live.


UMRI’s “Thinking Like a Watershed” series has gone fishin’!


Not wishing to compete with long summer days – and who would want to! – we hosted our final 2022 “Thinking Like a Watershed” episode on June 7. Go outside! We will see you in January for stories to inspire a winter’s night, as told by ourselves and good partners on this road to a better landscape. The linked recording of the June 7 presentation – by the head of a 7th generation farm creatively grappling with urban sprawl – is below, as are links to all past programs. Take a listen, take some hope, and let us know if you would like us to consider a certain someone or topic in programs to come. And if you are new to the series, we use these words to describe what shapes it: This monthly series is a project of the Upper Mississippi River Initiative (UMRI) of the Izaak Walton League of America, with co-hosts Chris Henning of the Panora Conservation Chapter and Des Moines Chapter Communication Director, Bud Hartley. We feature guests for 30-40 minute presentations that shed daylight on good works done in the name of the Mississippi and its uplands. In this way we uplift our shared goals for a cleaner river, a cared for environment, and kinder communities. Recorded programs are available shortly after they air live.


Links to recent “Thinking” presentations


 “Your Locally Grown Alternative (Farm)”:  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ LaVon Griffieon- Tuesday June 7, 2022 How the 7th generation of a Century Farm family takes on urbanization, food security, and soil and livestock health… with farmstead matriarch, LaVon Griffieon


“Stream TEAM Science is (slowly) shifting policy!” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Tuesday, May 3, 2022
How E. coli & DNA data changed Mower Co. septic system practices…
A discussion with leaders Larry Dolphin, Bill Buckley, Mark Owens, lifelong members of the Izaak Walton League (IWLA), and Josh Balk, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)


“The 2023 Farm Bill after 100 Years of Conservation!”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Duane Hovorka- April 12th, 2022
How the Izaak Walton League has influenced federal agriculture policy and what WE can do for next year’s Farm Bill…with Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America


“Championing the Upper Mississippi River Region” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Mary Ellen Miller— March 8th, 2022
How a life-long conservationist became an advocate for the Mississippi…a League president discusses conservation & change with Mary Ellen Miller, President, League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region


“The POWER of 1 Mississippi & 20,000 River Citizens” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Kelly McGinnis— February 22nd, 2022 How 58 organizations team up to drive policy—“Can the river count on you?” A call to action…


Photo by: David Thoreson

Save Bloody Run Goes to Court”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Steve Veysey— January 4th, 2022  An update from a Dedicated Water Policy Scientist who has turned Radical to Save Bloody Run.

—“Heartland Heroines”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Robin Moore & Denise O’Brien— June 1, 2021  How two savvy conservationists empower working farm landowners to put their inner land ethic to work.

—“Planting Seeds to Grow Vibrant Communities”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Chris Deal & Art Cullen— May 4, 2021  How Jefferson, Iowa’s Chris Deal is working with California Rep. Ro Khanna and others to grow vibrant rural communities in the Heartland with perspectives from Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist and editor of The Storm Lake Times, Art Cullen.

—“Watershed Bridges— Green to Blue”   Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Vicki Nichols Goldstein & Seth Watkins— April 6, 2021  How improving soil health and water quality in Iowa and other inland states benefit watersheds that provide critical services from land to sea.

“Local Heroes in Howard County”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Neil Shaffer & Hunter Slifka— March 2, 2021  How they have incorporated several thousand acres of land under conservation programs–the largest percentage in Iowa.

“The Accidental Conservationist”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Wayne Fredericks— February 2, 2021  How an Iowa Farmer is Improving Natural Capital while Increasing Profits with Conservationist and Farmer, Wayne Fredericks from Mitchell County, Iowa.