In Iowa, we call them wetlands….and we definitely don’t want to drain them!!
Wetlands & native prairie, along with the thousands of species this important habitat supported, was the catalyst that formed our rich Iowa soil. The prairies and wetlands were also the “sponge” that purified water and made our streams and rivers function properly….as compared to chronic flooding and water quality problems that has resulted from completely annihilating these important habitats. Iowa’s once functioning landscape also supported a wide diversity of Native American Cultures who actively & sustainably managed that landscape with fire and other strategies for thousands of years (until the US government and mass European immigration forced them off their land).
Iowa’s unique wetland & tall grass prairie ecosystem is often considered one of the most unique and rapidly altered natural systems on Earth.
Wetlands and native prairie habitat (even in small doses) work to dramatically improve water infiltration and water quality. They also significantly reduce SOIL EROSION and FLOODING. Established prairie can absorb up to 8 inches of rain per hour. If these habitats were more frequently incorporated into our row crops in the form of CRP (restored wetlands, prairie strips, & buffer strips along streams), along with other conservation practices such as no-till and grassed waterways, the difference on the Iowa landscape would be dramatic!! It would improve water quality and reduced flooding, while improving the diversity and well-being of habitat, people, farmers, and wildlife at the same time!
A good historical analogy of the Iowa Landscape is the Dr. Suess story, “The Lorax”. If you’ve never read it or it’s been a while, read it again from an Iowa Landscape perspective. Replace “Thneeds” with corn & soybeans…and replace “Truffula Trees” with Iowa’s native tall grass prairies, wetlands, and forests. As you turn the pages of the story, think about a perspective that with each turning page is a new generation of people that doesn’t remember what was lost on the previous pages. Current generations are born onto our present day, highly manipulated landscape, and have rarely been told the true holistic story of the once diverse and properly functioning Iowa Landscape…or the diverse species and native people who once called Iowa home.
I want to give future generations the gift of knowing where we’ve been in order to have a more holistic idea of the potential of where we can go. I believe we can have a more diverse and economically successful and sustainable agricultural system in Iowa by better supporting and promoting a return of diversity and function to the landscape. With our current low diversity mono-crop commodity system of chronic overproduction and low prices, very few opportunities exist for young people with their energetic, enthusiastic, innovative, creative, and community oriented minds to return to the land! If we don’t know where we’ve been, how can we ever really know where we’re going?