Tell us about the challenges of creating The Iowa Nature Calendar.
Jean: Our greatest challenge was winnowing the number of entries we could include for each month from the amount of material we had collected. This sorting process was guided by our effort to provide a stimulating range of natural history topics and to represent the diversity of Iowa’s geography. As we discussed options and checked facts, it was also important to contact people working in other fields of natural history where our own expertise was thin.
Jim: To pare down all the information we had assembled to fit the allotted space for individual months was a challenge—eliminating Good Stuff was painful. It was a challenge to include as many things from the plant, animal, mineral, geological, topographical, and historical worlds as possible. To include all the areas of Iowa took some research and planning. Should we create a second Iowa Nature Calendar, we could present some of the historical moments in Iowa nature, such as those associated with what Lewis and Clark saw when they camped on the Iowa side of the Missouri River, the experiences of Marquette and Joliet along the Mississippi, the observations of Julien Dubuque and his lead mine enterprises, and the forts established in Iowa during the nineteenth century—what natural phenomena did they observe where and when? The work of Orestes St. John and of other geologists and naturalists such as Shimek, Macbride, Hayden, and Sherman merits recognition in this century.
What has changed in the outdoor world since your first days of enjoying and protecting it? What’s better, what’s worse?
Jean: On the “better” side, there has been a steady improvement in public awareness of the natural environment, its importance in our lives, and its accompanying conservation, resource, and ecological issues—a shift that probably started in the early 1970s. This improvement continues as educational efforts increase and diversify, and as conservation organizations offer more opportunities for people to engage with the outdoors. Also, the natural sciences have opened their doors to reach a broader public audience, resulting in a better-informed public. I am encouraged further by the ingenuity to conserve, restore, and connect habitat tracts on scales ranging from backyards to thousands of acres. Volunteer “friends” of Iowa’s parks, preserves, and natural areas provide valuable on-site support. On the “worse” side, there is ever-increasing pressure on our lands and waters to provide for many different and often conflicting uses, not only here in Iowa but throughout the country. Lost habitats are irreplaceable and affect not only their native plants and animals but the quality of human life. As with the loss of the once seemingly vast prairie ecosystem in the Midwest, there is a failure to grasp the large-scale, long-term effects of seemingly minor actions to convert land to other purposes.
Jim: There is now more awareness of and interest in, for example, clean water, livable environment, and Matters Ecological in general. The current interest in the reestablishment of wetlands and prairies is heartening. On the darker side, however, is the continued loss of habitat for birds, for example, at both ends of their migration routes. I see fewer warblers in Lacey-Keosauqua State Park now than I did several decades ago.
Jean C. Prior and James Sandrock, The Iowa Nature Calendar