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environment

Don't RAPE REAP

by: Supervisor Brent Oleson

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 18:12:24 PM CDT

(The author has been a Linn County Supervisor since 2009 and previously worked with the Iowa Senate Minority leader. Bleeding Heartland discussed the bipartisan effort to increase REAP funding to $25 million here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I'm gonna go on a rant...about an attempted RAPE.

Yes, I mean every word and hyperbole I'm uttering on this post. REAP (Resource Enhancement & Protection) is being RAPED! For Agriculture...by agri-business...to correct it's mistakes in a supposedly free and private market of farming. How is this rape of taxpayer funds and DNR license plate fees occurring and for what specifically? Read on My friends. 

The Iowa House of Representatives wants to put REAP dollars toward... agri-terrace projects, forestry management (subject to logging), and water nutrient pollution clean-up programs because farmland soil is laden with fertilizer chemicals. These are all worthy issues to be addressed on their own I say, and should indeed be addressed and monies put toward mitigation efforts. The Iowa Dept. Of Ag has jurisdiction on all these problems, and they should since their policies and practices created them in the first place.

This isn't an indictment of farmers, because most are great conservationists of their own free will as it's good business and good citizenship. I commend those Iowa farmers, especially my Linn County ones, who work hard to be responsible neighbors, citizens and conservationists...voluntarily I might add! But I don't give a pass to bad apples, policy-makers, or special interest Ag industry lobbyists.

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"Edible forest" coming to Iowa City

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 02, 2014 at 07:26:00 AM CDT

An incredible project will take shape soon in Iowa City:

A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which emulates a woodland ecosystem using edible trees, shrubs, and herbs. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials, and annuals make up the lower levels. The Wetherby Park Edible Forest will combine aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening.

Food in the Wetherby Food Forest:

Trees: apple, pear, plum, cherry, mulberry
Shrubs: hazelnut, serviceberry, aronia berry, beach plum, gooseberry, currant, honeyberry
Herbs: strawberry, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives, sorrel, lovage

The non-profit group Backyard Abundance is organizing a volunteer day on April 12 to prepare and mulch the future orchard site. Planting will begin in 2015. Backyard Abundance posted detailed design plans and plant lists here (pdf). Iowa City Parks and Recreation is partnering with Backyard Abundance on the edible forest, having previously worked with the group and other volunteers to establish an edible maze in the same park.

After the jump I've enclosed more about the new project, which aims to improve public health while using land sustainably and reducing the area's carbon footprint.

For Iowans who would like to create similar projects in their communities, I highly recommend Darrin Nordahl's book Public Produce. Nordahl formerly worked for the City of Davenport, where he promoted growing food in public spaces. The Cultivate Hope farm and urban agriculture education center in downtown Cedar Rapids would be a great source of advice and inspiration as well.

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Report highlights growing land access problem for Iowa farmers

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 13:20:00 PM CDT

Since at least 2007, roughly half of Iowa's land in agricultural production has been rented or leased rather than farmed by its owner. Farmland values at historically high levels are making it even more difficult for Iowans to pursue a secure career in farming. Almost no one can afford a large parcel of farmland at more than $8,000 per acre (or $10,000 per acre of high-grade land). Banks are rarely willing to lend aspiring farmers the kind of money needed to buy a farm, or to buy out siblings or cousins who inherited parts of the family farm.

Some experts believe Iowa farmland values have peaked, but via Tom Philpott I came across evidence that pressure from large buyers may continue to drive up prices. The Oakland Institute analyzed the trend of Wall Street investors buying farmland in the U.S. As institutional investors pile into this market, Iowa farmland may become increasingly unaffordable.

After the jump I've posted a few excerpts from the Oakland Institute's report, but I recommend downloading the whole piece to see supporting charts and references.

The trend toward absentee landlords owning Iowa farms is one among many reasons we can't rely on purely voluntary efforts to protect soil and water quality. Tenant farmers have no incentive to spend money on conservation practices to improve land for the long-term. Landowners (whether they be Wall Street firms or individual investors) are often looking for the highest rent this year, not farming practices that preserve soil fertility and keep excess nutrients out of waterways.  

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Decorah recognized as Iowa River Town of the Year

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 09:35:40 AM CDT

The Winneshiek County seat of Decorah has a well-deserved reputation as one of Iowa's most environmental-minded towns. Organic farmers and gardeners from all over the country have long relied on Seed Savers Exchange as a source for heirloom vegetable seeds and herbs. Two years ago, Luther College installed Iowa's largest solar array. Small-scale renewable energy allows a growing number of people in the Decorah area to live "off the grid."

This month, the non-profit group Iowa Rivers Revival honored Decorah for "efforts by the city and its many partners to make the Upper Iowa River the heart and soul of the community and a focus for recreation, economic development, and environmental stewardship." The news release I've enclosed below highlights an impressive range of programs and projects, which have made the Upper Iowa River both cleaner and more usable for locals and tourists. Here's hoping many other city leaders and Iowa school districts will learn from Decorah's success.

UPDATE: The April edition of Smithsonian magazine ranked Decorah as number 19 on its list of America's 20 "best small towns" to visit. The story noted, "Decorah sits in the heart of Iowa's bluff country, an area heralded for scenic beauty and wildlife. Dunning Springs, just minutes from downtown Decorah, is a 200-foot waterfall-visitors can explore the area by bike or via a network of hiking trails."

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Bipartisan push underway to increase Iowa REAP funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 17:44:07 PM CDT

Iowa's Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Among the most successful conservation initiatives in Iowa history, REAP has cumulatively distributed about $300 million to thousands of projects across the state. It is mostly funded through gaming revenues that go into the state's Environment First Fund. In theory, REAP "is authorized to receive $20 million per year until 2021," but the state legislature has never fully funded REAP to the authorized level. This year's budget included $16 million for REAP, and Governor Terry Branstad kept that item at the same level in his draft budget for fiscal year 2015.

Today about three dozen non-profit organizations gathered at the State Capitol for the annual Environmental Lobby Day organized by the Iowa Environmental Council. I attended the event because I'm active in the IEC and in several of its member organizations. At a press conference organized by the IEC, four speakers emphasized the need to increase conservation funding: Republican State Senator David Johnson, Democratic State Senator Bob Dvorsky, Iowa Natural Resource Commission Chair Margo Underwood, and Rod Marlatt, executive director of the Fayette County Conservation Board. Dvorsky particularly emphasized his goal to secure $25 million in funding for REAP in the coming fiscal year, in honor of the program's 25th anniversary.

Because REAP-supported projects are often popular locally, the program has mostly escaped the partisan divisions that have led to the demise of some state initiatives. Today the Iowa House approved a resolution celebrating the 25th anniversary of REAP. Remarkably, 96 of the 100 state representatives co-sponsored this resolution, which House Democrat Chuck Isenhart proposed. Now that they're on record agreeing, "Iowans strongly believe that the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program is a successful venture worthy of the continued support of the General Assembly," let's hope they will put a lot of money where their mouths are. The $25 million in REAP funding has an excellent chance of clearing the Iowa Senate, since Dvorsky chairs the Appropriations Committee. Will the Iowa House go along? The many state lawmakers who spoke with Environmental Lobby Day exhibitors today included House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer and several members of the House Appropriations Committee.

After the jump I've posted background on the REAP program from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, including a map showing how much REAP funding has gone to each of Iowa's 99 counties. I also enclosed a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council, with highlights from speakers at the conservation rally.

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My comment to the USDA on Dow's petition to unleash 2,4-D resistant crops

by: black desert nomad

Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 22:50:50 PM CDT

(Appreciate this look at an issue that was not on my radar. Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad has posted more details and references in the comments. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The path to progress has little to do with speed but a heckuva lot to do with direction - an Iowa farmer said once as he described the act of stewarding his farm land to provide for his family and the next generation.  I suggest the the USDA and all interested parties heed this advice in the consideration of the status of 2,4-D Resistant corn and soybeans, and I hope you will decline the petition.  While this is only a single petition it is a strong signal to agriculture to continue on the pesticide-treadmill, whereby efficacy wanes and a new, often more potent, product is rolled out.  And while the USDA and others may chose to take that path - it should be understood they are deciding for everyone and the destructive nature of 2,4-D will impact all farmers. 

The use of herbicide resistant crops inevitably increases the use of the associated chemicals. For example, the volume of glyphosate deployed in  Iowa has grown exponentially since 1996 and today is nearly unfathomable.  The USGS has shown glyphosate is now persistent in Iowa rains and air. These technologies are dealt on a field by field basis but every acre of Iowa gets the treatment through air, water, and transport of crops.  Now on the docket is a chemical that is arguably worse than glyphosate for human and ecosystem health. When 2, 4-D was championed the first time, Iowa's leading apple and grape industries vanished in less than 10 years. Today, Iowa's wine industry is reborn but its fate likely rests on the decision before the USDA.

Veteran farmers that routinely use 2,4-D today for corn production describe that they are very concerned about this pending biotech trait. If/when the herbicide resistant crops are ok'ed, the deployment of 2,4-D will be increased and perhaps more importantly it will be used later in the growing season when volitilization-potential is greatest due to heat and the respiration of mature crops. Dow Agroscience's insistence of lesser volatility in future formulations of 2,4-D is a tough pill to swallow when Iowans see the chemical-burnt windbreaks along field edges. Agrichemical drift is a common issue for rural citizens and the farmers of Iowa growing crops other than the resistant varieties of corn and soybeans.

I am an aspiring farmer and have been actively searching for farmland upon which to begin. Twice recently I have had interest to purchase - but the small (~ 50 acre) parcels have been too narrow to avoid chemical drift - and I have declined in anticipation of the decision on this petition. If 2,4-D resistant crops are approved by you and widely adopted by farmers, Iowa might no longer be a viable place to pursue the production of small grains, vegetables, orchards and pastures as I plan to.  In order to preserve the rights and liberties of Iowa farmers to pursue diverse approaches to agriculture, I ask that you decline Dow Agroscience's petitions 09-233-01p, 09-349-01p, and 11-234-01p.
Discuss :: (3 Comments)

What could go wrong? Less training for manure spreaders edition

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 06:50:00 AM CDT

More than 800 manure spills have occurred on Iowa farms during the past two decades. At least 262 manure spills reached Iowa waterways between 2001 and 2011 alone, affecting the vast majority of counties.

More than half of rivers and streams in the region including Iowa are in "poor condition for aquatic life." Manure spills are a major contributing factor to this problem, and they are happening more often. The number of recorded manure spills in Iowa grew from 46 in 2012 to 76 in 2013.

How should state government respond to this set of facts? Various policies might address the explosion in waterways officially recognized as "impaired."  

But this is Iowa, where it's a minor miracle to get state lawmakers to take any steps against water pollution, and agricultural interests have repeatedly moved to undermine regulations related to the handling of manure on large-scale farms.

Last week, two-thirds of Iowa House members saw fit to reduce continuing education requirements for people certified to spread liquid manure on farm fields.  

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Weekend open thread: Raccoon River Watershed edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 16:47:38 PM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

If you're among the roughly half a million Iowans whose household water comes from the Des Moines Water Works, you may have noticed a stronger chlorine smell lately. After the jump I've posted a statement explaining why the recent snow melt led to elevated ammonia levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, the sources for most drinking water in central Iowa. I also enclosed background on the most common causes of higher ammonia levels in surface water systems. Those can differ from watershed to watershed, but in Iowa conventional agriculture is a common source.

The Raccoon River Watershed Association is organizing an "Aldo Leopold Weekend Event" at the Hotel Pattee in Perry this Friday night and Saturday. I've enclosed the program below. On Saturday afternoon people will be reading from the Sand County Almanac before a showing of the documentary "Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time." That movie is well worth watching for anyone who cares about the environment.

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IA-02: Loebsack supports another Republican anti-regulation bill

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 09:13:54 AM CST

Catching up on news from last week, Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) continued his pattern of voting for certain Republican bills aimed at undercutting federal regulations, especially in the environmental area (see also here). The latest example came when the U.S. House approved a bill "aimed at reducing the federal government's restrictions on hunting, fishing and sport shooting on federal land."  
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Corn ethanol under attack, or is it?

by: black desert nomad

Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 01:06:46 AM CST

(Here's a view you won't hear from Iowa elected officials of either party. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Later this week state and regional agribusiness leaders will gather at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to cheerlead for corn ethanol.  The agenda for this “Hearing in the Heartland” is to rail against a proposed update to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bipartisan entrenchment against the update suggests corn ethanol is being somehow threatened, but despite the fanfare it really isn’t.

The EPA’s update to the 2007 law deals mostly with 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels. The proposed volume requirements don't hinder corn ethanol; the grain mandates shifts a few percent as business models tend to do when they are updated after 7 years.  The long-term prospects for next generation biofuels also remain strong. So why an update?  Projections for next generation biofuel have not panned out, yet. Simply put: science & engineering need to catch up to ambitious policy.

Corn ethanol was always meant as a stepping stone to “advanced” biofuels. The RFS update only seriously impedes corn if convoluted math is done to figure corn as the stop-gap filler for our old overestimates for next generation biofuels. Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest.  

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"Alarm bells" over impact of new trade agreement on states' rights

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 13:05:24 PM CST

"States' rights" has typically been a rallying cry among American conservatives, but six Democratic Iowa legislators are concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership now being negotiated may infringe on local control and states' ability to legislate in the public interest. In an open letter, 43 state lawmakers have asked 23 state attorneys general, including Iowa's Tom Miller, to analyze the Trans-Pacific Partnership's possible impact on state and local governments.

I've enclosed the text of the letter below, along with a news release on the initiative from the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. The Iowans who signed are State Representatives Chuck Isenhart, Marti Anderson, Dan Kelley and Curt Hanson, and State Senators Bill Dotzler and Joe Bolkcom. The letter spells out ten areas of state regulation that signers fear could be undermined by the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Isenhart stressed that the lawmakers' concerns go beyond environmental issues, citing Iowa's support for the biofuels industry as well as state policies to protect consumers and discourage smoking.

President Barack Obama is seeking to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Activists who oppose the trade agreement have criticized the secrecy surrounding the negotiations as well as the agreement's tilt toward corporations and potential to undermine environmental and public health protections.

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user cocinero notes in the comments that the American Cancer Society is concerned about this trade agreement. At the end of this post I've enclosed a joint statement from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Mid-week open thread: Coal is not cheap edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 19:55:00 PM CST

Here's your mid-week open thread, Bleeding Heartland readers: all topics welcome. Earlier this evening, Governor Terry Branstad made his re-election campaign official. I'll post a roundup of news clips and highlights tomorrow morning.

One thing's been bothering me all week. We hear so much about how renewable energy is too expensive for consumers compared to coal and other fossil fuels used to generate electricity. But we don't often calculate the hidden costs of this allegedly "cheap" coal. Even under normal circumstances, coal takes an enormous toll on human health every step of the way, from mining to combustion to waste disposal. Chronic illnesses shorten lives, reduce productivity and can be expensive to treat.

Costs escalate when a catastrophe happens like last week's chemical spill in West Virginia. Not only were 300,000 people in the area left without usable water for days, residents of Cincinnati may be affected too as the pollution flows downstream. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the emergency water deliveries and probably most of the cleanup. The government board that will investigate the chemical spill lacks the resources to do its job properly.

Here's some good news, though, courtesy of the Iowa Environmental Council's blog:

Iowa is also making progress retiring coal-fired generation.  In fact, a recent announcement by Alliant energy that it will convert its M.L. Kapp station in Clinton to burn natural gas means that Iowa utilities have announced over one gigawatt of coal retirement in the last year.  These announcements include three Iowa plants involved in a settlement over Clean Air Act violations the Sierra Club reached with MidAmerican Energy last year.

Click through for a table showing coal-fired plants in Iowa that will either close or shift to natural gas. (Disclosure: I'm involved with the Iowa Environmental Council but not with their blog.)

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Reaction to Branstad's 2014 Condition of the State address

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 08:40:00 AM CST

Immediately following Governor Terry Branstad's Condition of the State address to Iowa legislators yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal told Iowa Public Television that he "didn't hear anything I disagreed with." Not every Iowan who closely follows state government shared his reaction. State Senator Jack Hatch, the leading Democratic challenger to Branstad, slammed the governor's "very shallow agenda" of "low expectations."

After the jump I've posted more detailed comments from Hatch and a few other Iowa Democrats, as well as statements released by several non-profit organizations, which called attention to important problems Branstad ignored or glossed over.  

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Citizens Group Releases Video Advocating Additional Clean Water Standards

by: CFHIA

Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 08:10:33 AM CST

Citizens for a Healthy Iowa today released a new 30 second advertisement entitled ‘Drinking Water Roulette’. The ad is the first in a series that will highlight the need for Governor Branstad and the Legislature to improve standards holding Iowa farms accountable for cleaner water. ‘Drinking Water Roulette’ will air on statewide as well as in paid targeted online placements.

Citizens for a Healthy Iowa is a local clean water/environmental advocacy organization chaired by local environmental advocate Mike Delaney. 

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Highlights from the first day of the Iowa legislature's 2014 session

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 20:18:12 PM CST

The Iowa House and Senate convened today to begin the 2014 legislative session. All of the opening remarks reflected on key achievements of the 2013 session, such as compromise bills on commercial property tax cuts, education reform, and providing health care to low-income Iowans. All of the speeches called for more bipartisan work this year, and all stressed "pocketbook" issues such as improving education and building the middle class rather than social issues. But Republican and Democratic leaders take different priorities into the 2014 session.

I've summarized below the key points Iowa House and Senate majority and minority leaders raised today. I also enclosed lengthy excerpts and in some cases the full texts of their opening day speeches.

Click here for a tentative schedule of key dates during the 2014 legislative session. Lawmakers tend to finish their work earlier in election years than in odd-numbered years, but I highly doubt they will be ready to adjourn by March 30, as House Speaker Paulsen hopes. They will be lucky to finish work on the state budget by April 22, when lawmakers stop receiving per diem payments.

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Iowans split on party lines over bill to weaken hazardous waste laws

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 07:34:00 AM CST

Talk about lousy timing: just before a chemical spill made tap water unusable for 300,000 West Virginians, the U.S. House approved a bill that would "weaken the nation's hazardous waste laws and place American communities at increased risk of toxic exposure." The Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013 (H.R. 2279) includes three bills House Republicans drafted last year. In a letter signed by 129 public interest groups, Earth Justice listed the key points of each bill and explained why the package would "threaten human health and the environment while protecting polluters from liability for the costs of toxic cleanups." I've posted an excerpt from that open letter after the jump. In a post for the Earth Justice blog last week, Lisa Evans called this bill "Kryptonite for Superfund" and "a con job of the highest order, allowing polluters to walk away without losing a penny, while taxpayers are left footing the bill."

Under its current leadership, the House has been called "the most anti-environmental House in our nation's history" because of the many bills passed that would curtail federal regulations and take power away from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Occasionally Iowa's two House Democrats have gone along with those efforts, but I was pleased to see that on January 9, Representatives Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against the latest effort to hamstring the EPA and for the Democratic motion to recommit this bill with instructions (often a last-ditch effort to kill legislation in the House). Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) lived up to their abysmal voting records on the environment by voting for the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act and against the motion to recommit.

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Iowa Citizens are not anti-ag. They are anti industrial ag.

by: rollingacresfarm

Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 10:55:57 AM CST

(Denise O'Brien, who was the Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2006, farms with her husband at Rolling Acres Farm in Cass County. She co-authored this post with staff from the non-profit Pesticide Action Network. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Below is a response to the article http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013312050037&nclick_check=1 that was published on December 5th. The piece was submitted but not published. It was written in collaboration with staff from Pesticide Action Network:

Contrary to Mr. Lehr’s inflammatory remarks to the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, the trend of Iowans paying attention to agricultural practices is a far cry from the state rejecting farming. Iowans have a deep appreciation for agriculture. They want what is best for food production, and for the state... A healthy dialog about farming practices isn’t something to fear – it can help make Iowa a healthier and more economically secure place to live. 

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Help restore Iowa's rivers...submit comments to Iowa Legislators by Dec 10

by: Iowa Rivers Revival

Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 17:04:07 PM CST

(Thanks for the heads up on an important issue that's below the radar for most Iowans. Improving our rivers would be a huge plus for the economy as well as for the environment. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowans have the ear of our Iowa legislators --- voice your support to help establish a statewide River Restoration Program. Submit your comments by Tuesday, Dec 10th. 

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Weekend open thread: Iowa wildlife edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 11:05:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

As a major cold front and a dusting of snow covered much of Iowa in recent days, birds have been relying more on feeders. I've refilled ours every two or three days instead of once every ten days to two weeks. Now would be a excellent time to put out thistle seed for finches or any feeder containing a mix of birdseed.

November is the peak time for deer-vehicle collisions. The other day I was on a two-lane highway near dusk and saw a doe dart across the road, narrowly escaping a deadly encounter with trucks traveling in both directions. Of course, I thought immediately of Senator Chuck Grassley.

Pheasant season opened in late October, but bird numbers are down significantly, due to weather conditions and habitat loss. The trendlines are even worse in South Dakota.

Via the Next City blog, I saw an amazing map of the "United Watershed States of America." Land use planner John Lavey created the map after wondering, "What if all the states were configured around principal watersheds?" In Lavey's map, "Iowa" consists of areas feeding into the Mississippi River. Western parts of our state that feed into the Missouri River are part of "Missouri" on the map.

Speaking of watersheds, the Raccoon River Watershed Association is selling a beautiful 2014 calendar as a fundraiser ($18 per calendar or $15 each if you order at least ten). Many calendars include lovely Iowa nature photos, but to my knowledge, only this one contains detailed information about Iowa phenology. Dr. Lee Searles created the calendar with birders, native plant lovers and nature enthusiasts in mind. For instance, it notes that early warblers usually start arriving on April 8. Yellow coneflower starts opening around July 3. Northern Goshawks start to come down the Raccoon River around September 15. UPDATE: Here's a link to the calendars.

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Mid-week open thread, with good news from Illinois

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 20, 2013 at 21:11:08 PM CST

Sitting at Abraham Lincoln's desk, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a marriage equality bill into law today. That makes 15 states plus Washington, DC where couples can marry regardless of sexual orientation. In the order where same-sex marriage was legalized, either by courts, legislation, or referendum: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, New York, Washington, Maine, Maryland, California, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Illinois.

More good news out of our neighbor to the east:

Chad Pregracke, an Illinois man who has dedicated his life to cleaning the Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways, was named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year on Tuesday night.

Pregracke organizes community cleanups across the country through his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters. About 70,000 volunteers have pitched in, helping Pregracke collect more than 7 million pounds of trash in the past 15 years.

Pregracke has inspired many Iowans involved in river restoration and water quality work. He grew up in East Moline, just over the Mississippi.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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