Projects Will Be Part of 50-State Report
WASHINGTON — Just days before the release of a 50-state report outlining some of the country's most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today highlighted two projects in the state of Iowa that will be included in the final report — representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country.
Conservation of the Loess Hills and establishment of a proposed new national wildlife refuge in the Southern Prairie Pothole region are among 100 projects nationwide that will be highlighted in next week's report — two in every state — as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
The report is a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement AGO in their states. These projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities as part of close engagement with Gov. Terry E. Branstad and the state of Iowa, as well as private landowners, local- and tribal-elected officials, community organizations and outdoor-recreation and conservation stakeholders. The full 50-state report will be released in the coming weeks.
“Under the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Iowa and communities across America and working with them on locally-based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them,” Salazar said. “My staff and I have been asking each governor for the most promising projects to support in their states, and we will do all we can to help move them forward.”
The two projects in Iowa highlighted by Salazar in the forthcoming report are:
This 650,000-acre region is considered to be the best example of “loess” topography in the world, a rare geologic formation that provides habitat to 49 species of rare plants and animals. Hawks and other raptors are a common sight in this major migration corridor, and the area is also home to rare, native prairie grasses that are quickly disappearing. The region also contains numerous cultural and historic landmarks.
The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, which runs through prairie, woodland, and farmland at the heart of the region, is one of that nation's “10 most outstanding byways,” a reflection of the landscape's natural beauty and scenic value. Thirty thousand acres of the Loess Hills are currently protected, mostly through conservation easements and inclusion in the Loess Hill State Forest. This area provides opportunities for youth engagement and recreation in seven counties. Furthermore, the Loess Hills area is within reach of Council Bluffs and Sioux City, the two urban areas in western Iowa and eastern South Dakota.
A strong foundation for advancing this project has been laid with conservation organizations like the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to work with willing sellers of working lands to conserve the few remaining relatively undisturbed areas.
Southern Prairie Pothole National Wildlife Refuge
Glacially formed prairie potholes and their surrounding wetlands in north central Iowa provide critical habitat for more than 90 species of birds. They produce at least 50 percent of the North American continental duck population each year. This wetland landscape is also an important resource for flood control, water quality, and aquifer recharging. To protect this unique landscape, the state of Iowa, local leaders, and nonprofit organizations seek to expand the existing Dunbar Slough/Willow Creek wetland complex by 5,000 acres and to establish the area as a national wildlife refuge. These partners also aim to develop a youth conservation education pilot program.
In addition, this project would complement the Northern Plains Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative — a new USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service initiative designed to enhance migratory-bird habitat and improve the water quality and the health of grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Plains. The Northern Plains Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative provides technical and financial assistance for restoring wetlands drained for agricultural uses; managing farmed wetlands in ways that reduce impacts on wildlife and water quality; and keeping unaltered wetlands in their current condition.
The report will also include potential actions by Interior and its bureaus to support the projects identified. In Iowa, for example, the Department could provide technical and financial assistance in expanding the Dunbar Slough/Willow Creek Wetland Complex and establish the Southern Prairie Pothole National Wildlife Refuge.
The Department could also provide financial support for strategic land protection, including acquisition of conservation easements on working lands and for communities to better conserve and manage the natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the Loess Hills. There may be potential to explore the designation of the area as a national preserve.
The Department of the Interior will work with each of its key bureaus — including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — to direct available resources and personnel to make these projects a reality.
“The America's Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government's role in conservation on its head,” Salazar said. “Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives.”
For more information on the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative, click here.
To view a map of the projects already announced, click here.