2005 IOWA SIERRA CLUB AWARDS
And the award goes to...
Phyllis Mains, Van Wert, received her award from Pam Mackey-Taylor, Chapter Chair (right) who nominated Phyllis for the award.
Activist Award is given to a member who has served the Club in any capacity during the past year in a way that greatly promoted the goals and purposes of the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club.
Phyllis Mains received the Activist Award from the Iowa Chapter. Phyllis has been a Sierra Club activist for many years, starting in Washington State and then continuing that work in Iowa and she has exhibited an enthusiasm for Sierra Club work that is an inspiration to all of us.
Phyllis actively organized volunteers in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She wrote an OpEd piece for the Des Moines Register, which explained the issues. She organized showings of the films about the Refuge, and presented before the Chapter Conservation Issues meeting and before the Central Iowa Group meeting. Phyllis also wrote significant articles for the Iowa Sierran about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
This past spring Phyllis organized a rally in Des Moines for the national boycott of ExxonMobil, which has an abominable environmental record.
Regardless of the issue, Phyllis is a tireless advocate for the environment. She speaks at public meetings on a wide range of issues. She has spoken before the Environmental Protection Commission concerning concentrated animal feeding operations and water quality. She spoke to the Natural Resources Commission about protecting the cougar in Iowa. She frequently writes letters to the editor about environmental issues.
Phyllis served as vice president and political chair of the Iowa Chapter this past year and was education chair last year. Phyllis took the initiative to get our Political Action Committee started, by laying out the plan.
Phyllis’s enthusiasm is contagious. In fact, we wish we could clone her enthusiasm and efforts. Because of her activism in Washington State, which has a large and effective Sierra Club Chapter, she has been able to give us ideas of how we can work on issues here in Iowa.
Phyllis and her husband live on a farm outside of Van Wert.
Stewards of the Land Award
Jim Redmond (right) nominated the Loess Hills Alliance Stewardship Committee and presented the award to David Zahrt on behalf of the Committee.
Stewards of the Land is presented to a farmer, individual or group whose practices promote soil conservation and/or other environmentally positive results.
The Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club awarded its Stewards of the Land Award in 2005 to the Stewardship Committee of the Loess Hills Alliance. The Committee has developed and implemented a comprehensive regional fire management plan with trained crews operating on public and private acres. They have won grants to match scarce local funds in educating landowners about prescribed fire, sustainable grazing, and other management practices. They have set high goals for their efforts and achieved most of their annual goals. The committee has promoted a message of environmental stewardship that leads to economic viability for this area of the state.
During the past five years this committee of approximately thirty dedicated volunteers has achieved great advances in protecting various ecosystems in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa. Working with federal and state agencies, this committee has developed an excellent regional fire management plan. They have trained wildland fire crews through state and national training programs and used prescribed burns to preserve many of the last native prairies in the state. Because most of these key lands are under private ownership, they have developed “a community of informed citizens and landowners working to restore and maintain native systems.”
By obtaining grants they have been able to leverage scarce local monies into sizable budgets for training, landowner education, and sustainable grazing practices. They have brought in scientists to help with ecological monitoring of projects. They are developing innovative agricultural practices like grassbanking to preserve and restore prairies throughout this 660,000-acre landform.
The Loess Hills Alliance in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has established a cache of fire equipment in each of the seven counties in the Loess Hills. This cache is available for private citizens to utilize in the management of natural areas in the Loess Hills region. It is highly recommended that anyone utilizing the fire equipment have participated in a prescribed burn workshop. These workshops are held in the spring and fall seasons at various locations throughout the Loess Hills and the success of these workshops is because of the dedication of the Loess Hills Stewardship Committee.
Grassroots Activist Award
Frank Olsen, Cedar Rapids, received his award from Elwood Garlock (left) who nominated Frank as a Grassroots Activist..
Grassroots Activist is awarded to any individual whose contributions have resulted in significant change regarding the environment in a local community.
Frank Olsen of Cedar Rapids has worked hard to protect what little is left of our native habitat in Iowa. He has been involved in protecting Henslow's sparrow at Pleasant Creek State Park and has been involved in a number of species surveys and studies of endangered species at the Rock Island Preserve.
He has been a tireless promoter of protection for the Rock Island State and County Preserves in Linn County, where he donates time to the Conservation Board in a number of projects.
In 1989, Frank volunteered to inventory the butterfly species at the State Preserve. He continued that work for the next four years, expending more than a hundred hours each year. Several years ago, when local officials began pressing to extend Highway 100 through the preserve areas, Frank knew that the rich biological features would be destroyed, so he volunteered to do another inventory of the butterfly species of the area and found the threatened Byssus Skipper.
Frank has also spent countless hours pulling garlic mustard out of the Rock Island Preserve. One year he kept count of the number of plants that he pulled – 4,000. He has assisted in other species studies at the preserve, particularly plants and he has been pressing officials to scrap plans for building the road through the preserves.
Recently Frank decided to expand his knowledge of moths. He has done moth inventories in three Linn County parks and preserves – Rock Island Preserve, Wickiup Hill, and Squaw Creek Park. His volunteer work and expertise in butterflies has led to him being hired to do butterfly inventories in several natural areas and parks across Iowa. Lately he has been involved in a special project for the State Department of Transportation to look at borrow pits and mitigation sites to see how effective they are in restoring the native habitat.
He has a keen interest in learning and studying nature and enjoys photographing natural events of any type. Frank enthusiastically encourages people to get away from the office and into the county parks, where the flowers are blooming.
He is a regular contributor to the editorial pages of the Cedar Rapids Gazette on a wide range of environmental concerns. Frank regularly communications with elected officials on a broad spectrum of issues. Frank Olsen’s contributions have resulted in significant change regarding the environment in the Cedar Rapids area.
Environmental Educator Award
Jane Clark (right) presented Danielle Wirth, Woodward, with her award. Dr. Wirth was nominated by Jo Hudson.
Environmental Educator is presented to an educator at any level of education who has contributed significantly to an increased understanding of the environment.
For her work in the field of natural resources, environmental ethics and education, for her many years of educating about and protecting the environment, and for her significant contributions to an increased understanding of the environment, Danielle Wirth was recognized as the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club’s Environmental Educator of 2005. (See related article in the Central Iowa Sierran.)
Last fall Jo Hudson audited a Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) biology class in restoration ecology and decided she wanted to nominate the professor, Dr. Danielle Wirth, for the Iowa Sierra Environmental Educator award.
Jo interviewed Dr. Wirth to find the path that led to Biology 172 at DMACC. Dr. Wirth grew up in Pennsylvania, and got her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Education from Penn State and a master’s degree in natural resource management from Slippery Rock University, also in Pennsylvania. Her first jobs were as an environmental educator in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania state park systems. When she came to Iowa she worked for 10 years as a ranger at Saylorville, where she was the naturalist at the newly opened visitors’center and designed most of the exhibits there. After that she worked four years for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, then went to Iowa State for her Ph.D from the College of Agriculture, in environmental and agriculture ethics.
After receiving her Ph.D, she began her academic teaching career, and currently is Adjunct Professor of Biology at DMACC and also teaches courses in environmental and women’s studies at Iowa State
From this background and experience has come her deeply held conviction that environmental education must not be fluff, her teaching methods that actively involve the students—and a great rapport with those students. All of this was evident in the class Jo audited, Biology 172, Restoration of Native Plant Communities, a course instigated and designed by Dr. Wirth. The students began restoration work on an oak savanna area near Saylorville Lake: they removed invasive understory trees, established permanent monitoring points, and ran vegetation transects. In addition to field work, they read and discussed in-depth papers on restoration ecology, met and learned from outstanding guest lecturers, and each produced a plan to begin restoration of a site of their own choosing. The students worked hard, with great enthusiasm. A colleague commented that Dr. Wirth is a modern day Tom Sawyer, because her students accomplish dramatic work during the course—and they pay to take the course.
As Scott Rolfes, Natural Resource Manager at Saylorville Lake, said of these students, not all of them will go on to a degree and career in natural resources, but every one of them will be adults who are aware of and appreciate the importance of their natural environment.
Dr. Danielle Wirth lives in rural Dallas County, where she practices what she teaches.
Grassroots Activists Award
Charlie Winterwood nominated Sara Sutton and Francine Banwarth of Preserve Our Bluffs, Dubuque and accepted the award on their behalf.
Grassroots Activists is awarded to any individual whose contributions have resulted in significant change regarding the environment in a local community.
The organization, Preserve Our Bluffs, received the Iowa Chapter’s Grassroots Activist award for initiating legal action that forced the overturning of a rezoning by the Dubuque City Council. The zoning vote would have permitted the construction of a several story condominium between Dubuque’s Eagle Point Park and the Mississippi River. The efforts and contributions of Sarah Sutton and Francine Banwarth through this organization have resulted in significant change regarding the environment in the Dubuque area.
The 160-acre Eagle Point Park overlooks the Mississippi River. The park was conceived about 1880 by Judge Oliver Shiras, who envisioned a “wilderness” park. Over many years since then, the peace, the quiet and the views of the river have been appreciated by generations.
Bald Eagles winter on this bluff and more than 500 eagles could be viewed on the bluff in 2003. It is also the site of the recent release of Peregrine Falcons. Numerous Native American burial mounds have been documented near this site. The proposed condominium would destroy the natural habitats, potentially undermine the undetermined burial sites and destroy many different functions and benefits of the bluff.
In 2003, it was announced that a developer had appeared before the city zoning commission for permission to build a 10-story, two-block long condominium at the base of Eagle Point Bluff, which would have blocked the view of the river from various locations within the park, and disrupted the tranquil nature of the “wilderness” park envisioned by Judge Shiras.
Preserve Our Bluffs was formed to stop the project and protect the bluff. Over 1,500 signatures were obtained, contacts were made with the USFWS, local raptor biologists, state archaeologists and other experts. The developer began to blow up the bluff (at least 29 times) while the activists tried to get public hearings with the city council. S. A. Sutton and Francine Banwarth’s case wound through the courts and in July 2004, the courts ruled in their favor on one of the issues. The decision was appealed by the Dubuque City Council and is now before the Iowa Supreme Court.
Preserve Our Bluffs is a group of tri-state citizens concerned about the over-development of bluffs along the Mississippi River.
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