Consequences of land choices

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: December 12 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:44 am in
Print Print

By Mark S. Edwards


“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” — Albert Einstein

We are struggling to understand how environmental issues such as water quality, ethanol and farming relate to our lives. I retired as trails coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources after 30 years of traveling the state extensively and seriously studying our relationships to where we live. This study is called ecology.

The basic foundation of ecology is that all life is directly related and mutually dependent. This means the more species diversity, the healthier the ecosystem and the healthier the individual.

Simply said, we are all in this together. Our health and happiness is directly dependent on the health of the place we live. Don’t foul your own nest.

One way to illustrate this is by using a Department of Transportation map of Iowa. Lay it open, flat on a table. It represents 36 million acres. Rip off two-thirds of the map and put it behind you. This is the amount of acres planted each year in just two annual species — corn and soybeans — requiring petroleum, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, and washing away soil to the sea.

Now remove three-fourths of what’s left of your map. This represents the 26 percent of Iowa used for other agricultural purposes such as hay, pasture, ponds and farmsteads.

In a matter of a few generations, 93 percent of our state has been transformed for agricultural purposes. The loss of species diversity is incomprehensible to us today.


1 percent PUBLIC

From the portion left on the table, remove a piece the size of a CD case. This represents 6 percent of Iowa or around 2 million acres that are covered in cities and roads. The size of the piece left on the table is smaller than the size of a check. It represents all public land — city parks, county, state and federal — or less than 1 percent of Iowa.

Looking closer at the remaining piece, we find it covered in thousands of parking lots, hundreds of miles of interior roads, artificial lakes, campgrounds, ball fields, toilets, playgrounds, sewage lagoons, golf courses and picnic areas. Hundreds of thousands of acres contain non-native species. A majority of our public land also was plowed, mined and heavily grazed before being protected and allowed to heal. Easily, less than half of the public land, the size of a credit card on this map, has little original biological integrity left.

Cut the credit card into hundreds of small pieces and scatter them over the area of the original, uncut map. Not one of these pieces of public land can maintain its existing species as they are isolated and disconnected from the whole, much like we are. In relationship to the health of our homeland it matters little whether the land is private or public.

It does matter how it is used and for what.


It is often said that we don’t value things until they are rare. We now live in the rarest state in North America — the most biologically altered. Our health is not measured by the price of corn but by the company we keep. We are all stockholders in the corporation of creation and evolution.

We must carefully consider the conversations of soil loss, ethanol, water quality and voluntary conservation practices within a richer, wilder story of ecology and hope for improving all our lives, including more than just us humans.

We cannot survive by dividing into two sides with different realities of where we live. We cannot lose sight of the one world we live in and are directly dependent upon.

Mark S. Edwards of Boone is retired from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Comments:

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Is there other feedback and/or ideas you want to share with us? Tell us here.


Featured Jobs from