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Environmentalists Set Sights On Preserving Loess Hills Prairie

Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy of Iowa
Green Hill Ranch

Environmentalists are protecting 500 acres of southwest Iowa’s Loess Hills prairie from future development by turning it into a public area for hiking and birding.
Western Iowa’s Loess Hills have more than half of the state’s remaining prairie, so environmentalists want to preserve the landscape.

The Nature Conservancy in Iowa and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation are raising money to purchase the $3 million piece of prairie, called Green Hill Ranch, which straddles Pottawattamie and Mills Counties. Graham McGaffin, the Loess Hills project director with the conservancy said preserving this piece of land is a big deal.

“As more and more of our state was planted into corn, beans and other crops, the Loess Hills and the steepness of the terrain limited people's ability to plant and grow crop agriculture,” McGaffin said. “And so a lot of that native prairie that was once all across the state, relatively a lot is still in the Loess Hills.”

With multiple ridges, native plants and birds, the ranch will be an escape for people from the busy Council Bluffs-Omaha area, he said.

“By the time you get to what would be the east boundary of the property, you can’t hear the highway, you can’t hear the metro, you’re pretty quickly lost in the Loess Hills,” McGaffin said.

The property sits next to The Nature Conservancy’s Folsom Point Preserve, a 300-acre property. When the project is done, the area will total 800 acres of protected land.

Climate change that is bringing along hotter weather and larger rain events is already affecting Iowa’s Loess Hills. Joe Jayjack, a spokesman for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, said these rain events are causing lost loess soil.

“We have a lot of soil that’s literally just being washed away,” Jayjack said. “So when you can get protection in a natural area like this and do restoration where we can get native grasses in the ground that’s going to hold that soil in place, we think that’s one of the best things we can do.”

The groups are about two-thirds of the way towards their fundraising goal to buy the land.

Once they buy it, they’ll transfer it to Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources and the county conservation boards to restore it to native prairie and manage it as a place for hunting, hiking and birding.

Environment Environment
Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.