The Pleggenkuhle Prairie, located northwest of Hawkeye, Iowa, continues to serve as an outdoor teaching tool for Upper Iowa University students to learn about the ecosystem of the virgin prairie. Donated to UIU by the Pleggenkuhle family approximately 15 years ago, the three-acre site is a place where students conduct prescribed burns and research projects.
Most recently, the participating faculty and students from various science and biology programs benefitted from a Restore Iowa Grant. Dr. Jennifer Stoffel, associate professor of biology, applied for the grant through the Iowa Native Plant Society in December 2015 and received $1,000 in March 2016. The Restore Iowa Grant provides seed funds to further engage Iowa’s youth and students in ecological restoration, while accomplishing at least partial restoration of an Iowa natural area. The grant is only eligible for working on Iowa native prairie remnants.
Stoffel explained the UIU students were involved in the selection of the supplies purchased with the grant funds, including a chainsaw and professional grade burn gear. Student volunteers then helped remove the woody plants and haul debris (excess wildfire fuel) from the Pleggenkuhle Prairie. Later in the spring, a controlled burn was conducted to help further reduce woody encroachment and help reduce development of the thatch layer.
Stoffel noted that prior to receiving the grant funds, students conducted research at the site to compare the impact on soil microbial communities following the use of two herbicides to treat the woody plants.
“It is my goal that our students continue to develop applied experiences in conservation and natural resources,” said the UIU professor. “Applying ecological concepts from class to actual management in the field is critical to appreciate the actual challenges land managers face. While conducting prairie management, students will also learn about how to follow guidelines for safe practices for operating chainsaws, maintaining chainsaws, working near chainsaws. Additionally, students will learn about fire ecology and the use of fire as a prairie management tool.
“Field experiences are critical for students in our field science programs (Conservation Management, Environmental Science, General Biology, and Life Science with Plant Emphasis) because it is important to see the concepts in practice and understand the integration of many systems,” she added. “Future potential employers seek students who have skills in the field and are ready to apply them in a workplace scenario.”
The participating classrooms in the ongoing Pleggenkuhle Prairie project include Ecology, Wildlife Management, and BIO 496 (Senior Project) students. The UIU Science and Environment Club, and student volunteers from Conservation Management, Environmental Science, Life Science Plant Emphasis, and General Biology majors will also continue to be involved.