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2021 Iowa Prairie Conference Speaker Summaries

End-Stage Iowa

End-Stage Iowa: Big-Ag’s Sacrifice Zone and Indigenous Resistance -- Sikowis (Christine Nobiss)

No state in the country is as biologically colonized as Iowa. This talk provides an Indigenous perspective on the environmental catastrophe caused by Big-Ag in the State where the water is poisoned, animals are dying, the soil is disappearing, and the landscape is turning into a biological desert. Indigenous concepts such as regenerative agriculture, sustainable land use, and compassion for the earth have been violently oppressed by an imperialist heteropatriarchy to make way for colonial-capitalist farming practices which are now killing us and wreaking havoc on the climate. The only way to heal this land is to adopt Indigenous ways of being and uplift an Indigenous regenerative economy.

Sikowis (Christine Nobiss) is Plains Cree-Saulteaux of the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is a mother of three, and the founder of Great Plains Action Society and Little Creek Camp and has titled herself a Decolonizer. She has a MA in Native American Religious Studies and a graduate minor in Native American Indian Studies from the University of Iowa.


Sikowis believes that Indigenous sovereignty and knowledge are ways to decolonize both people and the colonial-capitalist economy. She has spearheaded many actions, events, and campaign such as a resistance camp to the Dakota Access Pipeline (Little Creek Camp), Indigenous@SOCAP, the first Iowa based Indigenous political engagement summit, the removal of white supremacist monuments in Iowa, and the concept of Truthsgiving.

Conservation Ain't Gonna Work

Conservation Ain’t Gonna Work If No One Cares But Us -- Chris Helzer

It doesn’t matter whether we manage land, study bugs, or administer habitat programs, our conservation work is meaningless unless we get people behind us. Statistics about carbon storage, water purification, or recreation dollars can be helpful, but they’re not going to make nature enthusiasts out of people who live in cities and are afraid of boxelder bugs on their windowsill. We’ve got to meet those people where they are and help them develop better relationships with the nature they have access to. We also have to get better at sharing our own personal stories about why conservation matters to us.

Chris Helzer is the Nebraska Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  His job includes both prairie research and evaluation of grassland restoration and management approaches used on TNC properties. However, the majority of his time is spent on communication – sharing lessons learned from TNC land with other landowners/managers and trying to build a larger constituency for prairies and prairie conservation. Photography and writing are important components of his outreach work, along with field tours and presentations. He is the author of The Prairie Ecologist blog, as well as two books and numerous magazine articles.

The Status of Remnant Prairie Dependent Butterflies in Iowa's Most Intact Prairie Landscape, the Loess Hills Ecoregion -- Stephanie Shepherd

Staus of Remnant Prairie

The Loess Hills Ecoregion in Iowa contains the largest concentration of remnant prairie left in the state. This abundance of unplowed habitat means that the Loess Hills is an important reservoir for prairie-dependent wildlife, especially those that are remnant dependent such as many species of butterfly. Intensive surveys of butterflies were conducted in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019 on many prairies in this region to 1) ascertain the status of some rare species and 2) identify how some prairie restoration activities may be benefiting certain butterflies. This talk will present the results of these surveys including the status of several species of rare butterfly and the before and after results of prairie restoration activities.                  

Stephanie Shepherd has been a biologist in the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife Diversity Program since 2005. She earned her Master’s from Iowa State University studying butterfly communities in remnant and restored prairies.  Her primary interests are in restoration ecology and conservation biology.  

Connecting to Our Natural Heritage

Connecting to Our Natural Heritage Through the Lens of Public Art -- Reinaldo D. Correa

In a modern world, where our attention is pulled in many directions, it is quite challenging to escape from the "noise" surrounding us. Perhaps, this is one reason why many have missed out on discovering the beauty and importance found in our Natural Environment. As an artist, Reinaldo strives not only to create art that exemplifies beauty but also to use this media to tell compelling narratives that inspire, connect and educate the public about the importance of our natural heritage and the impact of conservation. How the natural world inspires a concept, enabling the public to partake in an experience of discovery, learning, and play through the lens of public art, will be the focus of this presentation. 

Reinaldo D. Correa is an artist with a multifaceted background in architecture and industrial design. Concepts about placemaking, storytelling, and the larger tapestry of a city through the artistic expression of the landscape are present in his art. 


With a Bachelor's degree in Architecture and a Masters in Industrial Design from Iowa State University, Correa's experience includes working on interdisciplinary projects in the realms of architecture, design, and art. His work embodies multiple scales ranging from high-rise buildings, hospitals, recreational centers, rest areas, and schools to international public art in the US and Canada. 


Reinaldo strives to create pieces that push the boundary from just visual objects to artwork that evokes the human senses and the heritage of a site, highlighting the importance of ecosystem conservation, landscape care, and educational legacy. Currently, Correa teaches at multiple departments at Iowa State University, College of Design, bridging the gap between professional practice and academia. He also continues to develop projects nationwide through his private art practice Reinaldo Correa Studio.

Keynote Address: Recollections & Reflections of a Half Century of Prairie Activities in Iowa -- Dr. Daryl Smith


The past fifty plus years in Iowa have borne witness to numerous changes in prairie recovery and activities. The state has become much more prominent in “the prairie world.”  Most notably, interest and involvement in prairie work became more widespread, the number of prairie restorations and reconstructions multiplied rapidly (including large projects), and conservation organizations and programs developed and flourished. Iowa was at the forefront nationally of roadside vegetation management and hosted more North American Prairie Conferences than any other state.


Recollection and reflections will be shared regarding changes over the past half century in prairie preservation and restoration, perspectives of prairie, involvement of groups and organizations, key personnel, roadside prairie management and other prairie related activities.  

Dr. Daryl Smith is an Emeritus Professor of Biology and Tallgrass Prairie Center. A native of southeast Iowa, he has been involved in science teaching for more than fifty years and became interested in Iowa prairies in the early 1970s. He holds a BA from the University of Iowa, a MNS from the University of South Dakota and a PhD from the University of Iowa. Daryl served as head of the Biology Department at the University of Northern Iowa for seven years and directed UNI – Tallgrass Prairie Center programs for eleven years. He has written and/or contributed to over fifteen publications. In 1990, Daryl created and implemented the Iowa Ecotype Project which has been invaluable to prairie restoration within the state. He has also been influential in bringing the North American Prairie Conference (NAPC) to UNI. He directed the 12th and 22nd NAPC and numerous Iowa Prairie Conferences over the years. Currently, Daryl continues to teach prairie ecology at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory and remains active with a number of groups. 

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