I stumbled across the “Iowa Geographic Map Server” website tonight.
It is here: Iowa Geographic Map Server
On this site, you can access aerial photographic maps of Iowa dating from the 1930’s till the present. Pick a random area. Trace the vegetative cover and land use through the decades. From this exercise, I’ve come to several conclusions.
1. The concept of a “family farm” is largely long gone. The disappearance of individual family farms is evident as farming has taken on a strong corporate character hellbent on making a profit at any cost.
2. Because of the growth of corporate farms and disappearance of family farms, the nature of the land has changed. The aerial maps from the 1930’s show farmsteads with substantial windbreaks, pastures, crooked streams, and idle areas. If the resolution was better, I suspect we’d see hard working families with a strong connection to the land, conscious of the connection between their prosperity and the health of the land they worked.
3. The aerial maps of the present show a loss of most of the windbreak bounded family farms. The more “willy nilly” nature of the land has been replaced by featureless corporate owned “fence row to fence row” monoculture tracts distinguished only by the roads that give access, hog confinements, and rows of wind turbines. My present day travels tell me that my observation here is spot on.
We’ve lost a lot of the natural world in Iowa in the last 80-some years. Evident even on high altitude aerial photographs.
The biggest factor affecting the continued demise of the natural world is mankind’s growing disconnect with the natural world. It’s human nature to care about things in the realm of their daily life. For example, 99.9% of Americans are not regretful about the loss of the tall grass prairie because they do not even know it exists, let alone notice it’s passing. The American public by and large won’t shed a tear when the last Attwater’s prairie chicken breathes its last breath or when the last small white Lady slipper shrivels to death from herbicide drift. Can we blame them?
The vast unbroken tall grass prairie that blanketed Iowa is gone. Hopelessly lost forever to the plow and the herbicides that followed. What little is left exists in fragments, like tiny specks in a sea of corn, soybeans, and ditches of smooth brome grass and other non-native species that man introduced to replace the prairie.
The fragments and preserves of tall grass prairie continue to be chipped away year by year by more plowing, herbicides, and neglect. Fragments of true prairie that Ada Hayden measured in acres can now be measured in square feet. Mankind has still not widely recognized the value of tall grass prairie, and so it continues to evaporate from the face of the Earth.
The ONLY hope for the tall grass prairie and its plant and animal species is to RESTORE the tall grass prairie. There are no other viable option because virgin aces of tall grass prairie no longer exist to be preserved. This is a new beginning in terms of prairie preservation.