Big River Connectivity Presentations

Project Manager, Leland Searles

This BeWildReWild grant of $10,000 for three months to Leland Searles provides for him to integrate the mapping efforts in the Iowa River, Chariton River, Missouri River, and Loess Hills basins with the vision of BeWildReWild and the goals of Big River Connectivity into a basic public presentation, then schedule and given versions of that presentation for audiences. The first such presentation is scheduled in February 2020.

The purpose of the grant is to take the Big River Connectivity goals and the BeWildReWild vision to the public, primarily by way of presentations using MS PowerPoint and other media.

An abstract (such as one might find at the start of a professional journal article) has been developed. While it may be altered a little for different audiences, the message will remain similar. It reads:

A picture containing outdoor, mountain, sky, ground

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The Arkansas River, Colorado, part of the Mississippi-Missouri basin.

BeWildReWild is a vision for allowing the natural world to restore itself with minimal human intervention, alongside human land uses that enhance natural processes. It begins with the question, “What does ‘wild’ mean?” then proceeds from individuals’ answers to the Mississippi River Basin as the space for envisioning and expressing “wildness.”

We trust natural systems to adapt to change and rejuvenate land that is severely disturbed and that exceeds human capacity for intensive restoration. Rewilding moves beyond active restoration practices to natural recovery and adaptive processes. A major element is Big River Connectivity, which addresses issues of scale from the entire basin to localities and species, moving from Space to Species.

A person standing on a grassy hill

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Sylvan Runkel Wildlife Preserve in Iowa’s Loess Hills, along the Missouri River.


Iowa is “Ground Zero” for imagining “nature” and “wildness” outside of utilitarian values, forefronting the state as more than an ecological flyover zone between more visible eastern and western landscapes of conservation and protection. The vision entails the creation and expansion of biodiversity cores and corridors across landform regions, using artistic expression, geospatial mapping, and public media to assert the value of connectivity and wildness.

A close up of a map

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A prototype map of one biodiversity core, including parts of Stephens State Forest in southern Iowa.

Potential cores of more than 10,000 acres throughout Iowa and adjacent states can be connected by corridors that enhance biodiversity and ecological functions. Trophic rewilding, e.g., with apex predators, is crucial, given strong evidence for ecological recovery after their reappearance. We anticipate a cultural shift from an extractive, utilitarian economy to one based on human-nonhuman reciprocities in which our species stewards and values biodiversity now and in the future.

As of December 31, 2019, this abstract has been submitted for a February presentation for an Iowa wildlife audience. Leland will use part of a seminar presentation for the Tallgrass Prairie Center (University of Iowa) in January to offer an overview, alongside a presentation on wetlands and wetland vegetation, from his work on three county botanical surveys for the Iowa Roadside Vegetation Management program. When the call for abstracts is published for a regional meeting on prairies, to take place this summer, an abstract will be submitted for consideration.

A number of key contact people and potential audiences have been identified in and outside Iowa, and the possibility for numerous presentations in the coming months is very good.