Half-Earth Project

 E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation

About the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation

“Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?”

– E.O. Wilson

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation’s mission is to foster stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform the global preservation of our biological heritage. We believe that by enhancing public understanding of biodiversity, we can foster a culture in which people are inspired to conserve and protect the natural world.

The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation (EOWBF) is shaped by the inspiration and guidance of Edward O. Wilson, generally recognized as one of the world’s leading environmentalists. A Professor Emeritus at Harvard, E.O. Wilson is the greatest living scientist of our time. As a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and winner of over 100 awards, Wilson speaks about the urgent need for deeper research and understanding of our biodiverse planet to protect key species and avoid unintended destruction of the ecosystems that sustain our lives. Wilson warns, “The loss of a keystone species is like a drill accidentally striking a power line. It causes lights to go out all over.” The inadvertent degradation of the natural world can be slowed, or even halted, however, through biodiversity research that expands our understanding of our ‘little known planet’ and that innovates in helping us to learn how to best care for it.

About the Half-Earth Project

E.O. Wilson’s book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, is a call to protect half the land and sea to manage sufficient habitat to safeguard most of biodiversity and ensure the enduring stability of our planet.

The Half-Earth Project is a global initiative of the EOWBF that:

  • enables scientific innovation and leadership regarding the most effective path forward for protection of endangered species and ecosystems,
  • fosters our connection with the natural world, especially next generation stewards, and
  • provides the foundation for a revolutionary movement culture of action to achieve the goal of Half-Earth.

“The Half-Earth Project is founded on science but at its heart is our transcendent moral obligation to all life.”

– E.O. Wilson

The Half-Earth Project Educator Ambassador program provides a platform for teachers to engage each other and their students in the grand ambition of Half-Earth, and to inspire and connect students with the natural world. We’re working to bottle the inspiration and create the tools to get everyone to Half-Earth. We’re counting on Half-Earth Project Educator Ambassadors to help lead the way, guiding their students to be our next-generation stewards.

Half-Earth Project Master Ambassadors extend the reach of the Half-Earth Project to new educator audiences and stimulate, foster and support the development of the Half-Earth Project Educator Ambassador program through development of our online peer community.

To learn more about the EOWBF and Half-Earth Project, please visit www.eowilsonfoundation.org and www.half-earthproject.org

Introduction and Summary:

The Half-Earth Project of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is building a movement culture to save our planet’s precious biodiversity by protecting half of the land and seas for the rest of nature. Young people as the inheritors of the current biodiversity crisis and the next stewards are a major emphasis of our efforts. Each landscape and community is in a unique circumstance when it comes to taking action for a Half-Earth future, encompassing unique biodiversity, diverse stakeholders, and specific challenges. Iowa is one of the most intensively farmed and modified landscapes on earth so the way to a Half-Earth future must be sowed accordingly. Iowa is home to biodiversity and natural beauty that residents, especially next-generation stewards, should cherish. Our goal is to develop tools, materials, and networks to foster biophilia in Iowans. What we accomplish in Iowa can by extension be applied to other states in the extensive Mississippi River Watershed, and beyond to the many states and provinces of the world where intensive agricultural modification calls for a rewilding, reclaiming, rejuvenating Half-Earth approach. For this Phase 1 grant, with a 6-month timeframe, we propose to develop educational materials focused on supporting Iowa teachers to engage students in biodiversity, conservation, and design-thinking. We plan to conduct teacher professional learning online, and in-person if possible, and to plant a Half-Earth Project Iowa Ambassador Program. The Phase 1 approach can be extended in the future to intensify public engagement in a trickle-up and out model, and be extended to other states in the Mississippi River watershed with similar circumstances as Iowa.

“Human beings are not exempt from the iron law of species interdependency. We were not inserted as ready-made invasives into an Edenic world. Nor were we intended by providence to rule that world. The biosphere does not belong to us; we belong to it.”

E.O Wilson – Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Survival


  1. Extend the Biodiversity Mapping Design Challenge to focus on Iowa, whilelooking to connect with other states in the Mississippi River watershed.
  2. Build a collection of resources under the rubric of The Farm as Ecosystem to include: watershed, forest, meadow, and grassland habitat considerations. Resources would engage students in: citizen science, species inventories, rewilding reclamation projects, fundamentals of ecology and conservation.
  3. Develop engaging media pieces (photos, essays, videos) on key Iowa species as biodiversity ambassadors to open especially younger minds to the splendor and value of biodiversity. We could consider tagging the series B’Iowa-philia.
  4. Develop a core group of Iowa Half-Earth Project Educator Ambassadors to build upon in the state and eventually to the greater Mississippi River Watershed.


  • Iowa travel for Dennis Liu (April and July) – $3000
  • Master Iowa Half-Earth BeWildReWild INHF Ambassador stipends – $5000
  • Curriculum and Lesson Development – $10,000
  • Field testing, dissemination, and network development – $7000

Note: EOWBF has an indirect rate of %15 to be added to the total budget for operations and administrative support.

Proposal Detail:

Extend the Biodiversity Mapping Student Design Challenge to focus on Iowa

The Foundation currently offers educators more than 50 resources for engaging students in biodiversity and conservation learning (for samples see half-earthproject.org/half-earth-project-educator-ambassadors/#resources). The map design challenge is the keystone of our curriculum, half-earthproject.org/mapping-design-challenge/. The mapping activity has been presented in institutes and workshops across the US with hundreds of educators from middle school to college. It has been extensively field-tested in diverse classrooms and won praise for providing authentic group work, appealing to diverse learners, and challenging students to learn by tackling difficult real-world problems. The current version of the hands-on and virtual activity is focused on the continental United States. Most instructors add some material focused on their state or local area. We have sample work from adaptations in Vermont and Wisconsin. The Iowa version of the activity we propose to develop and disseminate would have students zooming in on Iowa land-use, biodiversity, and protection after getting a national perspective. It would be set in the context of the greater Mississippi River Watershed.

Deliverable: Publication to the Half-Earth Project website, and other partner websites of a fully developed and tested Iowa extension of the Half-Earth Biodiversity Mapping Design Challenge. Design process would begin in the first half of the grant period, drafts tested to be published in 2nd half of the grant.

Build a collection of resources under the rubric of The Farm as Ecosystem

In Iowa, as in most of the United States, and many other nations, the greatest human impact on the biosphere arises from intensive agriculture. The US is now a majority suburban population with rural population lagging behind urban. Most students view agricultural lands as “natural” but with little sense of how we use land overall and the needs and distribution of wild species and biodiversity. Agricultural practitioners, policy analysts, and economists from around the world visit Iowa as a dystopian exemplar of industrialized agricultural, a landscape denuded of insects, of biodiversity in general, and even of people, cleared for the sole purpose of “efficient” crop production, harvesting, and distribution. In the US and perhaps Iowa in particular, there is no Half-Earth Future without modifying agricultural practices and reclaiming some agricultural lands for biodiversity.

In consultation with Iowa experts, including educators, a series of “lessons” will be focus on agricultural lands as ecosystems to include a focus on: watersheds, forests, meadows, and grassland habitats. The driving questions will be: how does farming effect biodiversity, and how can we modify practices to produce food and other resources while also supporting biodiversity? The resources will engage students in: citizen science, species inventories, rewilding reclamation projects, fundamentals of ecology and conservation. Resources will be sharedvia the Iowa Ambassador program (see below) as well as on The Half-Earth Project website.

Some relevant current content on the website includes:

Deliverable: Produce at least 4 curriculum-oriented lessons or projects to be ready for testing by the 2nd half of the grant period.

Develop engaging media pieces (photos, essays, videos) on key Iowa species

The Half-Earth Map and other tools are potent ways to convey scientific information and data concerning biodiversity, but audiences also need to make an emotional connection.Media is a powerful tool for capturing a viewer’s attention and then drawing them in to learn and care about biodiversity. As our tools reveal, Iowa is home to native, cherished, and endangered species that should be better appreciated. We propose to tell a few of these stories including by recording inexpensive videochats with Iowa species experts.

Current examples of videochats, include:

Deliverable: At least 6 representative Iowa species will be identified as production subjects, and 2 pieces produced in the 6 month period. Media will be tested and disseminated to Iowa audiences and made available on the Half-Earth Project website, and other partner websites.

Develop a core group of Iowa Educator Ambassadors

Providing educators with a peer community to help them develop their professional interest in biodiversity and conservation themed curricula is an intrinsic good, a core value of the E.O. Wilson Foundation mission. Supporting educators is also one of the best ways to influence students. Teachers and students are important members of their communities throughout Iowa and beyond. We propose to develop acommunity of educators by recruiting from existing networks of educators in Iowa and by providing them with a communication platform, Iowa aware curriculum, and professional learning opportunities.

Potential outreach and community partners include:

Formal classroom education

  • National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
  • Iowa Academy of Science (state NSTA affiliate) at UNI Cedar Falls
  • National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT)
  • NABT regional representatives at Iowa State and in Marshalltown
  • NABT biology club chapters in: Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapics, Panora, Clinton
  • Iowa Dept. of Education, Science (STEM) office
  • University of Iowa STEM teacher organization
  • ESRI – the digital mapping company has a national educator program
  • National Geographic Education has an extensive educator network

Community education organizations

  • Hitchcock Nature Center
  • Midwest Nature Conservancy (TNC), big focus on Mississippi River Watershed
  • Audubon Great Lakes, very involved with recent great lakes restoration bill
  • Wisconsin NatureNet, for expansion and as a model for Iowa
  • Aldo Leopold Foundation
  • NAAEE (North American Association of Environmental Educators), including local chapters.

Deliverable: Establish communications with potential partners and recruit an initial cohort of Iowa Ambassadors with a goal of establishing diverse representation and seeding sustainable growth of the network, including eventual expansion to other states.

This BeWildReWild Grant represents several months of discussion and will result in BIG RIVER CONNECTIVITY becoming part of a global vision while Half-Earth is simultaneously introduced to our Rewilding Ground Zero in the US Heartland. E.O. Wilson suggests that humans set aside roughly half of the land and seas (carefully selected) for the rest of nature. Iowa will participate by Rewilding 9 of its 36 million acres (mostly steep slopes and frequently flooding river bottoms). Other states with less of the world’s prime agricultural land will set aside more than 50%. We can create a wilder, more beautiful, more biologically diverse, and a more enduring Mississippi River Watershed…and far beyond!

Roger Ross Gipple