Those who have walked or pedaled around Ames’ Ada Hayden Heritage Park may have noted the boulders that appear from time to time along the trails. Each boulder commemorates an early Iowa conservation leader, going back about 100 years. The people on those boulders are gone, but their legacy lives on in the work that others have continued to do on behalf of conservation and the natural world. It also lives on in the relationship many of us have with the rocks, soil, plants, animals and water that we collectively refer to as “the land.”
Those early leaders provided the foundation that conservation in Iowa is built on. Dr. Ada Hayden was the first woman to be granted a doctorate at Iowa State College and went on to found the Iowa State Preserves System. She said way back in 1919, “Why not preserve now at small cost that which cannot be replaced at any cost.” Without her, many of the priceless gems that represent what little remains of our natural heritage would have been lost forever. Aldo Leopold, the father of modern wildlife management, gave us something called a land ethic that defines how we relate to and care for the land. Ding Darling was the first leader of what became the U.S. Department of the Interior. He also carried the conservation message to a generation of Iowans with his editorial cartoons. Sylvan Runkel, the dean of Iowa naturalists, was teaching conservation to anyone who would listen decades before teaching naturalists became an important profession. Dr. Paul Errington did foundation research while he was at Iowa State on the important values and functions of wetlands at a time when most efforts were focused on draining as many of them as possible.
Long-time members of the conservation community in our area gathered on May 13 to bid farewell and honor the memory of another conservation leader who should probably have his own rock at Ada Hayden Park. Dr. Bob Moorman earned all of his degrees at Iowa State College, finishing with his Ph.D. in fisheries biology in 1953. In 1956, he was asked to come back to Iowa State to become Iowa’s first Extension wildlife conservationist. As such, he reached out to people of all ages all over the state, teaching them about the wonders of the natural world and how to get along with all of the wild things that share the land with us. He helped found the Iowa Wildlife Federation, an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, and served many years on its board of directors. He served as a living bridge between many of Iowa’s earliest conservation leaders and us, and even shared an office with Ada Hayden, herself, in his early years at Iowa State. A humble and generous man, he seldom went by Dr. Moorman. He was just Bob to all of us who were privileged to know him as a friend. Bob was 100 years old when he passed on back in March.
We owe much to Bob Moorman and all of those conservation leaders who came before and helped to show us the way to respect and live in harmony with the land. Those of us who remain must carry on the fight for our fragile natural heritage by sharing our love for the land with all who will listen, especially the children who are more isolated from the land today than ever before. I think it was Leopold who said something to the effect that a person can’t love something they don’t know and understand. The thought could have come from any of those early conservation leaders, though. You don’t have to be a university extension specialist or a professional naturalist to share your love for the land. You can take a child fishing or for a walk outdoors. You can let your legislators know how much you care about conservation in our future, and vote for people who share your love for the land. Our future is bleak, indeed, if we cannot carry on the legacy of conservation leaders who came before us and teach people to love and care for the land.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.