A Conservationist's Christmas List

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Adam Janke
Assistant Professor - Natural Resource and Ecology Management
Extension Wildlife Specialist
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


For many of us, conservation is our way of life. Finding ways to connect with and improve the land, the soil, the water, and wildlife consumes our thoughts and free time. If you have someone in your life that shares that same passion, here’s a few ideas for brightening their Holiday Season. ….

Books and Field Guides

books and field guidesA conservationist could fill a library with great writing by scientists, philosophers, and great story tellers on a wide range of topics. I won’t even try to provide a comprehensive list of these reads here, but rather focus on two essentials. The first essential reading, and thus an essential holiday gift, should be required reading for anyone holding a title to land: A Sand County Almanac (1949), by Aldo Leopold.

Leopold, is undoubtedly Iowa’s best known conservationist (though there are many). A Burlington, Iowa native, he went on to be an influential player in modern conservation’s earliest days and has motivated generations of landowners, farmers, hunters, wildlife enthusiasts and others with his short essays on the relations of people to land. Most influential among his ideas is his concept of The Land Ethic. In the essay of that name in A Sand County Almanac he pleads for land stewards to regard the land as something more than a canvas on which to make a profit, extending the concept of ethics typically reserved for humans and other living things to the land itself. The writing is a relevant today as it was in the late 1940s when the book was published posthumously.

Next on the essential gift list for the conservationists in your life is more a category than specific volumes: field guides. In order to understand the land, we need to understand its constituent parts: the plants, the animals, the insects and the signs they leave behind. My shelf space dedicated to field guides is ever-growing and with it so too is my appreciation for the land and all the things it provides. Here is a brief accounting of some of my favorite field guides for Midwestern lovers of land like me. Know however that there are many more options out there and that a visit to a local bookstore or a few online searches are sure to turn up many more appealing titles.

Trail Cameras

trail cameraAnother gift idea for the land-lovers on your holiday shopping list is a fun tool to learn more about the inhabitants of the land: trail cameras. You don’t need hundreds-of-acres of land to find these motion-activated cameras fun. Place them anywhere that you think wildlife may pass by, day or night, to learn more about the inhabitants of any piece of property. You may learn about the nocturnal habits of wildlife around your home, you may see a new, secretive species like a bobcat, or you may capture curious behavior of familiar species. Check your batteries and memory cards often and see what you see – it’s a fun way to enjoy and learn about the land year-round without having to be there. Dozens of brands and options are available for purchase, ranging in price from less than $100 to $1000. I suggest checking out the reviews from trailcampro.com for an idea of what may fit your favorite conservationist’s needs.

Trees from State Forest Nursery

tree plantingsIn Iowa, we’re fortunate to have a great resource in the State Forest Nursery, a part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that sells high-quality and low-priced native tree seedlings. We’re also fortunate that their ordering season for spring delivery overlaps the holiday season, so you can be sure to satisfy the conservationists in your life with a gift-certificate for a spring-shipment of anywhere from 25 to hundreds of native trees and shrub seedlings delivered right to their doorstep.  Check out their online ordering system for more details.

Woodworking for Wildlife

woodworking projectAre you more a make-your-gifts kind of person? If so, a new article series from Iowa State Extension and Outreach may be right for you and your holiday plans. Four new, one-page articles provide step-by-step instructions for the construction of wooden boxes and a bench to help amateur woodworkers enjoy wildlife on any property. The bat house design can host bats all spring, summer, and fall. The wood duck box can host a nesting wood duck hatch a nest. The blue-bird box can raise a family of blue-birds or other native cavity nesters like tree swallows or chickadees. The Aldo Leopold bench can be a place to sit and enjoy nature, perhaps with a new volume of my first recommendation in this article in hand! Visit the new Woodworking for Wildlife homepage on the wildlife extension page for links to download these articles for yourself and then head to the local woodshop in advance of your holiday party!

Date of Publication: 
November, 2018