Hagie Award Winner 2008: Erv Klaas
Erwin Klaas believes many people don’t realize the impact their actions have on the environment. He wants to change that.
Now his tireless volunteer work has been recognized in a big way. Erv Klaas, a champion of myriad environmental causes, has won the Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit conservation group, gives the award.
“The Foundation presents this award annually to someone who provides extraordinary service for Iowa’s environment,” said Mark Ackelson, INHF president. “Erv has been active in natural resource conservation and education for many years and is an inspiration to many others. We are grateful for Erv’s outstanding contributions to Iowa’s natural heritage."
As the 2008 recipient, Klaas will be awarded $1,000 and a hand-carved acorn sculpture at a celebration this fall. He was chosen from among five nominees.
Klaas was nominated by Sue Ravenscroft, professor of accounting at Iowa State University; LaVon Griffieon, interim director of 1000 Friends of Iowa; Steve Lekwa, Story County Conservation Board director; Jeri Neal, ecology research leader at ISU’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Laura Belin, 1000 Friends of Iowa board president; and Nancy Carroll, Ames Parks and Recreation director.
Klaas’ nominators believe he stands with the best of Iowa’s conservation heroes. Ravenscroft called him “the guru of conservation in Ames, Iowa.” His nominators and the selection committee praised the depth and breadth of Klaas’ advocacy and his commitment to civic education.
Although his graduate degrees are in ornithology (the study of birds), Klaas’ conservation interests go much further. He retired from teaching ecology at Iowa State University in 1999, but he continues to work 30 to 40 hours a week on his many projects, all as a volunteer.
A few issues emerge as most important to Klaas: farmland protection, water quality and “smart growth.”
As a Soil and Water District Commissioner for Story County, Klaas promotes watershed management and farmland protection.
To advance water quality, Klaas helped start the Urban Resources and Borderland Alliance Network (URBAN) and the Squaw Creek Watershed Coalition. He volunteers as an IOWATER water quality monitor, among other efforts.
Klaas’ other key cause is what he calls sustainable development: “You develop in a sustainable way that will allow your system to exist for a long time, but hopefully improve it,” he said. “We improve the quality of life for humans and all the critters out there, the plants and animals.” That involves developing in ways that conserve biodiversity for future generations.
“Smart growth,” or using land efficiently and growing with minimal impact on the environment, is essential for Klaas. He fights to stop urban sprawl, saying that people must learn to live in higher densities instead of over-building. He formed the Ames Smart Growth Alliance to promote that goal is his area, and he is involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa to spread the word across the state.
Klaas’ proudest achievement was a culmination of his priorities. He was instrumental in turning Hallett’s Quarry on Ames’ north side into Ada Hayden Heritage Park, leading the bond campaign that prevented a housing development.
This success saved a high-quality source of drinking water for Ames and provided a green space for city dwellers to enjoy. It also serves as an example of what one person can do to promote conservation practices that benefit all forms of life.
Klaas’ next goal is to find more time for nature interpretation in the field. He also hopes to promote nature education in schools. He wants to get children exposed to nature, like he was, so they will come to appreciate our natural resources and the need to preserve them.
In the meantime, Klaas has no plans to slow the pace of his own education and involvement.
“Education doesn’t stop,” he said. “Here I am in my 70s, and I’m still learning, still reading.”
Still reading, and still fighting to make Iowa a better place for creatures great and small.