Progress in the Prairie
Removing undesirable and aggressive species, like cedars and dogwood, to make room for native prairie is hard, often thankless work. Even in a war against encroaching invasive species, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) Land Ambassador Jeff Jutting sees hope in the sometimes slow and arduous restoration process.
“It seems like an endless battle, but there are victories,” said Jutting. “It’s satisfying to experience the sense of accomplishment in a solid day’s work and to see the progress I’ve made in the prairie over these last few years.”
For the past three years, Jutting has volunteered as a land ambassador at Perkins Prairie, a 30-acre INHF-owned prairie preserve in Greene County. Land ambassadors make a one-year minimum volunteer commitment to mostly autonomous land stewardship work, supporting INHF’s land stewardship team and efforts by devoting their skills, time and attention to caring for a special property. Together, they expand INHF’s stewardship capacity, collectively contributing hundreds of hours on the land. Today, ten land ambassadors help steward over 900 acres across six different properties throughout Iowa.
Jutting, a retired Patient Safety Coach for Unity Point Health, first began volunteering as a land ambassador after attending several INHF volunteer events. The Heritage Valley Garlic Mustard Pull is an annual rite of spring for Jutting and his wife. After awhile, Jutting realized that as an INHF land ambassador he could set his own schedule and enjoy even more time on the prairie.
“Our land ambassadors are amazing additions to our event-based volunteer opportunities because they go above and beyond the call of duty,” said Volunteer Coordinator Melanie Schmidt. “Through their service, land ambassadors are able to learn about stewardship plans, and through its land ambassadors, INHF is able to learn more about the properties they steward. They are the eyes and ears of these properties, and we value the relationship we have developed with every single one of our land ambassadors.”
As far as Jeff is concerned, his efforts aren’t complete without taking time to enjoy the pure peace and tranquility that wild lands and other special places have to offer. As the sun begins to sink and the colors across the horizon golden, even the most determined of land ambassadors know it’s time to take a deep breath and reflect.
“It’s renewal for me,” said Jutting. “There’s the physical renewal because of the exercise, the actual work associated with it. Then also the mental and spiritual renewal.”
One of Jutting’s favorite places at Perkins Prairie is on top of a gentle hill that provides a full panoramic view of the property. To the left, he can see some of his past accomplishments. Cedar trees and clumps of dogwood once lined what is now lush native grasses that erupt with bright yellow coneflowers come summer. To the right, there’s progress yet to be made.
“I wish I had a couple thousand acres of prairie or millions of dollars I could donate to INHF, but I don’t,” said Jutting. “I do have lots of time, so I can volunteer that and give back to my community and to the state of Iowa. In many ways, time can be more valuable because it enables me to spend time here and I can help restore this prairie.”