Restorative recreation: one landowner's experience restoring a cedar-infested native prairie remnant in Iowa's Loess Hills.

Published online
16 Jul 2021
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Swanson, P. C.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
USA & Iowa


Over 80% of pre-settlement Iowa was a prairie landscape, but conversion and neglect has reduced that to less than 0.1% of the original 30 million acres (12million hectares). Much of the remaining remnant prairie lies within the Loess Hills landform in western Iowa. Here I describe my experience as a landowner identifying and restoring a native Loess Hills prairie remnant overtaken by Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). Archived aerial photographs confirm its native remnant status and have been used to monitor restoration progress. Both shearing and hand clearing of cedars have been undertaken at this site, providing an opportunity to compare patterns of ecosystem recovery within one remnant prairie. I find that cedar shearing, though effective at rapidly clearing a large swath of land, was associated with greater abundance of weedy and woody species compared to hand clearing that occurred more gradually over a longer period of time. However, consistent, targeted herbicide application to woody growth, as well as two prescribed fires, have led to good recovery and stabilization of the grassland withminimal annual recruitment of new brush. Photographs of faunal associations with Pasque flowers (Anemone patens) provide an indicator of the biodiversity on this prairie and suggest Pasque flowers, due to their abundance at this site, function as a keystone species that drives early spring ecosystem productivity. Based on my experience, I introduce a paradigm called restorative recreation to provide a framework for integrating ecosystem restoration activities with outdoor recreation to maximize benefits to personal health and well-being, while improving the landscape for other species that share our common home.

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