Archived Voice Articles

Letter to the Editor

By Jeff Kopaska, Class of 1992

I want you to know that I enjoy perusing the Voice to keep up on Dordt College. In the last issue, I particularly enjoyed reading the Plumbline from Jim Schaap titled “Baby Steps in Prairie Grass.” It would be fabulous once again to see an ocean of grass across an Iowa vista. Thank you for the vision it placed in my mind.

I found a couple of points troubling, though, and would like to provide some information concerning some statements in the article. It is correct to state that Iowa has the most transformed landscape of any of the fifty states. Humans have dramatically altered the natural environment around us. The book IOWA – Portrait of the Land by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, shows that by1900, Iowans had converted 95 percent of the original prairie, two-thirds of the woodlands, and most of the wetlands to agriculture. Today, we have less than 0.1 percent of our original 28.6 million acres of prairie, and less than 10 percent of our original 4.5 million acres of wetlands. Today 67 percent of Iowa’s land is in row-crop agriculture, 7 percent is grazed, 4 percent is farmland idled by federal programs, 3 percent is in roads and buildings, and 14 percent is categorized as “ungrazed grasslands,” which includes road ditches and grassed waterways.

Sioux County is extremely altered, but it is not the most altered county in Iowa. If you say ungrazed grasslands are an “altered” landscape, Sioux County comes in 4th at 98.8 percent altered (Grundy Co. is 1st at 99.3 percent), but if we limit the altered category to only grazed areas, row crops, roads, and buildings, then Sioux County is 5th at 88.9 percent (Calhoun Co. is 1st at 91.0 percent).

Sioux County ranks first in the state in the production of feeder cattle, hogs, and sheep; 2nd in milk cows and corn, and 3rd in soybeans. Sioux County accounts for about 5 percent of Iowa’s agricultural production. The Dutch Calvinists of Sioux County are using the fertile soils and amenable climate to produce well, to “feed the world” and to exert their dominion over creation. But are they managing their lands lovingly? The production numbers do not tell the entire story. Sioux County also ranks high in environmental violations (1st) and fish kills (2nd). In 2004, Sioux County accounted for 27 of the 306 enforcement actions handed out by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for environmental damage. (Plymouth Co. was 2nd at 15). Between 1994 and 2004, Sioux County had 15 fish kills (Linn Co. - 19), of which 6 were identified as the result of spilled animal waste. Six Mile Creek, which flows west out of Sioux Center and down to Hawarden, experienced one of these fish kills in June of 1998. Two years later, in August 2000, Six Mile Creek still received scores of 2 and 10 following testing, two of the lowest scores ever recorded in Iowa. In general, scores of 0-25 are poor, 26-50 are fair, 51-70 are good, and 71-100 are excellent. Sioux County has had 5 samples taken in 10 years, and the average score is 23.6, with a high of 54 on the Rock River. The average for all other northwest Iowa counties is 36, indicating that Sioux County is below average in terms of care for the creation. The fact that Six Mile Creek did not recover indicates persistent water quality problems, which subsequent water quality sampling has revealed. Both Six Mile Creek and some tributaries to the Floyd River in Sioux County, are quite polluted, cannot regularly sustain aquatic life, and are often in violation of Iowa’s water quality standards for ammonia.

Our reformational worldview calls us to redeem the creation and to be leaders and lights in this world. This calling extends beyond music, philosophy, and education to include agriculture, biology, and ecology. God is calling, are we listening?