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Iowa rain forest a bunch of monkey business

5/9/2004

You can't go home again, they say … yet there's plenty to discover if you do.

I walked the hills of Iowa the other day. Sounds of gobbling wild turkeys echoed off the ridge tops at dawn. Turkey tracks and droppings littered wooded trails, which, by the way, were also packed and worn by the hooves of whitetail deer.

When I was an Iowa boy, a kid who grew up in the woods — hunting squirrels, seeking morels, walking trout streams — there was no such thing as a track or sound of a wild turkey. No droppings either, not counting those made by barnyard birds.

Yes, when I was a boy, Iowa's wild-turkey population had been extinguished, wiped out, annihilated decades before I was even a glint in my daddy's eye.

As for deer, when I was a boy, just seeing a whitetail was a special treat. They were like ghosts and you felt privileged if you crossed paths. There were no beaten trails of deer hooves when I was a boy.

Now, Iowa's deer seem to be everywhere. And they are big. But I've long known that.

The first article I ever wrote for money was a story about Iowa's huge whitetail and how the Hawkeye State produces some of the heaviest deer in the nation, thanks to rich soil and plenty of corn.

Of such are the wandering thoughts of an Iowa boy as I lean against a tall oak and listen for the gobbles I never heard as a kid.

Iowa is a more interesting place now, thanks to the reintroduction of the native bird. The question that lingers, of course, is how long do the turkeys have?

Is Iowa protecting and propagating its state forests?

Are Iowa farmers maintaining their forestlands or are the woodlots losing out to more fields of corn and soybeans?

Iowa's wildlife chief, Rich Bishop, said the state's wild turkeys were totally dependent on how future Iowans value their remaining forested land. If the timber slowly goes away, Bishop said, the turkeys will go, too. It's that simple.

On a recent Sunday morning, the state's largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, carried a headline — not about the future of wild turkeys or saving native forests — no, the headline shouted about Iowa's plans for a … rain forest!

Yes, there's a $180 million plan to create a 4.5-acre rain forest as a tourist attraction and educational facility near Coralville, Iowa.

The supporters are serious. They think an Iowa rain forest makes sense, with the help of $50 million in U.S. taxpayer's money, of course.

A man-made rain forest in Iowa?

Somebody suggested you could take the money and send every Iowa kid to a real rain forest and do it cheaper.

What's next? How about a range of the Rockies in south Florida? Maybe fields of blooming cactus in Maine?

The former kid from Iowa has a suggestion: If Iowa's Sen. Charles Grassley has a $50 million federal grant, there are better ways to spend it.

How about restoring Iowa's wetlands, the millions of acres drained in the last 200 years. Unlike a rain forest, a wetland belongs in Iowa.

How about taking some of the money and restoring northeast Iowa's trout streams.

My boyhood stream used to be a garden spot. Now it's a junkyard. A trout stream flowing through car bodies. A little of that $50 million would make the stream beautiful again.

Golly, Senator, you could use that federal grant to preserve Iowa's forests. If so, the sounds of wild turkeys will forever echo in my boyhood state.

Rain forests don't have turkeys; they have monkeys. All of which means, $180 million to create an Iowa rain forest is mostly monkey business.


Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling (888) 755-3155.

April through June 2004, Ron Schara's short feature, "Backroads with Ron & Raven," airs Saturdays on ESPN2 at 7:55 a.m. ET. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.