A Prairie Problem

Activity 3

Exploring the Prairie

exploring the prairie module icon


"Iowa is the most 'altered' state in the nation. To a greater degree than in any other state, the natural landscape no longer exists. The forests have been felled, the prairies plowed, the streams straightened and scoured and reduced to ditches, the wetlands drained and filled and their wildlife forced out. Some alteration had to happen; the soils of Iowa are simply too rich to leave in prairie when there's a world to feed."

From: Des Moines Register Editorial 8-30-98

The Question

A major housing developer is requesting permission from the Zoning Commission to build a new subdivision in one of the few remaining prairie areas of the state.

The Zoning Commission has requested information on prairies and the impact new subdivisions would have on the prairie ecosystem. The Commission has requested that a group of community experts research the issue and prepare a presentation to assist in making a decision.

Questions to Consider

  • Why should people be concerned about housing subdivisions using prairie land?
  • How can we find ways to meet our housing expansion needs without compromising the prairies' ecosystem?
  • What happened to the original prairies?
  • How will housing construction affect wildlife habitats?

Background Information

Review the following websites and background information on the preservation of natural prairie lands as well as restoration efforts and techniques.

Quick Facts
Preserving Tallgrass Prairie Remnants
Conservation Section - Native Prairie Management Guide
Take a virtual tour of a new smart growth neighborhood.
Urban Sprawl – The Big Picture
Earth-orbiting satellites have a wonderful view of our planet's fast-growing cities, but most city planners don't have access to this "big picture" from space. NASA-supported scientists are working to change that.

Individual Roles

biologist icon

University Biologist

Your role is to describe the prairie environment of the past and provide information about the loss of valuable ecosystems. Your research should explain why prairies are becoming extinct and what role the prairie plays in America's rich biological diversity.

Strengthening the Use of Science in Achieving the Goals of the Endangered Species Act

A Guide to Urban Habitat Conservation Planning
How does this give land owners more flexibility and control?

Habitat Conservation Plans Fact Sheet

Benefits of Habitat Conservation Plans

Weeds Gone Wild
How will invasive alien (exotic, nonnative) plants threaten and impact native flora, fauna, and natural ecosystems of the United States? What if prevention efforts are not implemented?

plant roots

Arboretum Director

Your role is to explain the need to protect prairies for future generations to understand the agricultural heritage of the state. You will explain conservation efforts that have been successful in other communities.


Creating a Prairie

Prairie Parcel Restoration

Iowa Natural Heritage Prairie Restoration Techniques

Little Habitat on the Prairie

Planting a Prairie

Going Native: A Prairie Restoration Handbook

housing developer icon

Housing Developer

Your role is to explain how the land developers have researched the proposed area for zoning regulations, water, sewer and roads and the need for urban growth and the benefits to the community. Explain how species protection efforts should be compatible with landowner rights.

Smart Growth, Smart Choices
Meeting the housing demand innovative development projects and key issues in the growth debate

Smart Choices or Sprawling Growth
A 50-state survey of development...the good, the bad and the poorly zoned

What to Do

Read the directions to help you understand how your team will research and analyze information.

directions icon


The Task

Each person on your team will research, analyze and provide information from his or her perspective on the topic of prairie preservation, the need for additional housing in the community, and the impact of new housing developments on the prairie ecosystem.

Try to find an expert in your community or county or via the WWW with the same or similar occupation as your assigned role. You might email that person and ask questions about their career and the ways their job assists with conservation of the environment.

Ask for additional resource information or their opinion about your research project. Include information in your email message with your name, school, grade, why you are seeking this information, your question, and a sentence thanking the expert.

How to Begin

Review the checklist of project activities.

checklist icon


The Process

  1. Meet in your group and determine your assigned roles.
  2. As a group, complete the background readings and develop a project concept map.
  3. Begin your individual research and review at least three sources of information. Record notes on index cards or in word processing files including a heading, one or more important facts from the reading, and citation for the information source.
  4. Submit notecards or word processing document to your teacher for review.
  5. As a team share and evaluate the information that you have collected. Each of you may have a different opinion on the subject, but your group needs to reach a consensus that supports or rejects using prairie land for housing subdivisions.
  6. Determine a consensus of the position your team will present to the Zoning Commission.
  7. Convey your information about the benefits and problems of prairie preservation to the Zoning Commission.
  8. You may select one or more of the following ways to present your findings and recommendations. Include facts, opinions, and photos to support your viewpoint.
  1. Editorial
  2. Brochure
  3. Debate
  4. Diagram
  5. Display board
  6. Poster
  7. News broadcast including pictures, graphs or video clips (filmed with a video camera)
  8. Web page including links to websites you used to gather your information
  9. Letter to the editor
  10. PowerPoint presentation
  11. Magazine article with photos

Peer Review

Evaluate your peers' projects on how well their conclusions are supported by data and facts.
Was their argument convincing? What made you think so?


The Prairie Problem is a real problem in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa.

If you were on the Zoning Commission, how would you vote? Why?


Your project evaluation will assess how you support your conclusion, the effectiveness of your selected method of sharing information, teamwork and collaboration with your peers.

How you'll be graded

camp silos

Submit Feedback

Report Issue / Broken Link