116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Park rangers, game wardens and other conservationists need to be able to speak up for the wildlife and waterways they protect.
Which is why Ken Carroll has made communication skills a larger part of his natural resources curriculum at Kirkwood Community College.
“They have to be the voice of those things that can’t talk — water, fish, whatever,” said Carroll, a parks and natural resources professor at Kirkwood. “As far as the promotion side of things, it’s more about getting people outside.”
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources last month awarded Carroll the Brass Bluegill award from its Fish Iowa! program. The award has been presented every year since 1996 to an outstanding local program, the Iowa DNR said.
Carroll has been teaching at Kirkwood since 2003 and has been a Fish Iowa! trainer since 2008. The state training program is integrated into Applications of Natural Resources, a first-year, first-semester course that Carroll teaches at Kirkwood.
“You have casting, anatomy, identifying game fish in Iowa, rules and regs for fishing, and identifying endangered species,” Carroll said.
Students learn fishing knots and practice casting and compete in a casting competition. And they create their own fish to learn about adaptations.
Carroll also trains students in Project WILD and Aquatic WILD, which helps them develop interpretive skills and provides content material they will use when they complete the Certified Interpretive Guide Training through the National Association of Interpretation their final semester of the program.
The two-year Parks and Natural Resources program — which many students use as a stepping stone to a four-year degree — has grown in popularity in recent years. Enrollment went up 18 percent from 2018-2019 to 2021-2022, although the most recent year’s numbers are on par with 2016-2017.
2021-2022 (preliminary) 87
The program includes courses on watershed management and assessment, which is important as Iowa tries to balance agriculture with maintaining lakes and rivers that are safe for swimming and for wildlife.
“Iowa is one of the toughest states in the nation to think about conservation because we’re so row crop intensive,” Carroll said. “We have to find our lanes and take our moments.”
During nearly 20 years of natural resources education, Carroll has seen a need for conservationists to be able to talk with the public about what they do. Graduates will work for cities, counties and states with limited budgets. If elected officials don’t understand the value of conservation, they may not spend money on it.
“You have to justify what you’re doing at all levels,” he said.
Carroll said funding Iowa’s National Resources & Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund — approved by voters in 2010, but not funded — would provide consistent support for conservation at all levels.
“It would take a lot of pressure off organizations,” he said. “They wouldn’t have to worry about scraping by.”
Conservationists advocate for Iowans to get outside, whether it’s to fish, boat, hike, swim or rock climb, Carroll said.
“It’s definitely a socially-accepted, family-friendly activity to do,” he said about fishing. “It’s an easy thing for us to convince people to go back outdoors.”
Comments: (319) 339-3157; firstname.lastname@example.org