Howing reviews 50 years
RUTHVEN – A pheasant cackles as wind combs the tall prairie grass just yards from Ron Howing’s office. The pheasant – and the grass are both here largely to Howing’s efforts over the past 50 years to restore wetlands and habitat in northwest Iowa.
Today, a group of trumpeter swans – once extinct from the Midland prairies – will be released in Howing’s honor at 10 a.m. at the Lost Island Marsh. He will also be honored at 2 p.m. in a retirement reception at the Lost Island Nature Center. Both occasions are in observance of Howing’s 50 years of service as a wildlife biologist for the State of Iowa – first for the Iowa Conservation Commission and later for the renamed agency, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Howing grew up in Missouri and graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in zoology. He first went to work in 1960 at the Colyn Wildlife District, now Lake Rathbun, one of nine units then operating in the state.
Then in August 1963 he took a position at the Ingham Lake unit which was then tied to the Great Lakes unit until 1972 when it was split. Howing stayed at Ingham until 2001 when he took a position as a habitat biologist for the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture project, a 39-county area.
Howing started Iowa’s Canada goose project in 1964, with the first flock at Ingham. “They referred to me as Father Goose,” Howing said. “We raise a lot of Canada geese in Iowa now and they’ve almost become a nuisance.”
Howing was also instrumental in developing Anderson Prairie north of Estherville.
Over the past eight years, Howing has spent most of his time on prairie restoration, helping to restore 4,000 to 5,000 acres. His job has been to make sure rules and regulations set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are followed.
“We’re responsible for the public’s dollars,” Howing said. “We need to make sure we get the most for the dollars that are put in there.” He has continued to help various wildlife units with habitat development and with the Wetland Reserve Program.
Howing has seen a lot of changes in his 50 years with the DNR. One of the most obvious would be the banning of DDT and the resulting comeback of eagles, hawks and other raptors. With eagles absent from the area a few decades ago, Howing noted a number of their nests throughout the area. “Three or four years ago there weren’t any eagles nesting in Emmet County,” Howing said.
Howing has also enjoyed seeing the comeback of trumpeter swans and peregrine falcons in Iowa.
“I enjoy my work so much I’m going to miss it,” Howing said. But at 73, it’s time to kick back, and maybe do a little more hunting and fishing himself.
“There’s not a greater bunch of people in the United States than those I work with in the Wildlife Bureau,” Howing said. “We all work together as a team. Each one of us brings something to the table. I will still assist with some of that after I retire. And I’ll enjoy that. But I won’t be paid for it. I’ll be a volunteer.”