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Iowa Outdoors Begins its 75th Year

April 15, 1942 edition of the Iowa Conservationist (now Iowa Outdoors magazine) | Iowa DNRLaunched Feb. 15, 1942 in the dark early years of WWII, the Iowa Conservationist magazine was born. It began as an 8-page black and white monthly, featuring a logo by a young Des Moines artist, Maynard Reece. The state received a flood of requests for this publication. But the publication’s original roots extend even deeper, back to 1939 with a sporadic, typed newsletter called Outdoor Iowa.


This current issue is volume 75, and the beginning of our 75th year. Over the years, the magazine has seen many transformations, advances in photography and publishing technology and of course, evolving issues and attitudes of the times. The agency itself also changed, beginning as the Iowa Conservation Commission, then the DNR in 1986 after a merger with the former Department of Water, Air and Waste Management, the Geological Survey Bureau and the Energy Policy Council.


Reviewing decades of historical back issues, it is striking how some concerns remain pertinent today, such as erosion, carp populations, habitat loss, lake restoration and water quality issues. Other issues have vanished—the insecticide DDT, acid rain and junked cars thrown into rivers. Industrial and municipal sewage and emissions are now controlled, as are tailpipes. But, at times, once-touted “solutions” to problems of the day led to unintended consequences to become new problems, such as the invasive species multiflora rose, once promoted as wildlife cover, to name one. But the eventual recognition of those early, failed attempts, plus the successes, all point to advancing science and human knowledge over the span of seven decades.


When reviewing historical issues, perhaps most striking are the war years. Articles from this era illustrate how critical natural resources were, even in surprising ways. In May 1942, Iowa—the leading button producing state—saw a boom in use of Mississippi River mussel shells to stamp out “pearl buttons” for military uniforms. The resource was needed and the magazine published concerns about overharvest, siltation and water pollution that affected mussel populations. The war impact on the ability of readers to find hunting and fishing gear was felt too, as so much raw matériel was diverted to the fronts (see sidebar). Motor boaters had to go to their local “war price and rationing board” and apply for non-highway gas rations. “It is not necessary to be ‘continually on the go’ to enjoy your boat,” said the magazine, urging restraint. Even “The Hawkeye No. 2,” Iowa’s famous train car built in 1913 to haul game fish to stocking points across the state, was melted down for war steel. Also, in 1945, a new pesticide, DDT, emerged—the beginning of the end for many species, nearly eradicating bald eagles, osprey and peregrine falcons (By 1963, only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained nationally).

The first edition of Iowa Outdoors magazine following the redesign of the Iowa Conservationist | Iowa DNRSuccesses were made, too. A 1949 magazine article featured beaver populations and the first season since 1874, thanks to rebounded numbers. In 1965, wild turkeys were reintroduced to Iowa at Yellow River State Forest in Allamakee County. Once abundant, the species largely vanished in Iowa after the Civil War, with the final few last reported in 1910. In 1935, just 73 magnificent trumpeter swans remained nationally, headed for certain extinction. As North America’s largest waterfowl, showcasing an 8-foot wingspan, today more than 46,000 exist, including some nesting in Iowa.

It is hard to imagine for middle-aged and younger Iowans, but whitetailed deer weren’t always around. The state’s first modern-era deer hunt occurred during five December days in 1953. The magazine was there to highlight readers’ mixed emotions to the first deer hunt since at least 1898, when deer were virtually non-existent in Iowa after years of exploitation by settlers.

Those opposing the hunt feared the state’s newly returned population would again be wiped out. The herd was estimated at 13,000 and growing rapidly. Those supporting the hunt relished the chance to hunt big game in Iowa versus the most popular quarry—pheasant, rabbit and squirrel—the perennial “big three” of the era. That first year, 3,057 deer were harvested. (The 2014 harvest was 101,543.)

And here is a tidbit from the July 1967 issue: Clear Lake’s population of walleye 12 inches and greater ranged from 8,713 to 18,400 fish. We asked the highly successful DNR fisheries staff for an update. The current population is 46,133. Proof again, the mythical good ‘ol days of fishing are now!
In the 1970s, the magazine followed progress after Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act as the public demanded action to repair the nation’s badly degraded land, water and skies.

In 1972, Iowa stocked coho salmon in West Okoboji as an experiment. In 1977, the Bottle Bill passed to help remove 20 to 40 percent of all litter—cans and bottles. In 1977, brook trout stocking began. In 1974, the magazine changed from black and white to full color.

Of course it is impossible to convey in a few pages all the significant changes since 1942, nor describe today’s issues facing natural resources, so look for more in the July/August 2016 issue when the DNR celebrates its 30th anniversary.

But by far the largest change to the magazine itself came in 2007, with a revamped, re-energized and retitled magazine—Iowa Outdoors. It took nearly two years of detailed planning, research and input from Iowans to help create the new publication.

We put more emphasis on storytelling, using more impactful photos and taking readers to new places. We learned Iowans want to get outdoors, value public lands and want to know how to help. Our readers want to be inspired, informed and go afield, so to speak, with stories of our staff at work in the field. We also partnered with Iowa Public Television to launch a popular companion television show. Much of the magazine makeover was to tackle a new modern reality—concerns about a lessened connection of people to the outdoors—a so-called nature deficit disorder—thanks to online entertainment and other of life’s demands. And after three-quarters of a century, the magazine still remains popular as ever, thanks to you.

Subscribe now to Iowa Outdoors magazine or read more on our Pinterest board.

Iowa Outdoors Magazine begins its 75th year of publication in 2016 | Iowa DNR

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