Professor Heidi Hurd teamed up with botanists, ecologists, lawyers, engineers, farmers, and local environmental leaders to lead a recent fieldtrip to the Driftless Region of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Together, they introduced an international group of students in her Ethics, Law and the Environment course to the fragile ecosystems that are made possible by the unique features of the only island of northern land in America that has never been glaciated.
They climbed steep talus slopes to examine the rare species that live at the mouths of algific vents; learned about arid “goat slopes” that support native cacti in a region that experiences Alberta-like long freezes; examined large eagle-shaped effigy mounds built by the peoples of the prehistoric “Woodland” culture; visited vast cave systems with spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations characteristic of karst topography; and waded through a tall grass prairie lovingly reconstructed to emulate the vast prairies that once stretched across much of Illinois.
After learning about the ways in which the Upper Mississippi River was massively reengineered to permit large-scale shipping, they studied the adverse impacts of agriculture and industry on the Mississippi River and the human communities and natural ecosystems it supports. Through an interactive farm tour, they were then introduced to the practices involved in regenerative farming that are specifically designed to prevent the externalities of industrial agriculture, and they had a seminar with the in-house counsel for the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation to learn about the legal tools and financial strategies that can be successfully employed to encourage conservation of lands that are home to indigenous and endangered species, contain unique human artefacts, and preserve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and offer valuable places of peaceful beauty to those seeking a cure for “green deficit disorder.”