MOVILLE, Iowa -- Christian Koch, a senior at Le Mars Community High School, took a soils sample test at Morningside College on Thursday morning. And then, piling into a vehicle with fellow students and FFA Adviser Danielle James, he examined the map distributed for the "field trip" portion of this FFA competition.
"I didn't need the map," Koch said, "I'd been working in that area the previous night. I'd driven right by that field."
The field was a tract on the Eric Nelson farm east of Moville, Iowa. Nelson welcomed Rich Crow and Melissa Nelson of Morningside College's Ag Department as they hosted 128 Northwest Iowa FFA participants for the Northwest Iowa District Soils Judging contest. The winners would advance to the state meet in Ames, Iowa, in two weeks.
Crow and Nelson worked with FFA leaders from 32 Northwest Iowa schools in administering the written exam at Morningside. The group then traveled 20 miles east for an in-depth look at four pits dug by Gary Bruce of Bruce Construction.
"They look at the soils and find out if a site is suitable for something like a home construction, a septic system, for drainage tiles, and how the land might be farmed," said Crow, an assistant professor of agronomy who has helped lead the college's ag department from its start with 11 students five years ago to one featuring more than 80 students majoring in the field while another 30-plus minor in this academic area.
"Morningside had an ag program in the 1990s and it was focused on livestock marketing," said Crow, a native of Garnavillo, Iowa. "That major closed when the (Sioux City) Stockyards closed."
The applied agriculture and food studies major currently has these areas of study under its umbrella: ag business, food safety, environmental policy and political policy.
"Five years ago, the nearest ag college was 45 miles away at Dordt College," Crow said. "So, there was a need for locally-trained students who sought to stay local. It's really seen rapid growth."
"We get into the pits and measure differences in soil horizons and textures," said Koch, a native of nearby Pierson, Iowa, who was crowned king at the Plymouth County Fair in July. "Just within this one field we went from deep soil samples to samples of clay and sand. If you go a little west of here you can get into the Loess Hills, which is fascinating."
Students were challenged to recommend tillage practices as well. Nelson remarked that this tract hasn't been tilled since his family bought it and began farming it in 1995.
"It was a good learning experience," said sophomore Angela Nyunt of South O'Brien, which earned first place in the FFA soils career development event. "When you get toward the Loess Hills area, it's different to look at."
Nyunt and Koch joined the others in finding the slope of each site, the thickness of the 'A' horizon, 'B' horizon and more.
"We talked about how we would farm it," said Nyunt, who may one day consider a career in soil sciences; that is, if she doesn't embark on a career as an eye surgeon.
Koch, who intends to study ag business and agronomy at South Dakota State University, found the sites easier to grade because of their no-till status. He was still thinking about the ways to grow crops on the parcel when we spoke Friday.
That's the whole point, according to Crow.
"Understanding how to manage soil is critical to our industry," said Crow, who finished in the top three individual spots in Iowa FFA soils judging as a prep. "Different soils on one farm will require different management needs. It's critical we help them learn how this is done."
WASHINGTON — The FBI has contacted Deborah Ramirez, who's accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when he was a Yale student, as part of the bureau's investigation of the Supreme Court nominee, her attorney said Saturday.
Ramirez's lawyer, John Clune, said agents want to interview her and she has agreed to cooperate. Ramirez has said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party in the early 1980s when they were Yale students.
President Donald Trump ordered the FBI on Friday to reopen Kavanaugh's background investigation after several women accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.
Senate leaders agreed to delay a final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination to allow for a one-week FBI investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee has said the probe should be limited to "current credible allegations" against Kavanaugh and be finished by next Friday.
Leaving the hearing Friday, Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said it was his understanding there would be an FBI investigation of "the outstanding allegations, the three of them," but Republicans have not said whether that was their understanding as well.
While the precise scope of the investigation remained unclear, Trump told reporters Saturday that "the FBI, as you know, is all over talking to everybody" and said "this could be a blessing in disguise."
White House spokesman Raj Shah said the Senate set the scope and duration of the investigation and that the White House is "letting the FBI agents do what they are trained to do."
The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees, but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations. The investigators will compile information about Kavanaugh's past and provide their findings to the White House and include the information in Kavanaugh's background file, which is available to senators.
Kavanaugh and another of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were teenagers, testified publicly before the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Kavanaugh's high school friend Mark Judge, who Ford says was in the room when a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, said that he will cooperate with any law enforcement agency that will "confidentially investigate" sexual misconduct allegations against him and Kavanaugh. Judge has also denied misconduct allegations.
Lawyers for P.J. Smyth and Leland Ingham Keyser, two others who Ford said were in the house when she was attacked, have said their clients are willing to cooperate "fully" with the FBI's investigation.
A third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Kavanaugh and Judge of excessive drinking and inappropriate treatment of women in the early 1980s, among other accusations. Kavanaugh has called her accusations a "joke" and Judge has said he "categorically" denies the allegations.
Swetnick's attorney, Michael Avenatti, said Saturday afternoon that his client had not been contacted by the FBI but is willing to fully cooperate with investigators.
On Saturday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asked the Justice Department and the FBI to open a criminal investigation into "apparent false statements" that were made to committee investigators alleging sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in 1985.
A constituent contacted the office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse alleging that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted an acquaintance on a boat in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1985, but Grassley said the person later "'recanted' and apologized for the allegation via social media.
Separately on Saturday, Whitehouse, a Democrat, said he expects the FBI would provide adequate staffing for Kavanaugh's background investigation, with teams working in parallel to investigate separate allegations. Agents should get support from the Judiciary Committee for rapid immunity and subpoena decisions, he said.
Last week, Trump tweeted that "if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed" with local police.
After Ford appeared before the Judiciary Committee, Trump said her testimony was "very compelling" and that she appeared to be "certainly a very credible witness."
In the last week, Trump has spoken repeatedly with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has scolded Trump about comments that appeared to cast doubt on Ford's claim, according to two Republicans familiar with the discussions but not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
McConnell urged Trump to support Kavanaugh but to avoid attacking his accusers, warning that he was in charge of counting votes and those kinds of disparaging remarks could cause him to lose Republican senators whose votes could be key to confirming Kavanaugh, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, they said.
McConnell also strongly warned Trump against firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein following reports that Rosenstein had discussed possibly secretly recording the president and using the Constitution's 25th Amendment to remove him from office, telling him it could lead to "a bloodbath," according to the Republicans familiar with the conversations. The Kentucky senator feared it could not only heighten the tension around the delicate Kavanaugh proceedings but could endanger Republican control of the Senate.
SIOUX CITY -- An environmental plan developed in part by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calls for building and refurbishing hundreds of acres of Missouri River habitat in order to help the endangered pallid sturgeon and two bird species survive.
The corps' preferred alternative contained in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Missouri River Recovery Plan does not include artificial spring or fall rises in river levels, but it does include a possible one-time surge in reservoir releases to see if the sturgeon will use it as a spawning cue.
The document, consisting of hundreds of pages and released in late August, concludes more than five years of study. It aims to aid recovery of the pallid sturgeon, least tern and piping plover for the next 15 years and comply with the federal Endangered Species Act. Both the sturgeon and tern are listed as endangered, the plover as threatened.
Public comments will be accepted through Oct. 22. After reviewing those comments, the corps could issue a Record of Decision as early as November and begin implementation.
"It's been a monumental task. It feels pretty good to be at this point in the process so we can move ahead," said Mark Harberg, program manager for the Missouri River Recovery Program.
The plan does not replace the Master Water Control Manual, which guides the corps' operation of the system of dams and reservoirs to balance the needs of the Missouri River system's authorized purposes of flood control, hydropower, recreation, irrigation, navigation, water supply, environmental preservation and water quality control.
The final EIS, developed by the corps in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, comes after nearly two years of review and revisions of a draft plan issued in late 2016. In that draft, the corps favored the third of six alternatives. That opinion has remained the same after receiving more than 450 comments from the public and additional input from scientists and government agencies.
"The result of that was generally the same conclusion," Harberg said. "They helped us identify that as probably the best alternative."
The plan calls for:
-- Sturgeon spawning habitat construction: The corps would build spawning reefs of rock and gravel at sites from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota, to the Omaha area. The corps would monitor their effectiveness in encouraging sturgeon spawning before deciding whether to build more. The sturgeon continues to struggle to spawn and reproduce naturally in the river. Hundreds are reared in hatcheries and released each year into the river.
-- Early life stage habitat: At total of 12 habitat areas would be built below Kansas City, Missouri. The proposal includes modification of existing wing dikes or construction of new ones to intercept sturgeon larva, which drift after hatching and can be carried away by the swift river current, and steer them into slower, shallower water where young sturgeon can feed and survive before moving into the main channel. Some 750 acres of new habitat and modification of 1,500 acres of existing chutes and backwater areas are included in the plan.
-- Spawning cue test: Scientists would monitor sturgeon movements based on the natural rise and fall of the river from tributaries downstream of Sioux City. After eight years, they would decide whether to test a spring release to raise the river level and see if it causes the fish to spawn.
-- Sandbar construction: The corps would create an average of 332 acres of sandbars per year in three stretches of the river -- Gavins Point Dam to Ponca, Nebraska, and in two reaches farther upriver in the Dakotas. In many cases, sand from the river bottom near existing sandbars would be dredged to build up sandbars so they stay above water during the plover and tern nesting seasons. Both birds nest on the sandy structures.
Other alternatives included doing nothing and a variety of manipulations of river flow to naturally create sandbars and encourage spawning.
David Swanson, a University of South Dakota biology professor and director of USD's Missouri River Institute, said the preferred alternative doesn't preserve the river's biological diversity as much as one of the other alternatives. He favors the development of more habitat for the sturgeon, plovers and terns, but he understands that the corps must compromise environmental concerns with the river's other authorized purposes.
In that sense, the preferred option probably offers the best balance, Swanson said.
"I think it capitalizes on some of the things they're already doing," he said. "For myself, I think I'm probably OK with it. I don't think it's probably going to result in much change for numbers (of endangered species). I think it maintains the status quo."
The corps' preferred alternative is probably the best of the six, "but it's lacking in several ways," said Donald "Skip" Meisner, of Sioux City, a member of the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee, or MRRIC, which represents local, state, tribal and federal interests throughout the Missouri River basin.
Meisner said he and other committee members appreciate that the plan does not call for artificial flow increases in the spring or fall, allowing for more stable flows for recreation, navigation and downstream water intakes and better controlling bank and riverbed degradation.
Some committee members believe there are more efficient ways to build bird habitat rather than sandbars that will eventually wash away in the river channel. Meisner said he and others prefer off-channel habitat creation and establishment of habitat that's near the river rather than in it.
Finally, Meisner wondered how the corps will pay for what's included in the preferred alternative, or any of the alternatives, for that matter.
"The costs for all of them are way above what Congress is appropriating," Meisner said.
Actions included in the preferred alternative would cost an estimated $44 million-$45 million annually for 15 years. Costs could reach more than $1.8 billion over 50 years, but estimates that far into the future are not too reliable, said Aaron Quinn, a corps environmental research specialist.
"This cost estimate doesn't lock us in to spending that much," Quinn said.
Costs include habitat construction and refurbishment, land acquisition, channel widening, monitoring, evaluation, research, equipment and staff time.
All corps budgets will ultimately require approval from Congress. Nothing has been finalized, Quinn said, and more detailed budgets will be developed once the corps releases its Record of Decision.