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Success Story

Harrison County Landowner Champions Wildlife Conservation and Veteran Support

Native flowers and grasses growing in Harrison County, IA

Disabled Vietnam War Veteran Mike Ziemba transformed 40 acres in Harrison County into a sanctuary for peace and personal recovery.

by Jolene Bopp, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Des Moines, Iowa

Mike Ziemba, landowner and army veteran in Harrison County, utilized Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in 2020 to plant native trees and prairie to provide ample wildlife habitat.

“Mother nature provides its own movie. Whether it is the trees falling or new growth, there is always something to look at.” – Mike Ziemba, Iowa Landowner

Disabled Vietnam War Veteran Mike Ziemba transformed 40 acres in Harrison County into a sanctuary for peace and personal recovery. The result is an environmental stewardship and community service connection that represents hope and healing for wildlife and people.

Ziemba began his journey while recovering from the aftereffects of serving in the Vietnam War. He knew he needed changes in his life to heal from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He sought a place where he could find peace and enjoy activities like fishing and hunting. 

Building a Plan

When he found his property, it was barren - used mostly for hay production. Ziemba began planting trees on his own to improve the timberline. This success led him to working with local USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff and other organizations to see what could be done to build a long-term conservation plan.

As Ziemba became more involved with conservation and restoring his property, he embarked on a wildlife habitat management project with NRCS. In 2020, he used NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding to implement herbaceous weed treatment and conservation cover on his land. The projects will benefit wildlife and address resource concerns such as soil erosion, soil health and water quality. 

Trees grow on land previously used for hay production in Iowa.

Herbaceous weed treatment involves removing or controlling invasive, noxious and undesirable plants to help enhance or restore plant communities for wildlife. Conservation cover is simply establishing permanent vegetative cover on land to treat a resource concern such as soil erosion, water quality degradation, or to enhance wildlife habitat.

Soon, Ziemba realized his new project was helping more than just wildlife. “I started realizing that conservation and watching things grow gave me peace and began to help my recovery,” said Ziemba. “Imagine the meditation it takes to plant 500 trees. I did it all. Everything that is planted is by me.”

Ziemba’s new plantings of trees, native flowers and grasses attract wildlife by providing food and shelter. He has also planted apple trees, persimmon trees, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and Chinese chestnuts that draw deer, turkey, monarchs, and birds typically found in Iowa’s prairies. 

He didn’t stop there. Ziemba enjoys experimenting and finding new ways to help build the natural landscape. Part of his process involves reaching out to conservation organizations and other experts to hear their thoughts and using the information to create a plan unique to his property. 

“Working with NRCS and other organizations has been really cool,” said Ziemba. “I know I can call them anytime and they will provide me with ideas and information about practices.” 

To open tree canopies, Ziemba uses hinge-cutting in certain areas to knock trees down lower to the forest floor without killing the tree while providing deer with food and cover. The increased sunlight encourages new growth. 

Growing a Community

Milkweed grows along private pond in Harrison County, Iowa.

As the trees and grasses grow so does Ziemba’s community. He now leverages his property as a place for others to connect and heal. He believes conservation is something to be shared with future generations and fellow veterans. Families visit to walk the trails and enjoy the flora and fauna. He also hosts an annual barbeque and fishing event for veterans. This event is more than a social gathering. For many of the veterans it is a time to share experiences, connect, and experience therapeutic benefits from nature. 

“I look at hosting others as selfish because it’s therapy for me,” said Ziemba. “Seeing other people smile and enjoying the hard work put into it is what motivates me to continue doing what I am doing.”

Through conservation, Ziemba overcame adversity and has made a lasting impact on his land and his community. His contributions to conservation and community are bound to create a legacy of hope and renewal for generations.

For more information about conservation planning and programs to build your sanctuary, visit your local NRCS office or go to


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