Explore More: Working Landscapes

Explore More: Working Landscapes

As our population grows, so do the demands we put on our natural areas. From houses to farms, landfills to hiking trails, working landscapes are a way of sustaining the land by balancing the social, economic, and ecological needs. Can we protect our natural areas and still use them?

Explore More: Working Landscapes (Full Program)

Balancing Social, Economic and Ecological Needs of Natural Environments: A Working Landscape

A working landscape is an approach to managing land and natural environments that balances social, economic and ecological needs of the area. Business and social activities are done in a way that minimizes the disturbance of native plants and animals. A working landscape is an area where humans work as responsible members of a natural ecosystem. Ideally, all of the people within a working landscape are balancing their own needs with the needs of the environment. Striking that delicate balance is defined as mutual sustainability-everyone's needs are met in a way that will maintain the landscape into the future.

Pre-viewing Questions
  • What do you think of when you hear the words environmental sustainability? Can you think of examples in your everyday life?
  • What are ways you use natural areas?
Post-viewing Questions
  • What are the three main elements that must be in balance in a working landscape?
  • What social, economic or ecological needs do you see emphasized in the land where you live? Is there a balance?


The Formation and Sustainability of Iowa’s Loess Hills

A working landscape is an approach to managing land that balances social, economic and ecological needs of the area. The issues facing working landscapes are especially evident in the fragile Loess Hills of western Iowa. Loess (pronounced "luss") is a German word meaning "loose" and it is the name of a type of soil. Loess is a deposit of fine, yellowish-gray, clay-like sediment which can be found from north central Europe to eastern China and in the American Midwest.

Pre-viewing Questions
  • What do you already know about the Loess Hills of western Iowa? What would you like to know?
Post-viewing Questions
  • How were the Loess Hills formed?
  • How was the land in your area formed? Are there any unique environmental features in your area?
  • Erosion, urban sprawl and other threats endanger the Loess Hills. What threats are present in your area?


Working Landscapes - Economic Development

An ecosystem is a community of organisms and their physical environment, and they work together as a unit. Some ecosystems are fragile. And when humans interact with ecosystems, bad results can happen, especially in fragile places.

Pre-viewing Questions
  • What is economic development?
  • How would you define sustainable economic development?
  • How could these two ideas differ from each other?
  • Listen for the definition of sustainable development used by the experts. Ask yourself: Is this true for my area?
Post-viewing Questions
  • How do the environment and business support each other?
  • What examples can you find in your area in which land and business support each other?
  • What are the critical needs required to support and sustain the landscape in your area?
  • What economic needs prevent sustainable development?


Working Landscapes - Tourism in Natural Areas

Tourism is part of our culture and is often our chief connection to our natural surroundings and can affect a landscape's economic potential, ecological makeup, and social needs.

Pre-viewing Questions
  • Should all publicly owned land allow tourism? Why?
  • How can tourism both harm and help an area?
Post-viewing Questions
  • Who should decide if tourism should be allowed on public land? How should these decisions be made?
  • Can a working landscape still be a tourist destination? How?


Responsibilities of Land Ownership of Natural Areas

Land management is how we treat the land and how we maintain it for future use. Which landowners do a better job treating the land and keeping it healthy, public owners or private owners? It's not an easy question to answer because there are so many different ways to manage land. Land management can become a complex issue because some landscapes are very fragile.

Pre-viewing Questions
  • Do you have the right to do anything you want with the land that you own? Why? Why not?
  • What’s the difference between a right and a responsibility?
Post-viewing Questions
  • Review the “bundle of sticks” described in the video. What rights would you add to the bundle?
  • Who should make decisions about what rights you should have to use the land that you own?


Urban Sprawl: Balancing the Need for Social, Economic and Ecological Uses of Natural Areas

Many people who live in a city have the dream of moving to the country. They might desire peace and quiet, or decreased traffic, pollution, and perceived crime. For these reasons and more, people are moving out of city centers and into the outlying areas.

Pre-viewing Questions
  • What comes to mind when you hear urban sprawl?
  • Is your reaction to urban sprawl positive or negative? Why?
Post-viewing Questions
  • What social, economic, and ecological needs should be considered when building a home or business in a working landscape?
  • Explain the differences between conservation subdivision and urban sprawl. How does each affect a working landscape?
  • Which is present in your area: conservation subdivision or urban sprawl? What have the effects been on your working landscape?


Public vs Private Ownership of Natural Areas

A working landscape is an approach to managing land that balances social, economic and ecological needs of the area. Most of our nation’s precious landscapes are privately owned. Should fragile ocean fronts, river fronts and mountainsides be held in public ownership instead? Some are against any public or governmental Intervention, while others think it’s necessary for the future sustainability.

Pre-viewing Questions
  • What general arguments have you heard for and against government intervention? Do these arguments differ with different topics and issues?
  • Who do you think does a better job protecting nature—private landowners or government agencies? Why do you think this?
Post-viewing Questions
  • Why might a private landowner be a better caretaker of a fragile environment?
  • How might a government expert be better equipped to protect natural habitats?
  • Should the public have access to private land if the land is ecologically unique?
  • What are the responsibilities the public has to the private landowner? to the land?


Produced from 2001 through 2004, Iowa PBS's Explore More online and broadcast series engages students in problems they can relate to, provides compelling content for investigation and gives students opportunities to form their own points of view on contemporary issues.

Although the full website has been retired, this archive provides links to project videos and related resources. Please contact us if you have questions or comments about Explore More.