Pottawattamie Conservation is excited to welcome a new team-member to our ranks. Aric Ping joined us as Natural Resources Technician this spring & we are so happy to have him on board. Get to know Aric & make sure you say hi if you see him when you visit your county parks.
What is your personal & educational background?
I was born and raised in the once and future floodplain of the Missouri River valley south of Sioux City where I spent a lot of time playing and exploring outdoors. My formal education includes a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and graduate coursework in Grassland Management through South Dakota State University.
Where did you work prior to joining the staff at Pottawattamie Conservation?
I got my foot in the conservation door as an intern at UNO’s Glacier Creek Preserve. From there I worked seasonally with The Nature Conservancy at their Platte River Prairies and at Custer State Park in the Black Hills. After my seasonal work I spent some time with Douglas County, Colorado in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and for nearly the last five years I served as the Vegetation Specialist for the Dickinson County Conservation Board in the lakes area of northwest Iowa.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new position with Pottawattamie Conservation?
The thing that I am looking forward to the most in my new position is the opportunity to manage and preserve the globally significant ecosystems present here in the Loess Hills.
Tell me about a project of accomplishment that you consider significant in your career.
A really significant moment for me came at the culmination of several projects, and it was delivered in the song of a meadowlark. I had spent three and half years managing and restoring a severely degraded property that would’ve been prairie and oak savanna were it healthy. The property had become overgrown with woody encroachment and invasive species. Only the hardiest prairie and savanna plants remained, clinging to the fringes where they could still get some sun. None of the animal species that depend upon the unique characteristics of prairie and savanna could live there anymore.
So, I made a plan to coax them back. Piece by piece, my team and I removed the invasive species, cut back the dense brush, reintroduced extirpated plant species, and brought fire back to the system. And then, lost in thought on a sunny spring morning hike, I heard the call of a meadowlark. Not an uncommon song in the region, especially at that time of year, but it struck a chord with me as I realized that it was the first time I’d ever heard a grassland bird of any kind sing on that property. I’ll never forget that moment and how it felt to know that all that hard work was making a positive impact.
What or who inspired you to pursue this field as a career?
I really didn’t know that I wanted to do this sort of work as a career until I was in college. But looking back there were quite a few things pushing me in this direction. Experiences that really stick out in my memory are family road trips to the awe-inspiring landscapes of the West and all the childhood hours spent outside playing and exploring the wilder parts of my family’s property.
Later on, the writings of Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, and other nature rabble-rousers played a large role in focusing my meandering curiosities onto the channelized occupational current I am on today.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced in pursuing your chosen career?
Cedars. Just cedars.
What is your favorite Iowa native species & why?
Porcupine grass, Stipa spartea, is definitely one of my favorites. The way their self-planting seed and awn work to corkscrew themselves into the ground is one of the coolest adaptations around.
What indoor & outdoor activities do you enjoy in your off time?
In my time off I enjoy hiking, reading, and spending time with my wife Katie and our son Wyatt.
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