Landowners Making a Difference: Dennis Lally of Crawford County, Iowa

  • 04/12/2021

When you lead by example and put conservation to work, great things happen for soil and water quality, and upland wildlife habitat

By Tabitha Panas, Farm Bill Biologist II for Pheasants Forever

The first time I met Dennis Lally, he had invited me to his farm. It is a beautiful rural landscape including native grassland habitat located in Crawford County, Iowa. 

No sooner than shutting the truck door, I heard a rooster cackle. We sat on Dennis’ sunny porch that overlooks filter strips along a winding creek with surrounding timber, fields of grass and wildflowers, and a pond Lally had installed to slow water down and decrease sediment loads into Paradise Creek. 

On his farm, Lally grows corn, soybeans and wildlife habitat. He comes from generations of farmers and conservationists. Lally has been participating in soil conservation practices since the 1970s. When asked about what got him into conservation on his farm, Lally said he never gave it much thought: He is simply following in the footsteps of his father, who was also a promoter of conservation on the farm.

We discussed how Dennis could increase his wildflower species and help create better pollinator habitat. We discussed interseeding Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) filter strips with native forb (wildflower) species selected to benefit pollinators and the monarch butterfly. The practice would go above and beyond his conservation plan requirements. 

Later I learned about Lally’s goal to strive for better water quality in the area, pushing to create a Paradise Creek Watershed. While the watershed project has struggled to find funding in the past, Lally hopes that the effort can gain momentum in the future, and that landowners can see a plan to slow runoff and sediment in the watershed come together. 

Soil loss is an issue many producers face. Crawford County is a hilly place. Regardless of a watershed plan, Lally has acted on his own farm to reduce soil erosion and increase water quality. Implementing cover crops and terraces have been key to helping him succeed in this; so has the pond he constructed to slow water down and hold water back in high rain events.
Above: Dennis Lally is living proof that profitable grain production and widlife habitat can coexist and even complement each other.

Lally is not only passionate about conservation, but he also cares about bringing people together outdoors to enjoy Iowa’s habitat. In 2020, he was the first landowner in Crawford County to apply for the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP), with the goal of improving wildlife habitat and sharing his land for others to hunt and enjoy. 

Lally used IHAP funding for interseeding wildflowers into acres of land currently enrolled in CRP. Establishing more diversity in plant species will increase insect populations, the main food source for pheasant chicks. 

Lally says that the past couple years especially have been neat. “I get a kick out of hearing the roosters. I don’t hunt them myself, but they are here to be had,” he says. He also enjoys watching pheasants take cover in the windbreak around his home. He says that the birds walk single file out of the trees and into his bean field to gather some sustenance before flying back into the trees for the evening

When asked about his experience with Pheasants Forever and USDA, Lally says he is “enjoying the heck out of it.” Through his own hard work, and utilization of the technical assistance and programs available, Lally has seen many positive changes on the landscape around his own farm and in surrounding areas:  more habitat, more wildlife, more pheasants. 

Lally was nominated and selected to receive the Conservation Faces of Iowa Award for 2021, an award given to outstanding landowners for their contributions to pheasant, quail and other wildlife habitat in Iowa. 

He is mission driven, a conservationist, and a recipient of the Navy Medal for his service in the Vietnam War. A true Iowan, he fearlessly leads by example and trying new things. Dennis Lally makes a difference on the landscape and in the hearts of those lucky enough to meet him.