Tallgrass Prairie Center


Tree Peeps

Adapted from Keepers of the Earth

* Educators please refer to New to Nature for information on becoming comfortable teaching through the outdoors

Overall Activity

Read and discuss as a class the story of a young person who kick-started a conservation movement in 1970. Research local needs for outdoors/nature management and potentially become involved in a specific project if time or extension allows. Establish an ongoing class or school wide conservation group to connect to conservation projects.

Grade Range and Relevant Iowa Standards: 7th-12th

  • (7th) MS-LS2-2. Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
  • MS-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
  • (8th) MS-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • MS-ESS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
  • (High School) HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.
  • HS-LS2-5. Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
  • HS-LS4-6. Create or revise a simulation to test a solution to mitigate adverse impacts of human activity on biodiversity.
  • HS-ESS2-6. Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.
  • HS-ESS3-3. Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity.
  • HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.


  • Understand the effects and impacts on the plants and animals within an ecosystem by human interaction
  • Understand and apply that proper stewardship towards our environment means being active and taking a responsible role
  • Construct arguments, models, or research that connect problems to solutions of the management of natural environments


  • Copy of ‘Tree Peeps’ story below
  • Other resources you wish to use in your class to connect your students to the local area and get involved with research, conservation minded projects, or volunteer opportunities; some ideas listed below in Extensions and Prairie Connections


  1. Have students take turns reading the ‘Tree Peeps’ story and lead a discussion about what trees and plants give to us and why it’s important to take care of them and our environment. 
  2. If your class is familiar and comfortable with learning outdoors or about outdoor habitats, one could skip to step 3. If not, it may be helpful to consider the following after reading Tree People:
    1. Create a walkaround fill-in-the-blank about the TreePeople organization with knowledge/facts from their website, carbon sequestration topics, climate change, human impact on ecosystems, or a combination of all of these (could you do it outside scavenger hunt style?)
    2. Generally take your class outside for a walk around the school and ask them to take notes of what they see, things that could be improved, things that don’t need improvement, list the natural areas, is there a project potential on the school grounds, etc.
    3. Consider looking through the lesson A Special Place designed for younger children that could be adapted using field guides, exploring local flora, and collecting and labeling specimens in groups
    4. Take a field trip to a local habitat or prairie! (Irvine Prairie)
  3. Ask students to think about suggestions on how they can become involved in local habitat management. Do they have friends, family, or relatives that work in related fields? 
    1. Are there eroded banks, railroad beds, vacant lots, or roadsides that could use prairie restoration? 
    2. Reforestation or national forest where students can obtain permission to help plant trees?
    3. Portions of UNI’s campus that could use additional plantings and maintenance/care
    4. Start ‘small!’ Perhaps a school garden or creating composting stations to get your student’s feet wet
    5. As the educator, conduct a little research yourself and find some local projects they could participate in. If you can find examples of past projects, but none active, consider creating a mock conservation project task to plan and research from beginning to end
    6. Contact local soil and water conservation services or forestry services for seedlings so your class can schedule plantings in local areas
    7. Create a conservation minded school or class group for students to establish leadership and citizenship in the community. Allow them to conduct meetings, research, and volunteer


  • Refer to Iowa’s Nature Series for resources on forests, plants, & prairies
  • Study or research with your students habitat management in other areas of the world to learn how it can be specific to the region such as deforestation in the Amazonian rainforest, the spreading of invasive species in a region, desertification (spreading of the desert) in African countries. Find a topic that will appeal to you and your community of students
  • Create a terrarium or some other mini-habitat that can be cared for and cultivated throughout your time with the students
  • The Tallgrass Prairie Center can provide some level of guidance in the development of seeds, germination, & cold storage for plantings
  • Encourage your students to keep records and care for the life of their yards over time. From the plants and grasses to the animals and everything in between
  • Try to connect to other local areas and organizations dedicated to conservation or nature education such as Hartman Reserve, Black Hawk County Conservation, or Iowa DNR. Connections and volunteer opportunities could also be made through Green Iowa AmeriCorps members, University of Northern Iowa students/faculty, or the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley.

Prairie Connections (some information sourced from Iowa’s Nature Series):

  • Glaciers, mountains, herbivores, and climate have all contributed to Iowa’s native grassland border-to-border ecosystem that is now present-day prairie. 
  • Historically, prairie once covered about 80% of Iowa’s landscape, the largest in the nation. Today less than 0.1% of that prairie remains with some known as remnant prairie (true native prairie) that has not been reconstructed or restored and is extremely rare. High quality remnant prairie can contain over 300 species of prairie plants and minimum around 100 ~ by contrast a reconstructed prairie can have 20-100 (Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation).
  • Prairie ecosystems can prevail on certain land for a very long time, however, woody vegetation almost always threatens prairie grasses and wildflowers through natural succession. In the absence of historical disturbances such as grazing animals and fires, woody plants can colonize and shade out prairie plants without proper management.
  • The four main ways prairies are managed today are through prescribed fire, mechanical control (mowing/hand tools), biological control, and/or chemical control.

Tree Peeps Story

In the summer of 1970, 15-year old Andrew Lipkis was at a camp in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angeles, California. A naturalist told the campers that smog was killing the trees and that the forest would one day soon be gone. Air pollution decreased the level of green chlorophyll in leaves. Chlorophyll is the substance that enables plants to form food from sunlight. The reduced chlorophyll decreases plants’ ability to produce food and cause them to become weakened and prone to disease and insect attack. Soon Andy had organized fellow campers, who planted a camp parking lot and baseball field with Coulter pines, incense cedar, grass and shrubs, thus converting it to a meadow.

    Andy never lost his enthusiasm for what could be done with a little money and cooperation from many kinds of people. In 1973, he saved 8,000 seedlings from being plowed under by the California State Division of Forestry, and he organized area campers, scouts, and other volunteers to pot and plant these trees. To accomplish this, money had to be raised and topsoil donated; a dairy contributed 8,000 milk cartons in which to pot the trees, and volunteers rallied to pot and plant the 8,000 seedlings. The California Conservation Project, now called TreePeople, was born.

    Trees help the city by filtering particular pollution (such as soot and dust) from the air by shading buildings to save energy, preventing erosion, beautifying the neighborhoods and countryside, decreasing noise, raising property values, and creating green areas for recreation. 

Then it was learned that the City of Los Angeles wanted to plant one million trees which, when mature, would filter out 200 tons (181.4 metric tons) of particulate pollutants from the air each day. But it would cost the city $200 million and would take twenty years to accomplish. TreePeople organized volunteers and got support from the mayor, celebrities, and an advertising firm. On July 24, 1984, TreePeople met its goal. Three years after the city released its findings on trees and air pollution, and four days before the 1984 Summer Olympics opened in Los Angeles, the one millionth tree was planted.

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