Sheldon City Council Angie

Angie Juarez of Sheldon, 14, holds one of her chickens. The Sheldon teen hopes she is able to keep her chickens as the city council weighs the future of backyard fowl.

It’s a new year, which means another 365 days of N’West Iowa news to cover. Who’s excited?

Half the fun (and let’s face it, frenzy) of covering the news is the variety – one day in October I went from writing about jail renovations to bees to fertilizer. However, I’m also a big fan of covering issues that stick around for a while and require some continuing coverage.

Here in the N’West Iowa REVIEW newsroom, we’re following a number of ongoing stories. These are my top three that I’ll be watching develop in the new year.

The Sheldon chicken saga:

The Sheldon City Council accidentally embroiled itself in a pretty fowl situation last year when it granted special permission for a young Sheldon resident to keep poultry in his family’s’ backyard.

The council heard three such requests in 2020 and council members are now eager to hand off the chicken business to the Sheldon Board of Adjustment.

The situation has lead to many bad puns and much debate about whether Sheldon needs more unified guidelines around livestock in town. Ideas for a new livestock ordinance were presented to Sheldon’s planning and zoning commission in October and were rejected 6-2 with members of the commission saying they didn’t want chickens in town.

The scramble for a permanent solution is ongoing as city manager Sam Kooiker and city attorney Micah Schreurs work on new livestock ordinances to present to the planning and zoning commission.

Former managing editor Ty Rushing has been covering this story, and though he’s left the newsroom to pursue a job in corporate communication, rest assured we’ll continue following this saga as it unfolds.

I am especially invested in the fate of Sheldon’s chickens because one of the young chicken owners, 14-year-old Angie Juarez, is my next-door neighbor. Watching her chickens out my kitchen window makes washing dishes more enjoyable.

Horses in O’Brien County:

If you haven’t heard of this one, saddle up for another wild ride.

The O'Brien County Conservation Board is considering allowing equestrian use on county-managed properties but has stalled for months on making a decision.

The issue was first raised in September by Sutherland resident Denise Steffen. Since then, dozens of riders and horse enthusiasts have attended conservation board meetings to add their support to the idea, even proposing possible routes for a bridle trail.

However, local hunters and members of the O’Brien County Sportsmen’s Club strongly appose this change. Club president John Farrell has argued horses could erode trails and disturb wildlife, adding that over 30 years of club fundraising has helped purchase some of the land in question.

Local riders have pointed out that in other counties riders and hunters are able to safely share the land without disrupting each other. The back-and-forth has led to some tense meetings.

The O’Brien County Conservation Board has stated it will not make a formal decision one way or the other one approving equestrian use in the county until spring.

O’Brien County equestrians have been pushing the conservation board to pick up the pace, but a recent snag over suitable use on county-managed property purchased with state grants is holding things up.

I hope to have an update from the board or the DNR in the next few weeks.

That darned coronavirus:

Fellow staff writer Randy Paulson has provided tireless and continual coverage of COVID-19 in N’West Iowa from the get-go. He's written Stories on rising case counts. Vaccine rollouts. The financial and social impacts of restrictions and public health mandates.

Covering the pandemic is a team effort over here, but Randy has been leading the way since day one. He published our first story mentioning COVID-19 on Feb 15, if you were wondering. I know he’ll have many more as the situation continues to develop and unfold.

Although the first vaccines were given to N'West Iowa healthcare professionals on Dec. 23, there's no timeline on when it could reach the rest of us or how long it will be before we can hang up our masks for good. We're asking all these questions and more to try and share as much information as we can about what is known - and heck, what is unknown - about what comes next.