Attack on Iowa Public Lands…

With the exception of a long missed opportunity to save the near entirety of native prairie that once covered our state, if there was ever a time to ramp up land conservation efforts in Iowa, it might be now. In an era of $7,000 per acre farm ground, skyrocketing grain prices and extensive urban sprawl, every nook and cranny across the state is being ogled for possible development. The tracts of natural habitat which provide sanctuary for wildlife, buffers that slow contaminants from reaching our streams, and abundant recreational opportunity have come under increased threat; and it is of exceeding importance that we protect them. Unfortunately, the agency charged with this task is currently being hog-tied by our own State Legislature.

A new bill (HF 2449) is about to come before the Iowa House of Representatives with provisions that would undermine many DNR conservation efforts. Not only would this bill, if passed, force the Department of Natural Resources to inventory (for likely sale) parcels of land under their management, it would also prevent the purchase of agricultural ground (basically, everything in Iowa) for future protection. This proposal is completely… what’s the word I’m looking for… moronic.

Staged as “An Act relating to government operations and efficiency…” HF 2449 (click here) is a narrow sighted plan which takes aim at many state run programs with the intent of cutting expenses today with little consideration of the consequence for tomorrow. In particular, the attack on the Department of Natural Resources found under Division 5, Sections 16-17 (pp 8-9), which presents an eminent threat to our public lands. As outlined, the first focus would require the DNR to take inventory on all real property under the agency’s current jurisdiction. The information gathered would have to be presented to the general assembly by June 2013, and must include location and size of each parcel, estimated fair market value, current use (including agriculture, hunting, and recreation) extent of that use over the last five years, if the ground is leased, how it was acquired and if there are any restrictions on sale.

It doesn’t take a politician to see what the State has in mind. They want to start selling off public lands. This is further, explicitly evidenced by the bills predecessor from a few weeks ago, which straight up called for the DNR to sell a minimum of $20 million in real property. Since the initial proposal came under scrutiny, the language has changed in this amended version yet seems to have the same long term ambition. While most state parks and forests would be ineligible for sale, other important parcels such as state wildlife refuges, recreation areas, and similar lands could be liquidated. As stated above these lands are critical to the habitation of wildlife and protection of watersheds, as well as places which allow Iowans access to the great outdoors. If this bill passes, these spots might soon be gone forever; because who could afford to buy them? Housing developers and corporate farms. (Would it be a stretch to suggest this bill has backing beyond those who seek to increase government efficiency?)

As if that wasn’t asinine enough, the second component pertaining to public lands would prevent the DNR from purchasing agricultural ground for future protection. According to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, under state law this includes “virtually all land in Iowa.” So in essence, even if they had the funding to do so, it would be made illegal for the DNR to purchase new ground. This would be tragic to hopes of restoring natural habitat in the state. In a time when family farms aren’t as frequently passed between generations (as the youth pursue different occupations) and opportunities arise to acquire new tracts, the DNR will be taken out of contention. The only hope for these acreages to be returned to a natural state (or kept that way; in reference to woodlands that were never plowed or disturbed) would be for the landowner to gift them to the DNR (and they better specify it’s not for resale!) a county entity to purchase (unlikely) or a nonprofit to do the same. Otherwise, the outcome will be that listed above.

As with nature, there is interconnectedness to this all. Many have long complained about Iowa’s great “brain drain”; the migration of youth to greener pastures once college is through. With limited recreational opportunities, these young, educated adults will have one less reason to stay. And of even greater importance, Iowa holds the unwelcome distinction of having some of the most polluted waterways in the nation. Agricultural run-off and soil erosion are not only choking our streams, but destroying the eco-system from here to the Gulf of Mexico. It is well known that wetlands and undeveloped swaths that separate farm fields from waterways can alleviate some of this problem. How do you suppose this will all work out when these areas fall into the discretion of those seeking to profit from every available inch of ground?

The list of examples could go on and on, relaying the importance of habitat diversity, wildlife, and the aesthetics of our state. What it all boils down to, however, is quite simply our quality of life. We must decide if we are willing to trade a temporary fix to budgetary concerns for the overall well being of our land, and the legacy we are leaving our children.

If you are like me, and feel that sacrificing our public lands and ecological balance for the State to turn a quick buck is completely unacceptable, please contact your State Representative and Senator in the coming days and let them know. Tell them that you oppose the provisions under HF 2449 which relate to the future of public lands, and remind them that these places have been set aside for us, the people of Iowa; and are not the governments to sell.

 

If you are uncertain of who your state representatives are, or how to contact them, you can find that information here- https://www.legis.iowa.gov/Legislators/find.aspx

For those of you in Cedar County-

State Senator: James Hahn     563-263-1208     james.hahn@legis.iowa.gov

State Representative: Jeff Kaufmann    jeff.kaufmann@legis.state.ia.us

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