As many of you know, I wrote an essay last Friday concerning a bill, HF 2449, that could soon be voted on in the Iowa House of Representatives and has the potential to pose a tremendous threat to our public lands. (Click here to read: “Attack on Iowa Public Lands…”) Many of you joined in voicing outrage and opposition to such an Act, and on Saturday I published a follow-up piece with information on how to contact your State Representative and make your feelings known. (Read here: “Call to Action, Iowa…”) Included in this second entry was a copy of the email I’d sent to our local Cedar County representative, Jeff Kaufmann. On Sunday evening, I received the following response…
Thanks for the message. The original bill did not include the general definition of cropland but rather row cropped ground…another words ground being leased to farmers in order for them to grow cash crops. This is a very small portion of the land, but I do not believe that the DNR needs to be in the business of tenant farming.
Having said that, my hunch is that the amount may be so small that it may not be worth the restriction, hence the study.
I agree with your analysis on wildlife habitat, parks, water sheds and other important ecological areas…we should not sell that ground nor restrict its usage.
I certainly appreciate Mr. Kaufmann taking the time to offer this response. However, in researching this further I am unable to find an occasion in the DNR section of this or either of the bills predecessors when the terms cropland or row cropped ground have been used. The terminology used in those earlier versions was real property and farmable, and in HF 2449, Agricultural Land. These labels encompass a wide variety of activities and provide no indication that this is specifically directed to land under the management of the DNR and currently being leased for crop production. And in regards to the restriction Mr. Kaufmann mentions, the study is focused on land already under DNR management, while the restriction is to prevent the agency from purchasing additional agricultural land. These are two separate components and neither dependent on the other as they would be signed into law at the same time. I will ask for further clarification on this in a return email. I do commend Mr. Kaufmann for his agreement on the importance of ecological areas, but feel this bill fails to address any such concern.
With that said, I’m generally not the “government is out to get us” type or one to run around wearing a tin foil hat. (They tend to chafe, and mess my immaculately unkempt hair.) For the sake of objectivity, I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying the Department of Natural Resources division of HF 2449 and the corresponding material in those preceding versions (HF 2434 and HSB 645) trying to discern the motivation behind it all. Is this really an innocent effort to dispose of cropland currently under the DNR’s care, or some nefarious plot to rob the citizens of Iowa of our communal grounds and allow further degradation of our natural resources? Here are some things that I have found worthy of attention.
-First, I want to point out that the current bill (and again, this is a large bill, but my statements are entirely in reference to that pertaining to public lands and the DNR) is very different than those two which came before. The earlier versions explicitly called for the sale of $20 million of farmable public land. HF 2449 instead calls for an extensive inventory of DNR lands. The focus of this study is based on fair market value and current use. The motivations are obviously related, and it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that the inventory called for under the current bill will be used in presenting a case for later land sales.
– The version filed in March, HF 2434 did say that land in state parks or forests, and that which is not farmable would not be sold. However, this still leaves Wildlife Management, Recreation, and other Areas that do not fall under official park or forest classification vulnerable. Again, I only reference this earlier version in trying to pinpoint what the legislators (and lobbyists) have in mind. There is no reference to land sale, or specification on areas that would remain protected, in the current proposal.
-Section 17 is a unique addition to the current bill, which says the DNR “shall not purchase real property that is agricultural land as defined in section 9H.1.” This, as I mentioned in my entry from last Friday, is of concern because it prevents the Department from purchasing new lands that may provide important habitat or watershed protection, and leaves them open to continued agricultural and developmental pressures.
It is important to note that the definition of Agricultural Land specified under 9H.1 does, in theory, offer some option for the DNR to purchase areas such as wetlands and forests. Agricultural land (under 9H.1) means land suitable for farming, and farming is defined as the production of agricultural, fruit and horticultural crops; or used for poultry, dairy or grazing. I was initially alarmed by the presumption that timber harvest might fall under the categorization of agriculture, but 9H.1 does clarify that by state definition, agricultural land does not include that used for timber or forestry products. However, this provision would prevent the DNR from purchasing grasslands that provide wildlife habitat and critical buffers between cropland and waterways.
-The real property inventory called for under HF 2449 would include information on location and size of land parcels, 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 is troubling that there is no apparent concern for ecological benefits of the land, such as providing habitat or watershed protection, or even social considerations such as historical significance or future recreational potential.
As far as those questions, and the quest to determine if this is an innocent plan or dubious ploy, it seems the answer most likely falls somewhere in between. But I think we can agree that if this somehow became law, the lack of specificity or consideration of ecological significance would present some scary possibilities.
Fortunately, there is some potentially very good news coming out of Des Moines this week. Yesterday H8403 was filed, which moves to amend HF 2449 by striking pg 8 line 19 through pg 9 line 15 from the bill. In short, this would entirely eliminate the section pertaining to the DNR and public lands. This amendment hasn’t been brought before the House as of the time I am writing, but we can certainly hope it soon gets approved. (Thanks to fellow Iowa-based blogger WunWythe for bringing this to my attention.)
I’ll be watching to see what comes of this, and you can too by following the bills progress here on the Iowa Legislature’s page. In the meantime, thank you to all who have taken action and shown you care enough to fight for Iowa’s natural preservation. We’re not out of the woods yet with this, so please remain vigilant and keep in your legislator’s ear to let them know you oppose this and all future threats to our public lands.