Legislature must make conservation a priority
PHOTO BY PHIL ROEDER
The 2017 Iowa legislative session ended a week ago. It has been called a historic session, by some, for many reasons. The reason that stood out to us is the amount of engagement we saw from people like you: people that care about Iowa’s land, water and wildlife and want to make Iowa a better place for future generations. For that, I want to thank you.
Thank you to everybody that attended Environmental Lobby Day, REAP Day, Fund the Trust Day or made a special trip to talk with your legislators at the Capitol. Thank you to everybody that made a call or sent an email to let your representatives know that you support investment in conservation. Thank you to everybody that wrote a letter to the editor of their local newspaper about sustainable funding for water quality. And thank you to the legislators in both parties (or no party) that supported our natural resources by championing existing conservation programs and proposing bold, new ideas that can help us achieve our goals. There was more engagement from people that care about conservation this year than we’ve seen in a long time. We need to keep it up.
It was a difficult budget year across the board in Iowa given the lower than expected revenues. Even so, it was extremely disappointing that conservation and environmental programs received disproportionately large cuts. Pending the Governor’s signature, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture will be completely de-funded and dismantled. The Loess Hills Alliance was reduced to a meager $40,000 after almost being zeroed out. The Iowa Flood Center, which helps urban and rural residents deal with and plan for more frequent flood events, was reportedly going to be de-funded before having $1.2 million restored. The popular statewide REAP program, authorized at $20 million, was cut from a proposed $16 million to $12 million. Trails appropriations were cut by a third to just $1 million. And the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund remains empty, seven years after Iowans voted to create it.
Why are conservation and quality of life programs the first on the chopping block when there is a budget crisis? We fully understand that there are tough decisions to make, but using the budget situation to make disproportionate and unnecessary cuts to conservation programs is unacceptable. These programs not only support Iowa’s land, water and wildlife, they are a vital part of Iowa’s economic engine, and they help make Iowa a healthier place to live. Many of these programs help private landowners achieve conservation goals on their own land, which have significant public benefit. Iowa also needs to adequately support our public conservation partners, like county conservation boards and the DNR, that steward our public lakes, trails, parks and wildlife areas.
Near the end of session, the House and Senate were debating water quality bills and didn’t reach a compromise. The House bill addressed water quality on a collaborative, watershed-based approach, and it contained a more clear path to eventually funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. However, the debates about our natural resources should be about more than just water quality. The diverse coalition of agricultural, conservation, business and sportsmen groups that make up Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy identified almost $700 million in existing unmet conservation needs across our state. The only way we begin to address those needs, which include improving our water quality, is by funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.
There are many farmers and landowners working hard to improve soil health and water quality, creating wildlife habitat and doing their part to make Iowa better. INHF will continue to do our part for conservation, working in collaboration with private landowners and our public partners. We will continue advocating for the voiceless — the land, water, wildlife and future generations. Your passion and dedication to our mission gives us the energy and resources that make that possible. For that, we thank you.
Yours in conservation,
President, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation