Tag Archives: public land

A historic victory for REAP: What happened, what comes next?

Council Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg, center, addresses the assembled crowd at Environmental Lobby Day, March 18.

Nearly 150 Iowans participated in a clean water and conservation statehouse day held on March 18 with $25 million for REAP ranked high on the list of priorities.

The last day of April brought exciting news to Iowa’s conservation community as a sequence of bills adopted by the general assembly appropriated a record $25 million to Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program.  In a flurry of activity leading up to adjournment of the 85th General Assembly, the final vote on REAP funding did not take place until after 3:00 a.m. on May 1.

This is the first time in 25 years REAP has been “fully funded” by the Iowa legislature, meaning approved funds meet or exceed the authorized level, currently $20 million.  In all, funding approved will come from three sources:

  • $16 million through HF2458, the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Natural Resources.  This money comes from Iowa’s Environment First Fund.  It is noteworthy that controversial proposals in this bill to violate the spirit of the REAP funding formula and divert funds from the open spaces account were removed from the final bill.
  • $4 million through SF2349, appropriations from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.
  • $5 million through SF2363, a bill making various one-time appropriations to a variety of programs, including REAP and several other conservation programs.

All three of these bills will require the Governor’s signature for $25 million in REAP funding to become law.  The Governor will have approximately 30 days to act on each bill, and appropriations bills are usually subject to strong review by the Governor’s office prior to being signed.

In addition to leadership shown by numerous conservation-minded legislators, Iowa’s REAP Program is supported by approximately 37,000 Iowans who have purchased natural resource license plates.  Last year and this year, hundreds of Iowans took part in a public participation process to make recommendations for the program’s future.

In March, the Iowa Environmental Council and Iowa REAP Alliance partnered with over 30 organizations to host a clean water and conservation rally at the statehouse.  An untold number of Iowans, through conservation organizations or acting independently, spoke out in favor of providing the program this historic funding level.

Thank you to all Iowans who spoke out to help make this progress.  We do know the work of protecting clean water and a healthy environment is not finished.  Together, we will continue to push for similar funding of REAP year after year.

Editor’s note:  Many environmental issues, including controversial provisions concerning confidentiality of water quality data in Iowa’s pollution reduction efforts, have seen action in the closing hours of the legislative session.  The Council will continue to summarize legislative action on a variety of issues in the coming days.

Update: ‘Government efficiency’ bill, still including public land restrictions, up for possible debate today


HF2449, the government efficiency bill that would ban the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from purchasing any “land suitable for use in agriculture”  as well as ordering DNR to complete a costly appraisal of state land it manages, is on the House debate calendar for today, meaning action on this bill is possible today.

We are closely monitoring activities in the House and will provide you updates.  You can learn more about this bill and contact your Representative to take action on this issue right now by clicking here.

Additionally, you may call your representative by dialing the House switchboard at (515) 281-3221.  If you speak to your Representative, we suggest telling him or her you oppose “portions of HF2449 intended to restrict public land ownership contained in division 5, sections 16 and 17.”  Further, we suggest telling your legislator that a proposed amendment, H8403, would remove these items from the bill.

Previously, the Iowa House considered selling some of your public land this year; you can read about that effort here.  And in addition, check out this post with some thoughts on land conservation from Republican President and American conservation icon Theodore Roosevelt.

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What is public land all about?

As the Iowa House considers provisions to limit state purchases of public land, we thought we would take a lesson from a monument at the north entrance to Yellowstone, America’s first national park, where an inscription reads:


A stone arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  A stone tablet on the arch reads "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

(Photo: Wikipedia/CC User: Yunner)

Those words were spoken by American conservation icon and Republican President Theodore Roosevelt when he dedicated the monument in 1903.

Roosevelt’s remarks that day are a good reminder of why we have public land in the first place–and it’s worth returning to his words again right now as the Iowa House continues its work.

Here’s the President talking about Yellowstone during his dedication speech (p. 13) at what is now called the Roosevelt Arch (emphasis added):

“…But already its beauties can be seen with great comfort in a short space of time and at an astonishingly small cost, and with the sense on the part of every visitor that it is in part his property; that it is the property of Uncle Sam and therefore of all of us. The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give, is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”

Iowa’s landscape is different from Yellowstone’s–we don’t have geysers or roaming grizzly bears.  And yet our landscape has its own particular beauty that’s of great value to those of us who live here.  Indeed, Iowa’s natural wonders–the state’s plants, animals, and open spaces–are worthy of protection, too.  Public land ownership is a way to carry our natural heritage forward, and it belongs in Iowa’s public policy.

Despite Iowa’s last-in-nation land rank, Iowa House mulls new limits on public ownership

As part of a very large government efficiency bill currently under consideration, the Iowa House of Representatives is considering legislation that would require the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to sell farmable land it owns and restrict future purchases of public lands.

These proposals got our attention because we know Iowa ranks nearly last in the nation in public land ownership (49/50).  In a state dominated by corn and soybean production, publicly owned land is essential to providing habitat and food for wildlife, among other ecosystem services.  So we wanted to look deeper and find out what’s going on with DNR ownership of land.

Why does Iowa purchase public lands?  In the words of the Iowa DNR (p. 4):

The state purchases specific types of land on behalf of the citizens of Iowa to manage and protect natural resources and to provide public recreational opportunities. Across Iowa, wetlands, forests, scenic areas, prairies, wildlife and fish habitat, access easements to trout streams, rare species habitat, and other resources are being protected and managed. Owners of Iowa land who want to secure the protection or use of the natural resources voluntarily donate land, participate in the easement program, or sell acres for that purpose. The DNR 1) only negotiates with willing landowners, 2) does not condemn land, and 3) has a policy of paying appraised value for easements and acquisitions.

What do we know about the land in question?  Here are the facts:

  • The Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages about 485,000 acres of land in Iowa—that’s about 1.4% of the land in the state.  DNR actually owns about 350,000 acres and manages the rest for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • DNR manages about 45,000 (p. 12) farmed acres.  That’s only about .17% of the more than 26.3 million acres of cropland in Iowa.
  • Most of the lands the House considered selling are in state Wildlife Management Areas, which are managed to provide food and habitat for Iowa wildlife, among other purposes.
  • This land was purchased with money from the federal government (which means restrictions exist on selling the land) or fees Iowans paid for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses for to be used for “promoting, managing, researching, and regulating hunting, fishing, and trapping in Iowa.”
  • Wildlife management—including on public lands—is important to Iowa economically (p. 3).  Hunting in the state provides $443 million in economic benefits each year, and wildlife watching provides $342 million in economic benefits each year.

What’s happening now with the House proposal right now?  Most recently, the Des Moines Register’s Perry Beeman reported the House Ways and Means Committee is backing away from requiring DNR to sell agricultural land this year, but a provision banning DNR from acquiring agricultural land in the future is still under consideration.

Correction:  An earlier version of this post used an incorrect number of acres of Iowa cropland.  The 2007 Census of Agriculture reported 26,316,332 acres of cropland in Iowa.