A Bill has been introduced to the Iowa legislature which is a direct attack on public lands and conservation in Iowa. The Bill would change sections of the Iowa State Code that have stood for over fifty years.
HF Bill 542 was introduced to the Iowa legislature on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, by Representative David Sieck (R-Mills County).
In this bill, counties would be prohibited from expanding parks, wildlife habitat areas and trails by any amount. This is funding, which the cities and counties have relied, would be restricted and could not be used for expansion of open spaces and new recreational amenities, including public museums. The state would not be able to purchase land for state parks, wildlife areas or strategic water quality projects.
The Bill also makes it nearly impossible for people to donate land to a public entity, the proposed Bill states, “Donated land shall only be accepted if an accompanying monetary donation is made to cover the estimated cost of maintaining the land for ten years.” The bill would also repeal the charitable conservation contribution tax credit for those land owners who would like to donate their lands to a public entity.
Obviously, everyone will have their own opinions about this bill, many of us already have our own opinion about public lands.
Please consider the following:
• Conservation entities do not seek out land to purchase. People choose to come to us to sell or donate land. This bill would take away every landowners’ right to choose who their land will go to and virtually eliminate the possibility of permanent protection through donation.
• The land we get has conservation value and very low agricultural potential. Mitchell County public lands are almost exclusively near a river, bottomlands, wetland, or abandoned quarries. The average CSR on our public lands is 32 and the average price per acre is $2,370.
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• Some have called into question the cost of maintaining public lands. The answer is they pay for themselves. In Mitchell County, our public lands bring in more revenue than it costs to manage them. Conservative estimates using data from Iowa State University indicate $4.5 million are generated in Mitchell County from the use of public lands and the recreation they provide.
• As Iowa strives to attract and maintain people to live, work and raise families in our state, we need to provide quality of life features they demand. At the top of list along with good jobs is a clean, healthy environment and outdoor recreation opportunities.
• Rural communities rely on the jobs, consumer spending and public health benefits that outdoor recreation provides. Iowa is already 47th in the nation in the percentage of public land available to its residents. This bill puts us in a race for the bottom.
• Instead of strangling our ability to grow healthy, happy communities, we should be embracing the opportunities the outdoors presents. We should be investing more in conservation, not less.
On that note, for nearly a decade Iowan’s have overwhelmingly supported funding the Natural Resource and Outdoor Conservation Trust Fund through a sales tax increase. The polls have varied over the year but have indicated that 60-80 percent of Iowans are willing to be taxed to fund more conservation opportunities in our state. This funding would inject $150 to 180 million annually towards conservation and recreation. This money would go towards capital improvements, parks, trails, water quality and of course that all requires land acquisition. About 60 percent of those dollars would be available for water quality projects on private lands.
Hopefully at this point you are wondering why this bill was ever conceived. How a bill like this could ever gain traction. Or if laws could be changed to limit or eliminate public land acquisition and why?
The answer is simple - money controls politics and a few people who have a lot of money think there is more to be gained by stopping public land acquisition. They imagine their taxes will go down or they will be able to buy another field, 200 or more miles away rent it out and then get more tax breaks. The bottom line is this is another bill to help the few and not the many, certainly not the future of Iowa.
Legislators have responded to opposition calls saying, “This bill will not pass it is just be introduced to start a conversation.” Why would there be a conversation about ending land acquisition when the majority of Iowan’s are willing to be taxed for more? If you feel strongly about public lands, hunting, fishing, parks, recreation, trails, or the future of Iowa please let your legislators know its time to invest in conservation. It’s time to make Iowa better for all not just the few.