Bill To Restrict Spending On Public Land Purchases Draws A Crowd In Opposition

Mar 4, 2019

A bill that would have cut the use of state dollars to help acquire public lands ran into a roomful of opposition at the Statehouse Monday.  People representing various conservation groups, as well as private citizens, spoke out against the bill, which was filed last week by Rep. David Sieck, R-Glenwood.

The bill would prohibit the use of state money to help acquire lands for public use.  County conservation boards could only accept donations of such land if it included funding to maintain the property for 10 years.  The bill would also eliminate the tax credits owners receive when they sell land for conservation purposes. 

At a House natural resources subcommittee hearing at the Statehouse, the only voice in favor of the bill was from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.  State Policy Advisor Kevin Kuhle said the proposal would help ensure that state money is used to “maintain and enhance” existing public land, and that it could make it easier for beginning farmers to buy land.  Kuhle said they’re occasionally outbid by organizations buying land for conservation or recreation purposes.  Representatives of several conservation groups said their land purchases are nearly always the result of a land owner approaching the organization to sell land for those purposes, rather than the result of bidding against someone else.

Opponents of the bill said it would make it much more difficult to set land aside for conservation and recreation purposes. 

“Access to public space and recreation is important to me and my generation,” said Alicia Vasto, speaking on behalf of the Iowa Environmental Council. “It’s a quality of life issue that cannot be understated, and is an ongoing part of the conversation around workforce recruitment and brain drain.”

Vasto said she grew up in Adel, and returned to Iowa two years ago after attending college in another state.  She said the bill is “tone deaf to the desires of Iowans.”

The bill’s opponents also said that people looking to move to a state are attracted by things like a clean environment and recreational opportunities as well as good health care and roads. Mark Beltrame, representing Ducks Unlimited, said this bill doesn’t help the state meet those needs.

“This legislation doesn’t create another job,” he said.  “It doesn’t make it easier to bring people to the state.  It doesn’t make it easier to retain people that are already here.”

Republican Rep. Rob Bacon of Slater headed the subcommittee.  At the conclusion of the hearing, he called it a “personal issue” for all three representatives on the panel.   

“I have grandkids,” he said.  “They’re going to want to fish and hunt.  We need to make sure they’re going to have access to these great lands that we have here.”

The subcommittee took no action on the bill.  Because it would need to move out of a full committee by Friday’s “funnel” deadline, the bill is effectively killed for now, though it could be resurrected later in the session.

On the Senate side, a subcommittee took up a similar but leaner bill.  It would essentially eliminate the tax credit for people who sell land for conservation purposes.  That bill passed a subcommittee on Monday, and remains eligible for consideration.