Natural Heritage Foundation continues to be successful

More than 1,000 projects to its credit since 1979

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The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, established 35 years ago this month, has protected more than 146,000 acres in 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

In noting the foundation’s June 22 anniversary, Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said most Iowans probably don’t realize how successful it has been in conserving natural resources and making Iowa a better place to live.

Since 1979, the non-profit organization has worked on 1,046 projects, most of which have been transferred to county, state or federal conservation agencies for public ownership and use.

“Quite frankly, there have been many, many conservation projects over the last three-and-a-half decades that would never have gotten done without the vision and the leadership of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation,” Gipp said.

The foundation specializes in arranging perpetual conservation easements and in brokering purchases in which, typically, they would front the money while government entities and conservation groups raise the funds to complete the deal.

Foundation President Joe McGovern credits then Gov. Robert Ray with the vision and initiative to establish the organization. Ray recruited business and community leaders to become the founding board members, he said.

McGovern said more than 75 percent of the land conserved ends up in public ownership. The organization has helped arrange conservation easements to protect 17,000 acres of privately owned land, and the foundation itself owns about 6,000 acres of protected land, he said.

McGovern said the foundation is supported by membership dues, gifts, endowments, bequests and grants.

“We have a strong, loyal membership, with an 89 percent annual renewal rate,” he said.

While the founders made a conscious decision to eschew direct government funding in order to maintain independence, the foundation does compete for government grants, he said.

On occasion, the foundation also has borrowed money to help complete particularly expensive deals.

One of the most expensive and noteworthy projects was the 1,045-acre Heritage Addition to Effigy Mounds National Monument completed in 2000.

When that large tract of wooded bluffs and river bottom became available in the early 1980s, the foundation’s board recognized the importance of protecting it from development and fragmentation of habitat. INHF staff guided landowner negotiations, fundraising and other logistics for a project that took more than 20 years of patience, 1,400 donors, $1.5 million in funding and an act of Congress to complete.

“Their work has resulted in valuable lands being protected, improved water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and countless recreational opportunities,” Gipp said.

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