A state that values trees shouldn't ax its forestry program

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Is this the beginning of the end for Iowa’s forestry programs?

The recent decision for the Department of Natural Resources to dissolve its Forestry Bureau raises alarms. I’m concerned it is the beginning of the end of the Iowa forestry program, and as a citizen of Iowa, this doesn’t sound like the state I know my fellow Iowans love and value.

In an effort to address a $1.2 million department budget cut, the DNR eliminated multiple positions and divided the bureau among other departments. The loss of the positions is disheartening, but the decision also will devastate the future of the forestry programs.

Think about what it really means to dissolve a bureau: to break it into pieces and take away its name.

As a citizen, how do you track funding for an agency that doesn’t exist? How does such an agency stay transparent so the public can verify the organization is truly following Iowa’s values?

How easy would it be to slowly eliminate every service the bureau once provided and not hear a word from the public because the public can’t track what’s going on?

Positions that once existed under the Forestry Bureau will be under the supervision of departments with different priorities. When those departments are called on to cut their budgets, what positions do you think will be eliminated?

I’m betting it will not be the positions that directly align with that department’s core mission and values, but instead the positions that were arbitrarily tacked on to the department.

According to the National Association for State Foresters, Iowa will be the first state without a forestry bureau. In this move to dismantle the forestry bureau, a strong signal has been sent that trees and forestry are not a priority to the Iowa DNR. That will affect how the state is perceived when it applies for federal grants. Why would the federal government want to fund programs that aren’t being managed?

There will no longer be a line item labeled Iowa Forestry, but instead the budget will be broken up among other departments. Funds can be slowly siphoned off until no money is put toward Iowa’s forests and trees.

The Forestry Bureau helps small communities replant and recover after diseases and pests (such as emerald ash borer) kill the trees. The Forestry Bureau teaches woodland owners how to restore private land and combat invasive species.

These services directly affect many small communities and landowners, but they indirectly affect us all because healthy trees help create a healthy community.

Trees clean our air, water and soil. Trees shade our homes, reduce stormwater runoff during flooding and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

If you like to hunt, if you like to spend time in natural areas, if you like to eat food (tree nuts, fruit that grows on trees, foods that are pollinated by pollinators that feed off or are sheltered by trees), breathe fresh air and drink clean water, you should care about this.

Lawmakers point to the November election and call it a mandate to cut the budget. Well, there was another important mandate in Linn County they seem to ignore. With a sweeping majority, Linn County voters passed a bond to fund conservation efforts.

It was a sign that Linn County residents care about and value natural assets, such as trees, forests and native prairie. I urge you to contact your legislator to tell them just how much you value Iowa’s forests, trees and woodlands before it’s too late and it really is the end of the Iowa Forestry Bureau and all the services it provides.

• Jackie Wedeking is communications and marketing manager for Trees Forever, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Marion. Comments: jwedeking@treesforever.org

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