Kayla Lyon, a state agriculture and natural resources policy adviser, will become the first female leader of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday.
Lyon will replace Bruce Trautman, who had been acting director since May 1, 2018, when Chuck Gipp retired.
“As my legislative liaison and lead policy adviser on agriculture and natural resources, Kayla oversaw DNR operations including regulatory permitting, conservation efforts, and wildlife issues,” Reynolds said in a statement. “She also played an instrumental role in the 2018 comprehensive water quality funding bill. As DNR Director, Kayla will serve a key role in helping our state continue to grow.”
Lyon, who lives in Ames, will start July 8. Her appointment must be confirmed by the Iowa Senate when it convenes next year.
Her salary was not announced. In her current role, Lyon was paid about $70,000 in fiscal 2018, records show. In comparison, Trautman was paid over $148,000.
Before joining the governor’s staff in January 2017, Lyon spent her career in government affairs working on agriculture, renewable fuels, water quality and environmental policy while representing farmers and agribusiness, according to a news release.
She served as director of government affairs for the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, an Ames-based organization that represents industries including agriculture, credit unions, rural utilities, farm credit and petroleum. She was registered as a state lobbyist for the institute as recently as 2016.
In 2013, she went on a 10-day trip to China to explore Iowa’s agricultural trade relationship with China, the Ames Tribune reported.
The Iowa DNR, with nearly 1,400 employees and an operations budget of $134 million last year, is charged with protecting wildlife, enforcing environmental laws and providing outdoor recreation venues for Iowans, among other duties.
The agency hasn’t had a permanent director for 14 months, which has caused questions from environmental advocates about a lack of direction for water quality and conservation efforts. The agency also has been slow to fill other key posts, including heads of the Environmental Services Division and Water Quality Bureau.
Jennifer Terry, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council, said Wednesday she’s glad Reynolds filled the top job and pleased to see a woman get it. Pat Boddy, another woman, led the DNR as interim director from August to December 2010.
“Data show that better decisions are reached when diverse voices are at the table,” Terry wrote in an email.
“Ms. Lyon has the opportunity to improve the quality of life for Iowans, attract and maintain a workforce who can bike the trails and swim in the lakes, and have a positive impact for generations,” Terry said. “She has a unique combination of power and opportunity if she chooses to lead the agency in the appropriate direction.”
But Lyon will have a tough job, given reports about contamination in private wells, harmful algal blooms at public lakes and the “explosion of pollution” from large-scale animal feeding operations, Terry said.
She recommends Lyon push for more state funding and make sure Iowans’ health and recreation are balanced with agricultural interests.
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The Iowa DNR gets about half its operations revenue from the federal government and fees, and also is supported by state restricted funds. But the agency has seen state appropriations from the Legislature decline in recent years, with general fund support going from $15 million in fiscal 2014 to $13.9 million this year. In 2017, the Iowa DNR dissolved its Forestry Bureau and laid off eight employees to address a $1.2 million budget cut. However, the general fund money allocated to Iowa DNR operations will increase $366,000 next year.
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