2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Should the state be limited in buying public land? A pair of bills would curtail that option

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A pair of bills that would limit resources for acquiring public land may be the most successful proposals taken up by the Iowa Legislature this year.

“Objective No. 1 was to start a conversation,” Senate Natural Resources Chairman Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said Monday.

Boy, did it. The conversation was pretty one-sided in opposition as landowners, hunters, conservation boards and others flooded subcommittee meetings in the House and Senate. In both cases, hundreds of people showed up with nearly as many people outside crowded meeting rooms as in the hearings.

Although he opposed the bill from the start, the “rapidly rising tide of opposition” surprised Rep. Scott Ourth, D-Ackworth.

“I expected the typical conservation folks,” he said. “I never expected it to be met with a tsunami of opposition” that included Farm Bureau members, small farmers, large farmers, people representing city and rural interests.

“It was universal.”

“They spoke very loud to leave things alone,” Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bacon, R-Slater, said. “I’m still getting emails on it.

“I heard from more constituents, more Iowans than on any other piece of legislation.”

If the bill accomplished nothing else, it united groups that sometimes disagree on conservation policy, said Marc Beltrame, who represented Ducks Unlimited.

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“I appreciate what the Farm Bureau has done to galvanize support” for public lands, he said.

The bills — similar, but not identical — would sharply impede the acquisition by the state, county conservation boards and cities of land for public purposes, according to their supporters and opponents.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation called House File 542 necessary to prevent state and local governments and private entities, such as the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and sportsmen’s’ groups, from buying land sought by farmers.

It would not prevent the acquisition of public land, but “ensures a level playing field,” especially for young and beginning farmers, who have been outbid by government entities and groups that acquire land to turn over to the Department of Natural Resources or county conservation boards, Kevin Kuhle of the Farm Bureau told a House Natural Resources subcommittee.

Dennis Goemaat of the Linn County Conservation Board saw both bills as overreach because they would limit a private landowner’s options. In most cases, private landowners approach the board because they want their land to be used for conservation purposes.

Jim Beeghly of Decorah told lawmakers he doesn’t want his options for putting his Fayette County farm into the hands of conservations groups limited.

“I don’t give a damn what the Farm Bureau wants to do with my farm,” he said.

House subcommittee members did not advance the bill, but didn’t slam the door on the concept of limiting how public lands are acquired.

Senate Study Bill 1221 might be a better approach, Bacon said. It was advanced by a Senate subcommittee and, if it comes over from the Senate, he would consider it.

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It might not. Natural Resources Chairman Rozenboom expects to decide whether to seek committee approval or let it the conversation continue before the Senate Natural Resources Committee meets Tuesday.

“The essence of my angst” is the use of a state revolving loan fund to finance land purchases — to the use state dollars to bid against taxpayers interested in the same land, Rozenboom said.

SSB 1221 would eliminate the tax credit for a charitable conservation contributions of land and prohibit the government from acquiring land that was purchased by a private entity using money from the state revolving loan fund or federal Clean Water Act or Safe Drinking Water Act.

HF 542 sponsor Rep. David Sieck, R-Glenwood, said he has the same concerns. He also thinks that, in many cases, the Department of Natural Resources and county conservation boards spend too much on buying land and not enough on maintaining it.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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