Guest Columnist

Iowa natural resources leaders support plan to fund outdoors projects

'If the trust fund had been funded 10 years ago, we would be more than $1 billion dollars ahead of where we are now in funding conservation and outdoor recreation. We can't afford to wait another 10 years.'

A swath of private conservation land owned by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation north of Waukon on Saturday, May 14,
A swath of private conservation land owned by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation north of Waukon on Saturday, May 14, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

When Iowans voted in 2010 to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund through a constitutional amendment, it was a statement of our values. Iowans showed that we value our land; we value our water; we value the special places where we get outside to enjoy nature, together or in solitude.

When we made that vote, we couldn’t have imagined that we would be here 10 years later, still waiting for the trust fund to be funded. We have the opportunity fund it now with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed Invest in Iowa Act. The bill would direct an estimated $171 million toward clean water, healthy soil, increased wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation through the Trust Fund.

The trust fund will provide dedicated, sustainable funding and its revenue will continue to grow with inflation. Even with the proposed changes to the distribution formula for the trust fund, the bill represents an increase in funding over current levels in each of the categories that currently come from yearly appropriations, which can fluctuate drastically.

The trust fund allocation formula may be adjusted to meet the needs of our time, but is constitutionally protected for the purposes of protecting and enhancing water quality and natural areas in this state, including parks, trails, and fish and wildlife habitat, and conserving agricultural soils. This is a legacy we should be proud to leave for the next generation — a statement that we value the future.

The bill also extends the Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP), which is scheduled to sunset in 2021. REAP has been Iowa’s most successful conservation program, funding thousands of local parks, trails, wildlife areas and water quality projects across the state. The programs effectiveness will only be enhanced with the reliability of funding from the Trust Fund.

If the trust fund had been funded 10 years ago, we would be more than $1 billion dollars ahead of where we are now in funding conservation and outdoor recreation. We can’t afford to wait another 10 years.

If you value Iowa’s natural resources and outdoor recreation, and if you support the Invest in Iowa Act, tell your legislators. They need to hear from you that Iowans are ready to make an investment in our future.

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Joe McGovern is president of Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; Kristin Aschenbrenner is state director of The Nature Conservancy in Iowa; Tom Hazelton is CEO of Iowa’s County Conservation System and Brian Garrells is state council chair of Ducks Unlimited.

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