IWILL: Working for action on conservation

This legislative session, Iowa’s natural resources are at the top of the priority list.

Photo by Kristy Hall

Photo by Kristy Hall

At the start of the 2016 legislative session, Gov. Terry Branstad announced a proposal to address water quality that he called his biggest and boldest proposal ever, but it did not find support from both chambers. After several other proposals, the session adjourned without reaching a compromise on how to best address these concerns.

Between now and the November election, Iowans have an opportunity to make our natural resources an issue on which candidates must take a position. Continue reading

Full steam ahead: 2016 legislative session update

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The legislative session is off and running and, as is usually the case, the budget will be the defining issue of the session. The budget will drive the debate around the significant issues decided by the legislature; from education to Medicaid to the environment.

Governor Branstad kicked off the legislative session with a proposal to address Iowa’s water quality concerns. His plan involves using money from the state-wide one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure, called the Secured and Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE), to fund projects and initiatives outlined in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The bill to accomplish this was recently released, HSB 601.

It is refreshing to hear the Governor acknowledge that we have a serious water quality problem that will require significant public and private investments to address. The good news is that the dialogue has begun and there is a lot of conversation about water quality at the Capitol. The challenging news is that his proposal could impact our friends in education and it only addresses nutrient reduction and no other natural resource concerns. Beyond that, under the Governor’s proposal, significant dollars are not allocated towards water quality until well into the future. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to accomplish our water quality goals. We need to address this issue now, with a funding source that is immediate, substantial and permanent.  Continue reading

Duane Sand: A career of unlocking conservation possibilities

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Thirty-two years ago, Duane Sand asked me to help him with some summer communication about a concept he hoped would become part of the 1985 Farm Bill. It would give farmers an incentive to put their most erosive acres into grassland cover for ten years. Today you know it as CRP – the Conservation Reserve Program.

In his quiet, behind-the-scenes way, Duane has always been on the forefront of fresh concepts to protect land and water. He would be the last one to draw attention to his 40-year conservation career. But I believe his story can help to inspire a new generation of conservation thinkers who might follow their own paths of innovation for the good of the cause. Continue reading

Job Opening: Coalition Coordinator for Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy

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Are you a team leader who has a passion for protecting Iowa’s great outdoors? Then apply for the Coalition Coordinator position for Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Coalition!

The coordinator must be comfortable working in a fast-paced environment, be flexible to change and possess strong organization skills. Among other duties, the Coalition Coordinator is responsible for organizing information and events, communicating effectively and conducting outreach programs.

Please visit the link here for a more detailed job description and to apply by October 21.

This is a temporary position, and the employment term is 8 months. If you have questions about the position, contact Kristen Aschenbrenner, external affairs manager at The Nature Conservancy in Iowa, at kaschenbrenner@tnc.org.

Nature’s natural nitrate filters

The sun sets over the Spring Run Wetland. (Photo by Daniel Ruf)

The sun sets over the icy Spring Run Wetland Complex in Dickinson County, just off East Okoboji Lake. (Photo by Daniel Ruf)

Wetlands can be beautiful, like in the photo above, if you catch them at the right time. They can also be a buggy swamp in the middle of a hot summer day. But beyond their aesthetic appeal (or lack thereof), wetlands serve an important purpose. Not only do they play host to various plant and wildlife species, these natural sponges remove nitrates from our water, contributing to Iowa’s environmental and economic vitality.

Wetlands provide habitat for various wildlife, such as this redwing blackbird, seen here at the DeCook Wetlands.

Wetlands provide habitat for various wildlife, such as this red-winged blackbird, seen here at the DeCook Wetlands.

Funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would provide money to voluntary programs that help construct and restore natural wetlands, such as the Conservation Reserve and Enhancement Program (CREP).

A partnership between the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the USDA Farm Service Agency, CREP installs wetlands in strategic locations within the Des Moines Lobe area. These wetlands were once plentiful in Iowa before fields were tiled and drained for agriculture. CREP just restores them and makes them economically advantageous.

Factoring in construction and maintenance, IDALS estimates that every pound of nitrates removed from the water in CREP wetlands costs about 26 cents. In comparison, every pound of nitrates removed by the Des Moines Water Works’ facility from 2013-2014 cost about $17.75.

Many plant species thrive in wetland areas, such as the Blue Flag Iris.

Many plant species thrive in wetland areas, like the Blue Flag Iris.

Wetlands remove 40 percent to 90 percent of the nitrates from water that flows through them, according to IDALS. The wetland’s vegetation uses the nitrogen, converts it into gas and then releases it back into the air. Using the 96 wetlands restored and under development in the Des Moines Lobe, IDALS is estimating that this process will remove over 1.3 million pounds of nitrates annually from our water.

Yet, landowners wanting to enroll in the program have to wait an average of seven years for their land to be evaluated. Funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would provide more money for landowners that want to enroll in CREP and similar conservation programs, shortening the waiting list.

“They’re shovel-ready projects,” said Patrick Snell, INHF Mark C. Ackelson Fellow. “These programs just need the funding.”

So what can Iowans do to Fund the Trust?

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IWILL Lobby Day

IWiLL logo finalIowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) Capitol Day is right around the corner: Monday, Jan. 26. Don’t miss this opportunity to advocate for directing funds to the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

What is the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund?

Iowans overwhelmingly voted to create this trust fund in 2010 to conserve clean water, productive agricultural soils and abundant natural resources. Now, in 2015, we must take the crucial next step of directing revenue to the trust fund to ensure that this permanent, constitutionally protected funding source is available to conserve Iowa’s water, soil, habitat, parks, and trails for generations to come.

What are some of the benefits?

  • Economic: Natural resource protection and eco-tourism are important to our rural economy, helping attract and retain a skilled workforce and contributing to our unique quality of life.
  • Accountability: The trust will fund voluntary, non-regulatory conservation partnerships, and is accountable to taxpayers through public oversight, mandatory annual audits and regular reports submitted to the Iowa Legislature.

What about Capitol Day?

The IWILL Capitol Day will be an opportunity for members and advocates to engage with legislators. This will not only allow for legislators to learn from constituents in person on the importance of funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, but also see the momentum built up in support of funding the trust. Legislators are most likely to listen to people from their home districts who have a personal story or an interest to share.

IWILL T-shirts will be available on a first come first serve basis until they are gone. If you don’t want to wear a T-shirt, wear blue to show you are part of the IWILL effort.

Location:
Iowa Capitol, First Floor Rotunda
1007 East Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319

Schedule:
1 p.m. — Members/advocates begin arriving. There will be a table set up to sign-in and host informal activist trainings on how to talk with legislators. These will take place every half hour starting at 1:15 p.m. and include preparing your personal conservation stories and learning how to send in a note to legislators in the House and/or Senate chambers.

1 p.m. to 3 p.m. — IWILL members/advocates will be stationed in the Rotunda and up on the second floor Rotunda near the House and Senate chambers and will be available to speak with legislators. Coalition lobbyists will be available to help facilitate meetings with legislators.

Can’t attend Capitol Day?

If you can’t attend the lobby day but still want to advocate, contact your legislator and ask for support in funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Still want more information?

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