Apply Now: Mark C. Ackelson Fellowship

Do you have a heart for activism as well as for Iowa’s land, water, wildlife and people? Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is looking for a dedicated conservationist to work with us on a temporary assignment to promote increased, reliable, consistent state funding for Iowa conservation.

The goal
INHF is part of a statewide coalition working together to secure legislative approval for funding of the Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. This Trust Fund was established through an amendment to the Iowa Constitution, and it will be funded the next time the Iowa sales tax is increased. If successful, these efforts will direct an estimated $180 million annually toward natural resource needs including clean water, healthy productive soils, abundant wildlife and increasing outdoor recreation opportunities throughout Iowa.

This fellowship offers amazing networking opportunities with Iowa conservation leaders through the Iowa’s Water & Land Legacy Coalition. The Ackelson Fellow will gain experience in grassroots and field advocacy as well as outreach to well-connected conservationists, and will be helping to shape strategies for legislative action. The Fellow will travel within Iowa, report to the INHF president, and work closely with the INHF policy director, communications staff and other INHF staff.

Position responsibilities
The Fellow will work with staff and coalition members to help develop and implement the strategy to get the sales tax increase and the Trust Fund funded. They will help organize, educate, empower and mobilize supporters to take action in support of our goal. List-building, outreach, volunteer recruitment, canvassing by phone or door-to-door and online networking may all be part of this position at different points in the campaign. Successful candidates will have excellent verbal and written communication skills and strong interpersonal skills in order to communicate with and engage differing stakeholder groups.

The ideal candidate

Will have demonstrated success in coordinating political and/or community campaigns and building strategic coalitions to influence public policy; possesses the ability to work independently and execute statewide political/community programs; acts with high integrity and professionalism; is detail oriented; is able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and is willing and able to work nights or weekends on occasion.

This full-time fellowship will be active between November 2016 (post-election) and May 2017 with some flexibility in start/end dates. Monthly stipend and travel expenses are provided. Benefits are not included in this temporary position.

To apply
Deadline: October, 17, 2016. Please send cover letter and resume to Marian Riggs, INHF policy director, at mriggs@inhf.org. Questions can be directed to Marian Riggs at 515-288-1846, ext. 26.

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

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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