Conservation Easement Incentive Act moves to the Senate

At the end of last year, the enhanced deduction for conservation easement donations expired. To restore—and make permanent—this enhanced incentive, bipartisan legislation introduced the Conservation Easement Incentive Act to the U.S. House (H.R. 641) and the U.S. Senate (S. 330) in February this year. 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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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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INHF welcomes first Ackelson Fellow

Patrick SnellOn Monday, September 22, INHF welcomed a new member to our team, Patrick Snell. Patrick will be our Mark Ackelson Policy Fellow, working on a statewide coalition to secure legislative approval for the establishment of the funding stream for the Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Patrick is originally from Ames, but now lives in Des Moines. He graduated in 2012 with a degree in public health and economic policy from the University of Iowa. While in school, Patrick was very involved in the University of Iowa student garden and the University of Iowa environmental coalition. Continue reading

Get more conservation for your Farm Bill money

Photo credit: TumblingRun / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: TumblingRun / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Written by Duane Sand, INHF Public Policy Director

An essential farm policy reform gained major momentum last week, and your calls now may help it become law. More than 30 national farm, commodity and conservation organizations have agreed to details for restoring conservation compliance requirements for those receiving federal crop and revenue insurance subsidies.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has worked for this kind of reform for over two years. Lawmakers have often told us the farm lobby would kill this reform, even though the Senate voted for such change in 2012. Now we’ve learned the farm lobby will not fight this change, provided conservation groups stop seeking limits on farm payments.

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