An environmental group used the first day of Spring Wednesday to push for more federal funding to help purchase private land to protect it from development. Amelia Schoeneman of Environment Iowa spoke at Gray’s Lake in Des Moines, calling for full funding of the federal “Land and Water Conservation Fund .”
“It provides the park service and the State of Iowa with funds for land acquisition when privately owned lands come up for sale. The Park Service and the state can purchase those lands and make them public and preserve them and restore some of Iowa’s natural prairies, so it’s very exciting,” Schoeneman says.
“Unfortunately Congress annually takes money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.” Mark Ackelson of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation says the fund does more than preserve land.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund also funds wetland protection and restoration in Iowa. And we know how important that is to our water quality, which helps our rivers lakes and streams,” Ackelson says. The foundation in the process of buying land in the Loess Hills, and in central Iowa’s Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Ackelson says they are currently working on buying 840 acres at the Smith Refuge.
“We anticipate that there’ll be some others inside of their proposed boundary in the next few years, maybe a couple of hundred more acres. They’re getting close to filling out their boundary there, but again there’s still some work to do there,” Ackelson says. “In the Loess Hills the National Parks Service identified 12 special landscape areas that constitute roughly a hundred thousand acres total. And those 12 sites are distributed along the seven counties along the Loess Hills in western Iowa.”
The cost of Iowa farmland was recently reported at an all-time high, but Ackelson says the cost of buying private land for conservation varies widely. “What we find is a lot of landowners have a lot of conservation in their heart. And many times they are willing to donate as least a part of the value. That helps them offset some of the taxes that they may have due, but it also helps them perpetuate their family legacy as well. So, this really is a partnership,” Ackelson explains.
He says the federal money is paired with state money and private donations to make the land purchases. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has introduced a bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Schoeneman urged Senator Chuck Grassley to do the same.
Congress is expected to vote on funding levels for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as the National Parks budget this week as a part of the 2014 fiscal year budget.