GOP senators have tabled changes in a state program that exempts some woodland areas from property taxes.

Some derecho victims say the bill would have raised property taxes on those who legitimately maintain forest reserves. John Zakrasek of Cedar Rapids bought 2.4 adjacent acres filled with trees several years ago after the house on a hill above his home broke in two because of erosion.

“We did that because of the forest reserve program allowed us to get that land and then nurture the forest and the land that it was on without incurring an additional tax burden,” he said during a Senate Ways and Means subcommittee hearing Monday.

Zakrasek told lawmakers the derecho destroyed 80% of the trees on the property.

“Most of them 80 feet tall and 24 inches of more in diameter and I had an estimate to clean up the property and just replant — $70,000,” he said. “So here I am, here down on the ground, suffering from the derecho, and you’re going to kick me in the teeth with a tax increase. I’m very disturbed by this and upset and would expect to get some help instead of an additional tax burden.”

Paul Ascheman and his wife live on her family’s Century Farm near Van Meter. Ascheman and his in-laws have nearly 13 acres of currently tax-exempt timberland enrolled in the program.

“As you can imagine I’m strongly opposed to this bill,” he said during the hearing. “I’m disappointed that it continues to be entertained year after year…This program has been around since 1906 and I would very much like to keep it that way.”

The bill cleared one senate committee earlier this month, but yesterday it stalled in a Ways and Means subcommittee. Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, said the bill would have taken the state in the wrong direction.

“Eighty-five percent of Iowa’s forests are managed by private owners that do a terrific job,” Bolkcom said.

To get a property tax exemption, a landowner must agree to maintain at least 200 trees per acre to have the tract enrolled in the state’s forest reserve program. Each acre of an orchard must have at least 70 fruit trees to qualify. The Iowa Farm Bureau has long argued the program is unfair to other property owners.