The Des Moines River at Dolliver State Park near Fort Dodge. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Newly proposed legislation would prevent the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from bidding on private land at auction and from acquiring the land from conservation organizations that obtained it in a “competitive manner.”
It is the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to restrict the state’s acquisitions in favor of making the land available to livestock producers.
“The competitiveness between our young farmers trying to get started and government entities — that’s our concern with this, and that’s why we brought this bill forward,” said Sen. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, who recommended Senate Study Bill 3129 for further consideration on Wednesday.
The bill was introduced the day before and was swiftly scheduled for a subcommittee hearing Wednesday morning, a move that drew criticism from some who attended the hearing because they said it limited public participation in the discussion. Still, a sizeable showing of 30 residents and lobbyists voiced their opposition.
A similar bill in the Iowa House is set for subcommittee consideration Thursday.
“I’ve been here every year, fighting the same issue over and over again, and that’s the desire of this body to stop public land acquisition,” said Fred Long, president of the Iowa Conservation Alliance. He added: “We’re always given an absolute minimum amount of time to bring people here, because we’d have a lot more people here if we’d had 48 hours instead of just barely 24.”
He and others said the “competitive manner” clause that applies to not-for-profit organizations that obtain land and either donate or sell it to the DNR is so broad that it might eliminate such land transfers.
Sweeney and Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, who also recommended the bill, acknowledged that it needs to be tweaked but did not say how it specifically might be amended.
“You’re going to be allowed to do with your land what you want,” Shipley said.
Legislation last year that was approved by the Senate but stalled in the House would have prioritized the DNR’s maintenance of state wildlife areas, parks and public trails over new acquisitions. It was broadly panned by conservationists, hunters and cyclists for its ambiguous language that had the potential to block the acquisitions.
Among the few groups that have registered support for this year’s legislation is the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. Matt Gronewald, its state policy advisory, said Wednesday: “Government should not be in the business of competing with citizens.”
Farm Bureau has argued that less-desirable agricultural land that is most often ripe for public acquisition should remain a low-cost option for beginning livestock farmers. The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association also favors this year’s bill.
But others said the development of public lands is a priority that should not be infringed upon without good reason.
“We all know that parks, trails (and) wildlife areas benefit Iowa significantly, from water quality (to) outdoor recreation, public health — mental and physical — and economic development,” said Anna Gray, of the Iowa National Heritage Foundation.
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