Bill Could End IA Public Land Acquisition
Monday, March 20, 2023
A bill passed by the Iowa Senate would repeal programs currently in place for maintaining open space and trails, and require state agencies to submit new plans every five years. Critics worry the measure could have unintended consequences.
Senate File 516 would establish new requirements for state agencies to submit long-term management and maintenance plans for Iowa's public lands.
The priority would be on maintenance and protection of the state's existing properties over new public land acquisitions.
Polk County state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott - D-West Des Moines - said the bill could have the effect of stopping the acquisition of public lands at the same time that funding for public spaces is going down.
"When you couple that with stagnant funding for our natural resources and some potential cuts to trail funding," said Garriott, "it's going to result in the department not being able to acquire new public land."
The bill's supporters say it would modernize how the state plans for its trail and open-space management, and claim the intent is not to limit the acquisition of new public lands.
They say Iowa's current approach to managing its public spaces has been haphazard, and left bike trails unfinished, trails unmaintained and water damage unrepaired.
Trone Garriott said Iowa ranks near the bottom in terms of how many acres of public land it has, and adds that the state has made very little progress on a 30-year plan to acquire more of it.
She said the state's long history of blocking land acquisition lies in its agricultural roots.
"There are some lobbying entities that feel that any land that is not being used for agricultural production is wasted, and that trails and public lands are a threat to agriculture," said Garriott. "A lot of Iowans would like more access to the great outdoors."
The bill's future in the Iowa House is uncertain.
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