I recently served on the subcommittee for Senate File 516, after the bill had made its way through the Senate and was assigned to our House Environmental Protection Committee. I have received many emails about this bill, and hope to explain what is and isn’t happening, as well as some concerns myself and others have in regards to the bill.
What does SF 516 do?
Senate File 516 relates to Iowa’s acquisition and upkeep of state-owned land. Broadly stated, this bill gives direction to the Department of Natural Resources regarding how it should prioritize its objectives.
- Requires the DNR to prepare a statewide, long-range plan that prioritizes the maintenance and protection of open space property.
- The plan shall contain the DNR’s criteria in identifying land for potential acquisition, and requires the DNR to first consider landowner partnership programs as an alternative to outright acquisition.
- The DNR is permitted to consult with state, local, and federal agencies along with private organizations for input.
- This plan will be submitted to the General Assembly by July 1st, 2024.
- Requires the DOT to prepare a long-range plan that prioritizes the development, promotion, management, and potential acquisition of recreational trails.
- The plan will include the DOT’s criteria for trail acquisition and will focus on connecting and improving existing trails when possible.
- The DOT is permitted to consult with the DNR and IEDA as well as organizations representing trail users.
- This plan will be submitted to the General Assembly by January 15th, 2024.
- Both the DNR and DOT will review their plan every five years and amend the plan as necessary.
- This bill also strikes expired sections of Chapter 465A.
What do opponents of the bill say?
Top concerns surrounding this bill relate to vague language and the prioritizing of maintenance over acquiring new land. Opponents say that access to public lands and wild spaces in Iowa is already limited, and there are already comprehensive plans in place for the restoration and upkeep of these lands. The main concern is that this legislation would limit or even completely stop the opportunity for growth of Iowa’s public lands and open spaces like state parks, recreational trails, and so forth. Opponents also argue that the creation or re-creation of plans would not be an efficient use of the DNR’s resources.
What do supporters of the bill say?
Proponents of the bill argue that the limiting of state land acquisition would actually be beneficial. They believe the State of Iowa should focus on maintenance of the land it already owns and slow its efforts to buy more land. Supporters are also concerned that more land acquisition by the DNR would equal less land available for farming operations, specifically new farmers looking to get started. Supporters have also drawn in to question the ethics of the financing methods used by the Natural Heritage Foundation to acquire new land.
The bill was passed out of subcommittee and assigned to the Environmental Protection Committee this week. However, due to a lack of support, the bill has now been moved to State Government. If you are concerned about this topic, I recommend you reach out to committee members as soon as possible. Next week is funnel week and if this bill is to remain alive, it must pass out of the committee process by March 31st. My position is that the actual language of the bill needs clarified and I am working towards addressing the many concerns brought up to me.