My Legislative Two Cents

It's time once again to reach out to state legislators. Here's the letter (okay, email) that I sent this week to those in my district. I modified it slightly and added this links to better fit it as a blog post. 

Hello local legislators,
I'm afraid the Greater Burlington Partnership didn't consult with outdoorsmen before scheduling Saturday's Eggs and Issues legislative forum on the Saturday of second deer season. So unfortunately I will be missing out on seeing you guys Saturday morning. I will instead probably be freezing in the deer blind and can think of no place I'd rather be...

Anyway, I wanted to touch base with you and get your feedback as to who the new (if any) legislators will be in leadership positions this year that I should be talking to in regards to things like funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund and keeping REAP off the chopping block.

And secondly, of course, it's time to get back on my soapbox squeaking my wheels and encouraging you all once again to push to Fund the Trust.

Here in Burlington we're just coming off the 7th highest Mississippi River flood crest of all time and it happened in the fall (albeit much to the delight of the members of my duck blind). That's not supposed to even be a thing! We're facing not just a real bad (I won't use catastrophic yet - though Louisianians would) water quality problem, but what doesn't get as much note is our water quantity crisis. And that's only going to get worse the more we install roof tops, parking lots, roads, and pattern tile lines on a landscape that already can't hold for any length of time the water that gets dumped on it (which, incidentally, is also increasing in frequency and intensity).

Want to reduce flooding? Increase the time it takes water on the landscape to get to the streams and rivers. Want to increase the land's water holding capacity? Invest in wetlands, improve watersheds, build/restore lakes and ponds, install conservation practices (buffers, grass waterways, etc.) where water leaves fields (incidentally this is also primarily how to fix our nutrient/sediment problem).

The Trust would provide more than $100 million annually for exactly these kind of things.

The Chamber and business community will lament the fact we can't fill the 1,000+ jobs we have available here in this part of the state. And rightfully they should. We've done a good job attracting employers lately. But where is all the talent going? Aside from out-of-state (ahem, Colorado), counties like Polk, Johnson, Linn, and the counties around them all seem to be attracting talent at impressive rates. Those communities are also investing heavily in their parks, trails, and nearby natural resources. Such things are so important to their citizens that voters in those three counties have all passed their own version of county-level trust funds, each of which is structured very similar to the state Trust Fund that we keep begging you all to fund.

Want to attract a new generation of workforce? Invest in the amenities that those workers want in a community. Parks, trails, lakes (clean ones), greenspace, bike routes - these are the things we know people want. National (i.e. American Planning Association), state (i.e. Iowa State, Iowa Economic Development, etc.), and local-level research (i.e. county surveys) tells us as much. My own department's surveys support those conclusions. Point-in-case, 400+ responses to this year's survey effort revealed county residents here want more trails (bike trails & bike routes especially), cabins, and other park improvements like full-hookup campgrounds. The five year strategic plan that my board just approved identifies between $5- and $16-million in public-request-driven projects within our county park system here in Des Moines County (the $16 million end of that spectrum includes the "big dream" projects we'd tackle if resources allowed us to do so - like when you all fund the Trust).

The Trust would provide tens of millions of dollars to these things annually all over the state. Eat your heart out, Colorado!

Sure, we'll never have mountains in Iowa. But we have the potential to create a world-class trail system. We have the most unique, and one of the most extensive and successful county park systems in the nation. We're well known for our world-class deer and turkey hunting and we used to have impressive upland game hunting. Yet we rank near last nationally in the amount of public land available in the state, leaving those world-class opportunities to the lucky few who have access to the rare (and getting rarer) well-managed lands that support the majority of those game species.

No wonder we're losing hunters at alarming rates. Let's not forget that under the North American model of wildlife conservation, hunters and sportsmen are the primary contributor to conservation funding in this country. By far.

The Trust is more than water quality or whatever hot topic prevails in any given legislative session. The Trust is, by design, a comprehensive funding mechanism that addresses a vast array of issues facing conservation and outdoor recreation in this state. But it's also an engine for economic development. For tourism. For commerce. Forever.

The best time to have funded the trust was years ago, right after 63% of voters wrote it into the constitution. The second best time is now. There are no elections to worry about. There are legislators from all over the state, not to mention a Governor, that need to prove what an impact they can make, what leaders they can be. What better way to do just that than to be the ones that triggered funding that will impact generations of Iowans to come? That doing so is supported by the vast majority of the electorate should make it that much easier.

What kind of leader will you be this session?

Ok, time to get off the soapbox. As always, thanks for all you guys do up there. I know you hear from a lot of people when they're mad about what you do but I'm guessing you seldom get the other side of it. So, thanks!

I'm sure I'll see you all at some legislative event soon. 

Chris Lee

Want to add your two cents? Contact your legislator and tell them you support funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund AND the formula that accompanies it. It only takes a few minutes to punch out an email or leave a phone message at the switchboard. Hold them accountable. Make them listen. Remind them that they work for us.

To learn more about the effort to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, check out the Iowa's Water and Land Legacy website at or follow the coalition on Facebook.