New Bill Launches Direct Attack on Public Land

Update 3/9/18: This bill is dead. Yesterday was the deadline for it to have passed out of committee to be eligible for debate. I'd like to think it was the several hundred people that flooded the state capitol last Monday that kept it from moving forward. Whatever the motivation was for letting it die, the end result is the same. #PublicLandOwners scored a victory in this short-lived battle for sure.

A new bill in the Iowa House would ban nearly all public land acquisition by conservation agencies, including county conservation boards.

HF542 was introduced today by Rep. Sieck (R - Mills County) and has been endorsed by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. The bill "prohibits the (Department of Natural Resources) or a county from accepting and developing lands, with some exceptions." For counties, those exceptions include one-for-one exchanges (which results in no net gain) or acceptance of land donated by a person but only if that donation comes with "an accompanying monetary donation to cover the estimated cost of maintaining the land for 10 years." However, the DNR would still be able to accept most land donations.

The bill also stops any disbursement of funds from the blufflands protection revolving fund, prohibits cities from using DNR grant funds outside their city limits, and prohibits public entities from receiving land previously acquired as part of a nonpoint source water quality project or with revolving loan funds through the federal Clean Water Act. The bill also eliminates the tax credit for a charitable contribution of land to qualified organizations exclusively for conservation purposes.

Lobbyists for more than half a dozen organizations have already registered against the bill. Organizations opposing the legislation include the Iowa Conservation Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, among others. Many more are sure to come out against it as word gets out.

In a bit of irony, this legislation was introduced almost at the same time the US House sent a "historic public lands package" to the president for final passage. Most notably, the bill (S. 47) permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which is considered "one of the most popular public lands programs of the last 50 years." Meanwhile the legislation proposed in the Iowa House today would essentially make it illegal to use LWCF funds for much of what they were intended for.


I don’t know what’s driving the anti-public land sentiment among legislators such as Rep. Sieck but I can’t help but think there’s probably a fair bit of misinformation behind it. No state or county agency nor any nonprofit organization is going around buying up prime farmland. Iowa has what, 3% of its land in public ownership? We rank near last nationally in that category. Even if the Iowa legislature finally funded the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund tomorrow, we’d still never have the resources, or the desire, to buy up good land. Have you seen what good farm land sells for?

When agencies like local county conservation boards do acquire land, it’s from willing sellers (no conservation group is “taking” land from anyone, period) and because that land has some significant ecological or recreational value.

I’d like to think this bill will never see the light of day but the fact that something this harsh was introduced at all indicates some of the sentiment harbored by some very powerful lobby groups and, clearly, some legislators as well. If you value your public land - what little there is of it here in Iowa - I encourage you to contact your legislators directly and tell them you won't tolerate attacks like this.

If nothing else, share the hell out of this on social media to let your fellow #PublicLandOwners know what's happening.

Update 2/28/19: A subcommittee meeting on this bill is scheduled for Monday, March 4 at 10:30AM in the House Lounge. Anyone that can attend in person is encouraged to show up in an effort to show mass objection to this bill. At the very least, your representatives MUST hear from as many #PublicLandOwners as possible so take the time to contact your legislators, even if it's just to leave a message at the switchboard. 

Also, Senate Study Bill 1221 was introduced today. It isn't as comprehensive as HF542 but contains some of the same provisions barring the use of certain funds commonly used to establish public land. The subcommittee meeting on it is also scheduled for Monday at 12:30 PM in Room 217.

Update 3/1/19: The subcommittee leaders that will take these bills up on Monday, March 4 are Reps. Scott Ourth (, Rob Bacon (, and Tom Jeneary ( in the House; and Sens. Dan Zumbach (, Nate Boulton (, and Jerry Behn ( in the Senate. 


  1. Everyone knows Farm Bureau is behind this bill.

  2. Nobody is worried about Iowa running out of farmland. The real issue is that moving land from private entities to public entities takes it off the tax rolls, which can make it hard for sparsely populated rural counties to make ends meet.

    So how are we supposed to pay teachers and other public-sector employees what they deserve and provide needed government services if we reduce the amount of money we have to work with? Until someone can give me a reasonable answer to that question I'll support this bill. Which does appear to give a significant number of exceptions to the rule, by the way.

    1. "So how are we supposed to pay teachers and other public-sector employees what they deserve and provide needed government services if we reduce the amount of money we have to work with?"

      That's easy. Quit giving major corporations/businesses tax breaks they don't deserve. Any other questions?

    2. Why is it that every time we talk tax breaks or taking something else off the tax roles the main argument turns to "paying teachers and other public sector employees what they deserve". Just because you're a teacher or work in the public sector does not mean you deserve so much more. There are so many people out there that don't have the benefits or the pay that teachers and other public employees do that work just as hard or harder. I am so tired of hearing about how bad public employees have it. I've been both public and private and I can tell you that the benefits like IPERS and what the employee pays for insurance is MUCH better than the vast majority of the private sector. In a lot of instances the differences in the cost to private sector employees negates the slightly more pay they may make versus a public employee. We all think we're over worked, under appreciated, and underpaid whether we're private or public, some of us just don't bitch about it.

  3. Iowa currently ranks 49th of 50 states in public land ownership. The vast majority of land we are talking about is marginal as crop ground at best - can you tell us how many acres of ground are in public ownership in your county? The CSR ratings on the ground you are talking about would be very low. If forested then it is likely that the ground already was off the tax rolls through the Forest Reserve. None of this will matter in the future this bill would bring because all the youth will leave the state because is nothing here to enjoy or do. At that point schools will be bussing students 60 miles one way to regional schools... that sounds miserable on all levels. If we wish to retain and attract young professionals to keep the economy here alive and prosperous for all then we need amenities like parks, trails, fishing access and public areas to hunt, hike, x-country ski and enjoy nature. Your issue may be moot if a bill as sinister as this one passes!

  4. Shame on you guys for even thinking about these bills.

    You are not even thinking about your own children/grand children or even great grand babies.

    How can you sleep peacefully at night??

  5. Leave things alone.You are so wrong no on bill hf542
    And bill 1221


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