In attacking public land, Farm Bureau galvanizes support for conservation

#PublicLandOwners turned out en masse in Des Moines today to oppose legislation that threatened the future of public land acquisition.

The subcommittee meeting on HF542 had to be moved from its original location to a much larger meeting room due to the excessive size of the crowd. And the space still could only accommodate about half of those in attendance.

So how did it go?

Well, the subcommittee on HF542 didn’t kill the bill on the spot like we had hoped. But they didn't move it forward either. Whether that means they’ll pass it on to the full committee later - after the opposing masses have gone home - has yet to be seen. But considering the opposition to this bill drew one of the biggest crowds that most legislators in Des Moines had ever seen, some experienced capitol-goers that I spoke with believe the bill will die a quiet death between now and this week’s “funnel” deadline.

The half-hour subcommittee meeting saw a number of people speak about the issue. The only person to speak in support of the bill was Farm Bureau’s lobbyist which claimed that their membership felt state funds should only be used for maintenance and development of existing state lands and that public land purchases were making it hard for young or new farmers to get started in the industry.

Subcommittee member Scott Ourth (D - Warren County) asked some follow up questions and noted the opposition was unprecedented.
“Never have I received as many calls and emails as I have (in opposition to) this issue. And probably half of them were farmers. Farm Bureau members.”
John, a Warren County landowner working with his local conservation board on a partial donation of his property commented on the importance of some of the programs the bill would take away, including the charitable donation tax credits. He and his wife wanted their land to go into public ownership as something of a lasting legacy.

“This bill…does a great disservice to current and future generations of Iowans,” he said.
Jim, another landowner that would be seeing his land go into public ownership spoke bluntly about his stance on the landowner rights the bill would restrict.
“I don’t give a damn what Farm Bureau wants to do with my land. I know what I want to do with it.”
Fred, an older man wearing a National Wild Turkey Federation shirt, described his experience building his farm operation from practically nothing to a sizable operation years ago.
“The only thing that kept me from getting big is the bigger farmers that always out-bid me.”
The subcommittee also heard testimony from others including representatives from Blank Park Zoo, Iowa Rivers Revival, various county conservation boards, and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. All were opposed to the bill.

It’s hard to estimate crowd size when you can’t fit the whole group into the same space to get a sense for what total numbers are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was nearer to four digits than not. One senator commented that this was the biggest turnout he'd ever seen at a subcommittee hearing. The lobbyist representing Ducks Unlimited even took time at the start of his testimony to thank Farm Bureau.
“I appreciate what Farm Bureau has done to galvanize support for conservation.”
Which is pretty spot on. The attack on public lands they launched with this bill has riled the ire of more people both in and out of the conservation world than any legislation in recent history. If the legislature moves it forward at all, it will do so against the will of the majority of Iowans. And they'll do so knowing full well where we #PublicLandOwners stand on the issue. 

The subcommittee meeting on SF1221 was a different story. Without nearly as much discussion, this one passed out of subcommittee 2-1. However, Sen. Behn did indicate a willingness to reconsider eliminating the tax credits. The bill moves on to the full Natural Resources and Environment committee this week. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has posted some good information about this one here