The Struggle is Real

I have to admit, I’ve struggled to write this column this week. At first, I thought I would just update you on some of the legislative activity that’s been going on at the state. There’s been a bill that would restrict public land acquisition and a bill that would reform the state’s tax code. That bill proposed increasing the sales tax which would trigger the funding of the constitutionally created Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, thereby generating something like $200 million per year for conservation and outdoor recreation across the state.

But I figured (correctly, in fact) by the time this went to publication, something would change – either something would pass or get defeated – and render my calls to action moot. 

Update: between writing and publishing this, the governor signed the tax reform bill. It did not include funding the Trust. 

Sometimes I scan headlines for topic ideas. I saw one about how many of Iowa’s waterways are designated as impaired, based on DNR monitoring data. I went down that rabbit hole for a bit and landed on some interesting research from my alma mater, Iowa State University, from which I considered writing something about how, according to ISU’s data up through 2012, erosion on Iowa’s 26 million acres of cropland has actually gotten worse since its low point in 1997.

I struggle to comprehend numbers with multiple commas, so I did some calculations to try to put 26 million acres losing 6.1 tons of soil per acre per year into perspective and came up with this interesting picture. Iowa’s cultivated field soil loss is the equivalent of just over 70,000 single axle dump trucks, spaced one mile apart, backing up to every one of Iowa’s rivers (there are about 70,000 linear miles of river in the state) and dumping just over six tons of soil (which is a mostly full dump box worth) into those rivers every single day of the year.
Image source

I thought about writing about how big an impact that $200 million in annual revenue to the trust fund would have on the ag industry, considering a majority of the funding would go toward ag-related conservation programs. But the state’s most powerful ag lobby opposes it, so again, maybe a moot point.

Then I thought I should keep it local and write about how my department is taking a large budget cut – just shy of 16 percent – for next year. The cut is large enough that it will likely force some discussion about possibly closing one or more of our less profitable parks in 2023. But then a couple weeks later, the same county supervisors that cut our operational budget chose to grant us $100,000 of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to use as grant leverage to do some park improvements at Big Hollow Recreation Area.

It’s like they’re giving us the down payment for a car but cutting our allowance for gas money.

So, since I was giddy on one hand and grumpy on the other, I couldn’t really nail down what the sentiment was I would try to convey in the column. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster this winter.

I do have to admit, however, I took that budget cut pretty hard. Due to the way the cut was presented and how, right or wrong, my identity is so inexorably tied to the work I do, I took it personally. Between that and my usual winter doldrums, I’ve been a frequent passenger on the struggle bus lately. So it was especially timely when, last weekend, the Greater Burlington Partnership recognized me with its Business Person of the Year Award on account of all the work my department does creating and maintaining parks, natural resource areas, trails, and conservation education programs for the community. While the credit for such things undoubtedly belongs to my staff and not so much me, it feels great to be recognized by a group of community leaders I hold in such high regard. 

I considered writing about that but couldn’t figure out how to do so without sounding braggy. Plus, we’re far enough away from Christmas that I don’t know if the “Major Award” reference would be as entertaining.

I almost got a column written last Tuesday. I had several hundred words put down about how being more appreciative of those around us might have outsized impacts compared to the effort it takes to say a genuine “thank you.” In the age of workforce shortages and untold personal struggles, might we do well to thank the frazzled checkout clerk for their hard work when we finally reach the head of the line we had to wait in for too long? Or send a note to a manager when we received great customer service? Or, for the business leaders, recognize employees a little more than usual for a job well done? I know I could certainly do better in that regard.

But I just couldn’t get it to read like I wanted and eventually just tossed it.

So, dear reader, I’m afraid I just don’t know what to write about this month. Maybe inspiration will strike for March and I’ll have something profound for you then. At least we’ll be a month closer to spring – and to the end of the legislative session – so maybe that will help charge the creative juices. After all, did you know that contact with nature helps students do better in school? Maybe it’ll help me write a better column.

Here's to hoping.