A Snapshot of Public Land Access in Iowa
Public lands are a vital public service that offers an opportunity for all residents, regardless of status, to take part in outdoor recreation including hunting, hiking, and camping which improve the physical, mental, ecological, and economic health of our communities.
Iowa is considered the most biologically altered state in the entire United States.
About 87% of Iowa is cropland, 6% is cities and roads, and 3% is farmsteads and farm buildings.
Less than 3% of land in Iowa is considered public land, which includes public roads, parking lots, and roadside ditches.
Iowa was once ~80% tallgrass prairie. Today less than .01% remains.
In Pottawattamie County, less than .4% of land is available for public use.
Pottawattamie County is the 2nd largest county in the state of Iowa, but ranks 83rd out of 99 counties for public land areas offered.
About Senate File 516
Our friends at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation have done a great job summarizing the major implications proposed by this bill which is quickly moving through the legislative process and has already been approved by the Senate.
TL;DR | Senate File 516 does the following:
- Discourages growth of open spaces and trails. We agree that caring for existing facilities is important and are proud of the people working hard to care for our parks, trails, and wildlife areas. A statutory requirement that maintenance should supersede acquisition runs the risk of boxing out important quality-of-life initiatives and projects that are desperately needed and wanted in our rural communities. For example, the efforts in SF 516 are in direct contradiction to the Governor’s priorities with the $100 million set aside for Destination Iowa Funding that specifically identifies the creation of transformative outdoor recreation projects as one component of the quality-of-life enhancements our state needs to attract visitors and new residents to Iowa.
- Repeals original legislative intent language for open spaces and state recreational trails. For example: Iowa’s most significant open space lands are essential to the well-being and quality of life for Iowans and to the economic viability of the state’s recreation and tourism industry. Repealing the purpose that has existed for decades lays the foundation for future erosions of these programs beyond what we are seeing in this bill. The intent language is indicative of the values we hold as a state, so to repeal this language would indicate that we do not value our natural resources or open spaces.
- Requires DNR and DOT to create new long-range plans. There are already several state strategic plans that guide and prioritize state-funded projects. On a regular basis, the state is reviewing and identifying the current priorities and focus for our limited state funding. Requiring agencies to re-create this work would be a frivolous, inefficient use of government resources and taxpayer dollars.
- March 14th: SF 516, sponsored by Rep. Sweeney, passes through the Senate
- March 16th: SF 516 is temporarily stalled in the House Environmental Protection Subcommittee
- March 20th: SF 516 moves on to House Environmental Protection Committee for consideration
- March 21st: The full House Environmental Protection Committee holds a meeting where discussions about SF 516 took place
- March 23rd: The House Environmental Protection Committee officially declines to consider SF 516.
- March 23rd: The House State Government Committee picks up SF 516 for consideration.
- March 28th: A State Government Subcommittee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 29th at 12:00 p.m. This will be the last opportunity to share in-person public input on SF 516.
- March 29th: The House State Government Subcommittee decides to pass SF 516 on to the full committee for consideration after a public meeting at the Iowa State Capital at 12:00 p.m.
- March 30th: The House State Government Committee will consider SF 516 at a 12:00 p.m. meeting leading into Friday's legislative deadline funnel.
Your Voice is Needed TODAY
If you care about public land access in Iowa and Pottawattamie County, please reach out to your representatives and the members of the House State Goverment Committee today to express your opposition to this bill.
3. Contact Iowa House Leadership:
Personalizing your message, such as adding your own experiences that showcase how public land has made a difference in your life, helps convey why opposing Senate File 516 is important as representatives look to make their vote.
As a representative of Iowa residents and their hopes for the future of our state, I urge you to oppose SF 516.
[Insert personal experience or story here/throughout]
The intent of this bill is to further curtail conservation efforts in the state of Iowa which is already the most altered state in the entire United States, ranks 49 out of 50 states for public land access, and where less than 3% of land is publicly available for favorite American pastimes such as hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking by Iowa families.
By discouraging the expansion of public land areas and trails, Senate File 516 will make it even more difficult for conservation organizations to protect areas that are vital to our community’s health and water quality. Areas considered for public land acquisition are often cost-prohibitive to be used commercially and can pose serious environmental consequences if used as so, but still boost an area’s economic value by making it a more attractive place to live, work, and play.
By repealing the mention of “acquisition” from several areas of our state’s intent language for providing and protecting public lands as outlined in Section 465A.2 as well as prioritizing maintenance over acquisition, Senate File 516 would effectively deprioritize the state’s intent to provide public land for residents, discourage the expansion of recreation opportunities that improve Iowan's quality of life, and force our growing population to “make due” with current public lands that are severely under-serving Iowa families.
By frivolously requiring the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation to recreate their long-range plans for public lands in Iowa, which they already update regularly and provide to the public, Senate File 516 is a prime example of government overreach that will waste taxpayer dollars and provide no benefit to Iowa residents.
Stay in the Loop
Throughout the legislative process, there are many updates to stay aware of to ensure your voice is heard.
Senate File 516 In the News
- March 14th, 2023: Democrats Fear Bill Could Halt Public Land Acquisition, Trail Development - Iowa Capital Dispatch, Robin Opsahl
- March 16th, 2023: Public Lands Bill Stalls in the Iowa House - Iowa Capital Dispatch, Jared Strong
- March 18th, 2023: Bad Legislation Threatens Wildlife and Public Hunting Lands in Iowa - Pheasants Forever
- March 20th, 2023: Stalled Public Lands Bill Moves Forward in Iowa House - Iowa Capital Dispatch, Jared Strong
- March 20th, 2023: Bill Could End IA Public Land Acquisition - Heartland Signal, Mark Moran
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Updated Thursday, March 30th
Thank you for sharing your voice with your representatives! Because of your grassroots efforts, the Environmental Protection Committee has officially declined to consider SF 516. However, Senate File 516 is still alive and well and has now been picked up by the House State Government Committee for consideration.
Senate File 516 will be considered by the State Government Committee on Thursday, March 30th at 12:00 p.m. Before they meet today is one of your last opportunities to share your input and concerns.
Please read our blog post below with updated contact information for representatives and sample messaging.