Iowa DNR would be banned from bidding on land at auction under the bill that is advancing in Iowa

Conservation groups are opposing a bill in the Iowa Legislature that would prevent the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from participating in land auctions.

Senate File 2324 aims to restrict the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from acquiring land through auctions. Instead, the DNR would only be permitted to purchase or obtain land from individuals or entities that are willing to sell or donate it.

The department cannot acquire property from a nonprofit that bought the land at auction.

The bill made progress as it advanced through a three-member House subcommittee on Tuesday. It is now eligible to be considered by the full House State Government Committee. Earlier, the bill had successfully passed the Senate on February 28 with a vote of 30-17.

A group of conservation organizations attended the meeting on Tuesday to express their opposition to the proposed bill, stating that the people of Iowa desire an increase in public lands. The Republican proponents of the bill argue that it simply formalizes the existing policies of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

According to Rep. Austin Harris, a Republican from Moulton, the proposed legislation establishes a just and equitable policy for farmers. He further criticizes opponents of employing “scare tactics” in order to stir up opposition.

He stated confidently, “I refuse to be swayed by scare tactics. I genuinely believe that the DNR has developed a sound policy. This proposed bill will not alter anything. It poses no greater threat to public lands than the existing policy.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature has made several attempts in recent years to restrict the DNR’s authority to acquire land for public use or accept donated land. However, their efforts have been unsuccessful so far.

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According to Anna Gray, the public policy director for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, her organization is against the bill. She believes that the bill diverts attention away from more important issues that lawmakers could be addressing in order to enhance Iowa’s outdoor recreation and conservation opportunities.

According to her, imposing such restrictions on landowners who sell their property is unnecessary and burdensome. She believes that this approach will hinder the strategic protection of land, regardless of the potential public benefits it may bring.

Kevin Kuhle, a lobbyist for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, expressed his support for the bill during Tuesday’s discussion. He emphasized that farmers have always been the original and most responsible caretakers of the land.

“Our farmers have previously expressed concerns about government funding interfering with their ability to purchase land,” he explained. “We are grateful that the state has clarified that they are not actively competing for land, and we are pleased that the proposed bill will officially establish this practice.”

According to Rep. Austin Baeth, a Democrat from Des Moines, urban sprawl poses a much greater risk to farmland compared to land acquisitions by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Baeth emphasized that even at the current pace of land purchases by the DNR, it would take a staggering 200 years for them to increase the percentage of public lands in Iowa by just 1%.

Baeth questioned whether farmers are truly concerned about losing 1% of land in the face of rapid urban sprawl that is growing at a rate 26 times faster. She emphasized the need to first identify and define the actual problem, if there is one, and then focus efforts on addressing it.

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The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages approximately 1% of the state’s land as public land.

Iowa has experienced a significant loss of farmland over the past twenty years. According to the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture, the state has lost approximately 1.8 million acres, which accounts for a decline of 5.5%. In the last five years alone, Iowa has seen the disappearance of nearly 586,000 farm acres.

Rep. Derek Wulf, R-Hudson, expressed his support for the bill during Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting.

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