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News for January 23, 2022

Iowa Legislators, Conservation Advocates Seek Funding for Outdoor Recreation, Natural Resources

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Iowa legislators and conservation advocates want funding for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. According to a report, the trust fund has been empty since voters approved it in 2010.

They also shared their thoughts with IowaWatch when the state finished the fiscal year 2021 with a surplus of $1.24 billion. There’s already discussion about the surplus as lawmakers return to the Statehouse on January 10.

Members of both major parties believe that natural resources are worthy of attention. However, they aren’t sure if the trust fund will be a priority this year, given the interest in tax reductions.

Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-District 22, sees the surplus funds as a chance to help support Iowa’s state parks and recreation areas. However, she is concerned about the current forecast regarding how Iowa Legislature will spend the surplus funds.

“We saw in the last two years with a pandemic how our state parks have been such an important resource for Iowans. More people than ever are using them and appreciating them, and we know that our state parks are understaffed and need a lot more support,” Trone Garriott said.

Visits soared to record levels of 16.6 million last year, IowaWatch reported. The state employee and visitation statistics indicate that the ranger force of 55 was reduced to 35 from 1995. In 2019, 5,552 volunteers gave 71,396 hours of work.

Natural resources and state parks require sustainable funding, as per legislators, outdoor advocates, and others. The trust fund is one potential solution.

A study conducted by the Reynolds administration reveals that the economic benefits of outdoor activities are enormous and generate $8.7 billion in consumer spending. It also revealed that the outdoor rec industry employs 83,000 Iowans who contribute $2.7 billion of wages and $649 million in local and state tax revenue. These figures are derived from the quinquennial update of the state’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).

In 2010, 63% of Iowa voters favored the constitutional amendment, which created the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund that would provide sustainable funding to the state’s water quality as well as outdoor recreation with a 3/8th of a cent tax on sales. The sales tax has not been implemented.

Robert Riley, chief executive officer of Riley Resource Group and a conservationist, is not expecting it to change so soon.

“For 11 years, the Legislature has been non-representational of their constituents, so 12, 13 or 14 years won’t make them lose any sleep,” Riley said. “The will of the people in 2010 was plain – devote $180 million new dollars to conservation and outdoor recreation.”

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