A vocal group of people from five local counties agreed: the state must fully fund state conservation and continue to do so.

About 65 people attended the Region 8 Iowa Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program meeting last week for what may be the final time in the program’s 30 years of existence. They devised directives prioritizing how they think state REAP dollars should be spent now and in what they hope will be the future.

Lawmakers enacted the REAP program in 1989; the program expires in 2021 unless the Iowa Legislature votes to extend or expand the conservation program.

Iowa Rep. Andy McKean, D-Anamosa, fought for REAP when he was first elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1989. Last week he said he would fight to extend the REAP program into the future.

“REAP is very important to the state of Iowa,” McKean said, noting that the state program has helped to fund 198 projects in Region 8.

The Region 8 REAP meeting, which occurs every other year, was held at the Hurstville Interpretive Center, which was built in part with REAP funds 15 years ago.

The state REAP program invests millions of dollars in hundreds of conservation-related projects across the state each year. It is funded through the Environment First Fund, which is filled with money from the state’s gambling establishments.

State law allocates a maximum $20 million to the REAP program. However, lawmakers last year appropriated only $12 million to the program. 

Members of the group at last week’s meeting came from Jackson, Clinton, Cedar and Dubuque counties (Delaware County also is in Region 8) to share their ideas for potential projects, propose policy changes, and voice their concerns to elected officials. 

The group proposed the following recommendations:

Fully funding REAP

Finding and using additional funding sources to the REAP budget

Making REAP a permanent program

Protecting the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ authority to acquire land as written in the REAP law

Fully funding iWill In 2010, 63 percent of Iowans who voted approved a constitutional amendment to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund — a permanent and protected funding source dedicated to improving the state’s water quality, protecting and conserving Iowa’s productive farmland, expanding natural areas (think parks, trails, fish and wildlife habitat), and providing recreation. Per that amendment, the next time the Iowa Legislature approves a sales tax increase, three-eighths of 1 cent could be used in support of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Rep. Chuck Eisenhart, D-Dubuque, represents District 27, which includes Dubuque. Eisenhart thought REAP would be funded this year, he said, but said political divisiveness in the Legislature could play a role in the program’s future.

“The only way to get it done and passed is to contact your legislator,” Eisenhart said. That’s the only way we know what the public wants.”

Five delegates elected at last week’s REAP meeting will take the group’s proposed policies to the annual REAP Congress in January, where the recommendations will join those of 17 similar groups from across the state.

Since 1990, Jackson County received almost $6.24 million in REAP allocations, according to data handed out by Tammie Krausman, REAP coordinator and legislative liaison. Local projects include various recreation trails, land acquisition, and renovation, repair and restoration work.

In that same timeframe, Clinton County received more than $1.64 million to fund 154 various conservation projects, including work at the Clinton Sawmill Museum, county parks, plantings, forestry, etc.

Mike Griffin, of Springbrook, supported extending REAP and expanding its funding.

“This was the first-in-the-nation program, and it was copied by many other states,” Griffin said. “Not only should we extend it, but we need more money in this. They say this year it was $12 million. Well, $12 million in 1989 paid for a lot more than it does now.”