The funding program known as Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) is up for consideration, as every year, by the Iowa Legislature. Authorized to be funded at up to $20 million, the legislature has never fully funded the program. REAP has typically been funded at about half that level, but has been funded as low as zero in the past. The popular program for conservation funding is supplemental to the regular operating budgets of county conservation boards, soil conservation district commissioners, the Iowa DNR and other organizations that provide conservation education and historic preservation services. REAP funding and competitive grants allow projects that often small and tightly squeezed local budgets could never accomplish alone. That’s why "enhancement" is part of the title of the program.
Iowa is sitting on a nearly billion dollar budget surplus this year and it appears that there’s a chance for REAP to be fully funded for the first time. Our legislators need to hear from their constituents for that and other important conservation legislation to move forward, though - $4,374,716 in REAP funds have supported many important park, recreation, soil conservation, education, and historic preservation projects around Story County over the past 20+ years. No fewer than nine Story County communities have successfully competed for REAP grants to develop and improve park and trail facilities. Some communities have won multiple grants. Conservation boards receive 20 percent of REAP funds. From that, 40 percent comes in the form of competitive grants, 30 percent is divided equally among all the qualifying counties and 30 percent is allocated through a formula based on each county’s population.
The list of projects that have benefitted from REAP funds over the years is too long for this column, but a few key projects are worth mentioning: Ames’ Central Park Greenway System; Gilbert’s Heritage Parkway and Trails System; Story City’s Skunk River Trail and new river bridge; Nevada’s Indian Creek Greenbelt Trail; the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail and additions to it at Slater, Huxley, Maxwell and Collins; the Story County Conservation Center at McFarland Park and repairs to the spillway on the dam at Hickory Grove Lake. These and many more projects could not have been accomplished when there were no REAP funds, and I believe it’s safe to say that some of them would never have happened at all.
Several additional bills are still eligible for debate that could greatly influence conservation efforts in Iowa. Iowa remains near the bottom of all states in the percentage of its budget that supports conservation. House File (HF) 92 and Senate File (SF) 268 would increase the Iowa sales tax by 3/8 of a cent to allow full funding of a range of conservation issues as defined in the historic conservation trust fund constitutional amendment vote two years ago that passed with a 67 percent majority. SF 317 would add several new plants to the state’s invasive species list, making them illegal to sell or plant. SF 400 would add $7 million as a much-needed supplemental appropriation to help address growing soil and water conservation problems. Other bills provide funding to help fight the growing problem of aquatic invasive species and update the laws governing those species so destructive to our lakes and rivers.
These and many other important legislative issues must be decided by our legislators in the next few weeks. These hard-working people represent us and need to hear our views. Important issues can fall through the cracks because not enough people let their legislators know how they feel. A phone call, personal visit or letter means a lot to them. If you have never contacted your legislators, now would be a good time to start!
(Steve Lekwa is retired director of Story County Conservation. He lives in Nevada.)