Winning at the Ballot Box

Dedicated funding amendments have bolstered wetland and waterfowl conservation programs in Iowa and several other states 
—By Joseph Satrom

The late Stirling Adams, who served as Ducks Unlimited's president in 1961–1962, once said, "Conservation without money is just conversation." In November 2010, Iowa voters took Adams's dictum to heart by amending their state constitution to establish the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. This new fund will receive 3/8 of 1 percent of Iowa's next statewide sales tax increase, generating an estimated $150 million annually. These funds will be used by the state to improve water quality, conserve soil, and restore and enhance natural areas, including fish and wildlife habitat. Iowa follows Missouri, Arkansas, and Minnesota, which previously adopted similar dedicated conservation funding measures. 

Iowa's general assembly and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) played key roles in this successful effort. The general assembly initiated the process by establishing the Sustainable Funding Advisory Committee, which included bipartisan legislative representation and members of various conservation, environmental, and agricultural groups. This committee took a comprehensive look at the health of Iowa's natural resources, including its soil, water, wildlife, wetlands, watersheds, lakes, rivers, parks, and trails. The panel also studied various ways the state could provide additional funding to meet future conservation and environmental challenges. 

Well-known and respected Iowa DU volunteers Tammi Kircher and Jon Kruse served on the Iowa Sustainable Funding Advisory Committee. This group conducted statewide public opinion polling to gauge support for the ballot measure among potential voters. Polls revealed that conservation is a strongly held value in Iowa. Ninety percent of those polled said that conserving land and water is crucial to keeping the state's economy strong. Also, more than 77 percent said they would support additional public funding for protecting Iowa's land, water, and wildlife.

Following several years of hard work by the Sustainable Funding Advisory Committee, conservation-minded legislative leaders initiated a two-step process required to place a constitutional amendment on the general election ballot. DU joined other conservation, agricultural, environmental, and recreational groups in encouraging the general assembly to place the measure on the 2010 general election ballot.
 
An independently conducted poll showed that nearly 90 percent of Iowa DU members were supportive of the amendment. Among waterfowl hunters, top priorities were water quality, wetlands conservation, and hunting and fishing access.

To strengthen DU's conservation policy influence in Iowa's general assembly, longtime DU volunteers Bob Shimanek and Jim Thomas helped establish a partnership with the well-known lobbying firm of BrownWinick. The firm's lead lobbyists played key roles in advancing the sustainable funding proposal through the general assembly. Working with key legislators and other partners, DU also successfully included a distribution formula in the amendment that directed how legislators would invest tax dollars allocated to the trust fund. 

With the dedicated funding measure on the ballot, proponents launched Iowa's Water and Land Legacy Amendment campaign to help build public support. While DU supported this campaign, the primary focus was educating and engaging the state's 19,000-plus DU members. As part of this effort, DU conducted both pre- and post-election polling to better understand the attitudes of DU volunteers and members. This independently conducted poll showed that nearly 90 percent of Iowa DU members were supportive of the amendment. Among waterfowl hunters, top priorities were water quality, wetlands conservation, and hunting and fishing access. In post-election polling, three-quarters of DU members indicated that they supported raising the state sales tax for these purposes. 

Many of DU's conservation partners deserve special recognition for their tremendous leadership and work in this multiyear process. The Nature Conservancy provided significant financial support to the campaign and offered important administrative expertise. Pheasants Forever (PF) also provided major financial support and high-level leadership to the campaign. Like their DU counterparts, PF members were a key component of the voter bloc that approved this dedicated funding measure. Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a well-known land conservation organization and the voice of conservation for many Iowans, provided major funding, important statewide support, and strong professional guidance. And the Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards and Conservation Districts of Iowa provided important input and support throughout the development of the campaign.

Going forward, conservation-minded elected officials, conservationists, and other concerned citizens must encourage the Iowa legislature and governor to take the final step of raising the sales tax to fund the state's outdoor recreation trust fund. DU will remain an active participant in the broad coalition leading these efforts and has recently taken action to substantially increase its lobbying and public policy work in Iowa. Indeed, conservation without money remains just conversation. 


Joseph Satrom is director of public policy at DU's Great Plains office in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Minnesota's Dedicated Funding for Wetlands In 2008, Minnesota became the third state, after Missouri and Arkansas, to pass a dedicated funding measure for conservation. Approved via statewide ballot, this constitutional amendment allocates 3/8 of 1 percent of new state sales taxes to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) grants program for projects that support clean water, wetlands, other wildlife habitat, parks, and trails. 

Ducks Unlimited has partnered with the LSOHC on numerous wetland and waterfowl habitat conservation projects in Minnesota. Through a competitive grant and independent review process, DU has received $14.5 million from the LSOHC. These funds have been used to enhance shallow lakes, acquire land for new public hunting areas, and protect wildlife habitat on private lands via conservation easements. DU staff also helped develop a long-term wetland conservation plan for this program. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been key partners in these efforts. Continued investments in conservation through the LSOHC will help ensure a bright future for Minnesota's natural resources and the residents who enjoy them.