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Purchasing Iowa Natural Resources plates helps provide funding to REAP and the Wildlife Diversity Program.

MAHASKA COUNTY — Community members with a passion for natural resources, conservation and history recently attended the Resource Enhancement and Protection assembly.

Funding REAP is crucial to Iowa communities and resources, said regional biologist Eric Sytsma, who led the meeting.

Iowa legislature appropriates a dollar amount for REAP each year. The maximum has been up to $20 million. Currently, the amount is $12 million. According to information from REAP, that amount is combined with REAP license and interest income, for a total of $12.5 million in the program.

The largest allocation of that amount is 28 percent devoted to public lands and waters to create new hunting and fishing areas. County conservation and soil and water enhancement both receive 20 percent. Fifteen percent is allocated for city parks and open spaces; 9 percent is for state land management; historical resource development gets 5 percent and 3 percent is focused on roadside vegetation.

Sytsma said recent local projects include historic preservation, development at Lake Keomah State Park, Cedar Bluff Wildlife Area and Muchakinock Creek and Fox River Creek.

“We’ve got great projects here accomplishing a lot of environmental benefits,” he said, “utilizing refunds and leveraging them with private dollars.”

In Mahaska County, $1,361,418 has been spent on 127 projects.

The Environmental Learning Center, where the assembly was held, did not utilize REAP funds, Sytsma said, but the displays did use REAP through an education allotment.

REAP is important, Sytsma said, because it is a quality of life issue for residents of this region.

“Through offering education about our environment, offering funding to help landowners with conservation projects that impact our water quality, our wildlife habitat and our soil health,” he said. “It offers opportunities for outdoor recreation, which as people get more and more urban related, you have to have those public opportunities to get out and recreate and get away from the technology and really let yourself relax and restore that excitement of being alive.”

Recipients of funds have also included a project to microfilm Iowa Quaker records since 1838 and restoration of historic houses and buildings

The assembly was attended by Mahaska County residents as well as those from other counties in the region, which includes Keokuk, Wapello, Jefferson, Davis and Van Buren. Attendees nominated delegates from the region to attend the REAP congress and bring up motions presented at the meeting to Iowa legislatures and overseers of the REAP fund.

“This program is due to sunset soon, so I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot about making sure that that does not happen and that we increase funding to the fullest extent possible, which is controlled by the legislature,” Sytsma said.

Iowa State Sen. Ken Rozenboom, a Mahaska County resident, attended the assembly. He is chairman of the natural resources and environment committee and is also on the agriculture, appropriations, education and state government committees.

“I want to hear what my friends and neighbors have to say about it,” he said. “And just to show support for the program, which I do support. It’s a very profitable program in Iowa. Funding is always an issue, as it is with everything we fund. It was very important to be here. I wouldn’t miss this.”

In response to a question from an attendee, Rozenboom said getting funding is difficult.

“It’s tax money. We have many, many, many things wanting funding. We haven’t been able to fund IDAL [Iowa Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources] and DNR the way that I would like to, for instance,” he said. “Because the big players, meaning education and our medical care, take such a huge part of the state budget that a lot of times, it’s not people want to do, it’s what you can fit into a budget. It’s always a tough sell.”

Attendees gathered into small groups for discussions. Members of the outdoor recreation group were interested in more land acquisitions for projects including hunting and fishing and trails. The group recommended maintaining the formula as it is and to increase the funding to the program.

Mahaska County Naturalist Laura DeCook said her group discussed using REAP for education and awareness purposes. Funding amounts for REAP were a concern for the group.

“It’s hoped that REAP can be fully funded but not reaching the full potential of funding is a concern,” she said. “The public doesn’t understand all the benefits of a fully-funded REAP because we’ve never experienced it.”

The soil conservation group discussed land acquisition, native plantings on roadsides, pollinator programs and cost-share opportunities.

Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator and Administrator Margaret Spiegel spoke for the historic preservation group.

“We chatted a lot about the significant things that are going on. The historic preservation has a tangible connection from the past to the present and allows for educational opportunities,” she said. “Also, the creation of tourist destinations and that reaches local as well as outside communities that enhances that quality of life for folks. Because once those resources are gone, you’re not going to be able to replicate them. It also can create very specific educational opportunities like keeping historic skills alive and thinking through some of that.”

Sytsma said he saw a consistent message that the accomplishments of the program should be more in the public’s eye.

“Because it is doing a lot of good things here in the area,” he said.

Managing Editor Angie Holland can be reached at aholland@oskyherald.com and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.

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