Coalition urges federal funding to protect Loess Hills, Neal Smith refuge
March 5th, 2013 by Ric Hanson
A coalition of Iowa environmental groups, elected leaders and outdoor enthusiasts is sending a letter to President Obama, urging him to fully fund a program to preserve Iowa’s two biggest patches of prairie. The president will announce his budget recommendations for the next fiscal year this week. Amelia Schoeneman, of Environment Iowa, says the Land and Water Conservation Fund helps states buy private land to create parks.
Over the years, we’ve actually seen a decrease in funding which has put places like Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and the Loess Hills in western Iowa at risk of development and the conversion to farmland,” Schoeneman says. “There’s slowly a decrease in funds that could go towards acquiring more land and expanding these natural areas in Iowa.” The Iowa groups want to see 900-million dollars recommended for the fund. She says Iowa was originally more than 80-percent prairie, but through development and farmland over the decades, there’s now less than one-percent prairie in the state.
“Neal Smith is a unique area because it’s a restored prairie and it’s one of the largest attempts at a prairie restoration in the nation,” Schoeneman says. “The Loess Hills is very unique because it contains the largest preserved prairie, or original prairie, in the state of Iowa.” She says those two key areas, and dozens of other beloved parks in Iowa, have been providing our state’s residents with lifelong memories for decades. “Neal Smith is located just 20 miles east of Des Moines, so it’s threatened by development and most of the lands surrounding the preserve are farmlands which are also encroaching upon the reserve,” Schoeneman says. “You have the same issues with the Loess Hills with Sioux City and Council Bluffs in development as well as a conversion to farmland threatening these places.”
Groups and individuals signing the letter to the president include: Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Audubon Society, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Wildlife Federation, Active Endeavors in Des Moines, Iowa City and Davenport, the Iowa Farmers Union, State Representative Dan Kelley and
State Senator Nancy Boettger, from Harlan.