By Roger White, Black Hawk County REAP Chairman
The Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) was first created in 1989. The program focuses on environmental education, DNR land management and open spaces (state parks), city parks and open spaces, soil & water conservation, county conservation, roadside vegetation and historical resources.
At the beginning, the statute called for $30 million to be appropriated statewide for the fund. In 1997, the legislature amended the statute to $20 million because they had never fully funded the $30 million. Since 1997, the legislature fully funded it only once and Governor Branstad vetoed a portion so that the largest amount available in recent years has been $16 million. A year ago the legislature dropped funding to $12 million and in the session just ended, the legislature cut the amount available for REAP projects to $10 million, which is just one-half of the amount promised in 1997.
Of course, the value of $10 million today is significantly less than it was in 1997, so the practical effect of the successive cuts is that REAP is badly underfunded. Every year there are locally-designed projects for parks, conservation, open spaces, recreation, trails and other desired priorities that are not funded because there is too little money appropriated. Despite the backlog of projects, the legislature made successive cuts.
To demonstrate the dilemma for local governmental entities, in 2017 there were worthwhile local Black Hawk County projects in Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Evansdale, La Porte City and Dunkerton. Because of the shortage of appropriated funds, the only project funded was Dunkerton’s trail. The others all failed because there was no money.
Black Hawk County is not unique as this same phenomenon happened in county after county across the state. For a list of past REAP projects in Black Hawk County, logon to http://www.iowadnr.gov/Conservation/REAP/Projects-by-County.
There is something that those of us who value these natural resources can do to support the REAP program, and that is to purchase and display Natural Resources license plates. We pay a slight additional fee [for these special plates] and that money goes into the fund for REAP, over and above what the legislature appropriates. We can swap our license plates at any time; we do not have to wait for the renewal. Just take your current plates to the county treasurer’s office or driver’s license office. They will calculate the value remaining on the registration and give you a credit and calculate the amount of the new plates. You have your choice among five designs – the popular gold finch, trout, pheasant, whitetail deer, or my personal favorite, the bald eagle. You’ll walk out with your new Natural Resources plates and will have made a contribution toward the REAP program.
That is a win for the environment, for conservation, for recreation and for historical preservation. And at the same time, you are displaying very attractive license plates on your vehicles.